Founded by the French Red Cross and the Kenya Red Cross Society in 2023, the Women Social Entrepreneurship Institute (WSEI) is an innovative program that supports women entrepreneurs in the Coastal region of Kenya transitioning to the formal economy with stronger businesses. Inspired by the methodologies of 21, the Social Innovation Accelerator of the French Red Cross in Paris, the WSEI empowers cohorts of women informal entrepreneurs to become business leaders in their communities. Over the course of the first 8-month pilot cohort, 25 women entrepreneurs from Mombasa had the opportunity to access a “safe innovation space” to reinforce their business competencies via an exhaustive learning approach combining hard skills, socio-emotional skills and access to an extensive support network. The impact study carried out by the French Red Cross revealed that the average income of the women entrepreneurs doubled upon completion of the program, while 38 additional positions have been generated within women-owned businesses.
The Coastal region of Kenya counts six counties (Lamu, Tana River, Kilifi, Mombasa, Taita Taveta and Kwale) among those with the lowest “Gross County Product”. Despite being the second largest city in Kenya with a population of around 1.2 million people and the largest trading hub in East Africa, the unemployment rate is high: 44% of the youth population, according to the Kenya National Adolescents and Youth Survey. As a consequence, poverty is widespread with 62% of the Coastal population living below the poverty line, and most relying on the coastal and marine ecosystem for employment, livelihood and nutrition (World Bank, 2016).
In such times, entrepreneurship in the informal economy appears to be an escape route for many -especially women. However, if Nairobi counts a huge number of Entrepreneur Support Organisations (ESOs), the Coastal region is not as rich and tends to focus on developing vocational skills instead of helping informal or as we call them “survival” entrepreneurs sustain their jobs, create new ones and boost the Coastal region economy.
Launched in January 2023 thanks to the support of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Europe, the Women Social Entrepreneurship Institute (WSEI) was implemented by the International Innovation team of the French Red-Cross, the Innovation team of the Kenya Red-Cross Society and powered by 21, the Social Accelerator from the French Red-Cross, in the IOME.254 Innovation Labs of the Kenya Red-Cross.
Its general objective is to support cohorts of 25 women informal entrepreneurs from Mombasa in their transition from informal “survival” entrepreneurship towards becoming business leaders in their communities. Its long-term vision is to sustain and create new jobs, strengthen and scale the women’s businesses and empower them and build the resilience of the women and their communities. It’s important to mention that the program is being implemented in a context where there is acceptance of women’s participation in economic activities at the household and community level.
Technical details & Operations
The WSEI relies on a strong social and capacity-building component, which relies on the following axes:
- A grassroot selection of 25 women entrepreneurs
The WSEI aimed to reach a population of women entrepreneurs who are usually off the radar of traditional entrepreneurial support programmes, also including women from the most disadvantaged communities (50% of the WSEI participants never participated in a training in entrepreneurship before January 2023). A significant portion of these women, 11 in total, are single mothers who became mothers at a young age, often due to circumstances that left them as the sole caretakers for their children, as the fathers are often absent, leaving these women to shoulder the responsibilities of both parenting and providing.
- A tailor-made experiential learning
Over the course of 8 months, weekly training were hosted at the Kenya Red Cross Society Mombasa Branch and at the Kenya Red Cross Innovation Lab and covered a mix of hard skills (book-keeping, accounting, computer science, investment readiness, business plan, impact measurement) and soft skills (leadership, communication, decision making). It brought together diverse experts from the innovation ecosystem of Mombasa, Nairobi and Paris who tailored the content of the training to the needs and vulnerabilities of the participants.
- A “safe innovation space”, equipped with a Fab Lab
Apart from the weekly trainings which were organised every Tuesday, women entrepreneurs were able to come and work in one of the following two “safe spaces”, also accessing materials (computers, printers, machinery for building prototypes for their product ideas, etc.) and internet connection.
- The Kenya Red Cross Mombasa branch
- IOME001, the Innovation Lab of the Kenya Red Cross (located next to the Mbaraki Primary School for young girls) and equipped with a Fab Lab
These spaces allowed the women entrepreneurs to develop, test and learn new innovation methodologies. Besides, a coaching track enabled each woman to be individually supported by a coach over the course of 8 months. This aspect was reinforced by the fact that the programme was restricted to women only, who felt they could safely talk about their professional or personal difficulties.
- One woman, one community
The program contributed to empower the entrepreneurs as women and therefore as leaders in their communities, sparking a virtuous snow-ball effect.
Deployment & Impact
- Formalization of businesses
By the end of the program, all businesses are registered and 80% are tax compliant. Besides, while almost half of the entrepreneurs had less than 20 monthly clients on average, 65% of them now have between 20 and 50 clients. 85% of respondents mentioned that WSEI allowed them to develop new sales channels (social media, market places…).
- Increase of income
The program’s impact on the participants’ income is evident: the average income has doubled, increasing from 69k KES at the program’s commencement to an average of 141k KES upon completion.
- Increase of profi
Therefore, the program’s impact on participants’ profitability is striking, especially considering 16% of them where not profitable before joining the program only 52% were making a living out of it compared to 80% by the end of the program: the average profit has surged from 26.5k KES at the program’s outset to an impressive 66.5k KES upon completion.
- Enhanced confidence and community outreach
By the end of the program, the « fear of failure » dropped from 63% to 40%. Filled with newfound confidence, these women have reached out to over 300 individuals, primarily women, to share their business insights, mentor local entrepreneurs, and provide training in a diverse range of practical skills, including bakery, cleaning, stitching, and digital competencies. Their contributions extend beyond individual coaching, as they’ve also become inspirational speakers in various settings (35% of them consider women groups to be part of their support network), from religious venues, saving groups (chammas, saccos) and schools to community gatherings. The positive impact of their empowerment ripples through the lives of many. On average, one woman supported and empowered 14 other entrepreneurs.
- Digital literacy
Weekly access to laptops, internet and individual support from Red-Cross volunteers allowed the entrepreneurs to grow their digital skills. Indeed, most of the methodologies and templates provided required using a computer, which led them to master emails, Excel, PowerPoint, Canvas and word. Now, 80% of the entrepreneurs are comfortable with using the digital book-keeping tool tailor made for them (available on Excel and Google sheet).