When asking about a person’s inspiration for a great business venture, the last thing you might expect to hear is "poverty", but for Mary, her experiences with struggling to feed her family and provide them with adequate shelter motivated her livelihood. You might not know it from looking at her cheerful demeanor or well-kept household, but for many years Mary struggled to provide just one meal a day, usually porridge, for her two children – let alone send them to school and keep them healthy.

 
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The greatest teacher

 

As the firstborn of seven children, Mary was no stranger to pitching in. “As a firstborn, you have to lead,” she said. But she strongly believes that her life before entering the Graduation programme taught her the most, in particular, how to be business-savvy and seize every opportunity that came her way.

I knew I could do [great] things if given the opportunity. I used to think about what I might do if I had a little extra money come my way.”

 
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While legends have it that trolls live under bridges, it is what happened above that really changed Mary’s outlook on life. Seeing an opportunity to make immediate returns on a tiny amount of savings she collected from the start of the program, Mary sprang into action to boost her income when she saw a bridge being built down the road from her home. She began selling refreshments and snacks to the workers there.

 

Pay it forward

 

Taking the knowledge and skills she has gotten from her mentor and program trainings, Mary has made an effort to pass along what she learned to those around her, whenever the opportunity arises.

“When I see a few people in front of me, I see a classroom.”

When selling goods at the market, Mary also serves as a role model for her community, speaking to other young women about family planning and health issues. The unique learning aspect of the Graduation programme, implemented by CARE International in Kitui, with technical assistance provided by BRAC, enables participants to share a wealth of knowledge with not only their community members, but within their family units as well. As a single mother of three children, one of which was born with a physical disability, Mary’s family has greatly benefited from her increased income. She improved their home, ensured they went to school consistently, and also joined the national health insurance system, which provides free healthcare.

 
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Mary’s neighbors, including one of the village elders, have also seen a drastic change in Mary’s life.

“I can really witness the great change brought on by this project to Mary. It has enabled her to start, maintain and improve her business. Before she became a participant, she couldn’t afford much, and providing better nutrition for her child was a challenge and even renting a piece of land to till was not possible.”

Mary’s empowerment has helped her better integrate into her community. This has been vital for all participants’ success in the Graduation programme, and statements like these iIllustrate how impactful these changes are on the future trajectory of a household.

Programme for Rural Outreach of Financial Innovations and Technologies (PROFIT) Financial Graduation programme, funded by IFAD and the Government of Kenya, provides multiple enterprise options to participants to choose from based on their preference and abilities. Participants receive training from mentors and sometimes other experts to manage their chosen assets and create sustainable businesses that will last far beyond the end of the program.

 
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