This festive season saw me team up with 109 neighbours to surprise one of us who has been the equivalent of the Covid-19 hotline in our lives as a community.
Since I am relatively a newcomer in Nairobi, I found it weird, yet refreshing to have that many neighbours, all living in the same apartment. What I found more mind-boggling was the fact that all these people had no form of connection, at least not like in the village where you know almost everyone within a 5km square.
The population at the apartment would have been a Covid-19 hazard were it not for the adequate spacing created by the walls, and the strict adherence to Covid-19 containment measures by everyone in the neighbourhood.Pipeline Estate in Embakasi Nairobi.
Of course, the pandemic had us all tied back at home; the environment clearly changed, and all we had as neighbours was our own company as tenants.
I remember someone knocking at the door one morning. It was October. A polite, almost silent, knock. Polite because I could not immediately tell that someone was at the door. I had gotten accustomed to receiving three rather regular visitors; the caretaker, who would shout my name before banging the door, my house cleaner, who would call instead of knocking, and my girlfriend who didn’t bother doing any of those.
I opened the door with a half-open, half confused mind. “I am Caroline Njeri and I live in this apartment. I bought a lot of tissues when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, and I was wondering if I could sell some of them to you. I need the money since I have recently lost my job,” she recited the pitch which I assumed she had given every one of our neighbours.A stock image of a lady holding a stack of tissuesFile
I gave her my order and within minutes she was back. I offered to send the money to her M-PESA, but she went “No, I have Fuliza, just withdraw the money from the shop downstairs.”
The thought of climbing down and back 6 floors drained me. Wait a minute! She could simply separate her personal finances from her business money, whereby the money would not be clawed back by Fuliza. I knew about the service, and could not count in one hand alone the number of times I have used it.
"Safaricom has Pochi La Biashara where small scale traders can join using Mpesa USSD *334#, select Pochi La Biashara> Join> Accept Ts&Cs> Select Business Category and you will receive an SMS confirmation that you have been opted in successfully,” I stated all the while demonstrating to her.
To better convince the budding entrepreneur, I sent the money to her by dialling *334# from my M-PESA line, selecting Lipa na M-PESA> Pochi La Biashara, and filing her number, amount and finally my pin.
“OID345KZJI Confirmed. You have received Ksh 1,000.00 from DENIS MWANGI on 08/10/20 at 12:30PM. New business balance is Ksh 1,000.00. To access your funds, select Pochi La Biashara under *334#,” read the text message on her phone.File image of a man using a phone
You know that frequency illusion, where you notice a new person or word and suddenly you start to encounter it more often? That’s what became of Caroline Njeri.
I started running into her more often, and whenever she was not carrying her groceries, you would find her with her delivering tissues to customers.
I bumped into her several weeks later going about her business and decided to ask, "Kwani ulikuwa na excess ya tissues ngapi, you've been selling for two months now."
She stated that when her surplus stock ran out in just two weeks, she saw a business opportunity and that’s when she decided to venture into the business. She bought fresh stock from a wholesale shop in the neighbourhood - and so far so good.
"I realised that this apartment has over 100 houses, and I have been supplying them ever since, all from the comfort of my house. I discovered the Pochi La Biashara Account can do a lot more, thanks for introducing me to it," she explained as I stared in amazement.
“By dialling *334# and selecting Pochi La Biashara I can withdraw the money, buy airtime, pay for goods and services, access my statement and also move the money to my other personal M-PESA," she stated, wearing that satisfied smile.
Without having to break a bank, Njeri had turned all 110 neighbours into clients and converted a job loss into a venture which she could scale up to neighbouring apartments.
Just recently, she added us to a WhatsApp group dubbed Christmas Deals. She explained that she had made a deal with her wholesaler that if we raised money to buy supplies in bulk, we could get a 40% discount.
“Instead of all of us doing individual Christmas shopping, how about we pool resources and buy our Christmas supplies together at discounted prices. Kumbuka Njaanuary is coming,” she teased.
She explained that her plan was that we make lists of the different products we wanted, and she would take it to her wholesaler and they would deliver to our doorstep.Courier van full of parcels and boxesFile
“For example, if you want a 2kg packet of baking flour, I can combine that with 11 other neighbours who want a similar amount. That way we can order a bale for less money than if all of you bought individual packets,” she explained.
“I will move my tissue money to my personal M-PESA and you can continue sending cash for the Christmas supplies to my Pochi La Biashara. That way we can raise enough money to buy all our products from the wholesaler and keep track,” Njeri explained.
I was both proud and challenged that being the person who introduced her to the Pochi La Biashara, she had managed to use it as a tool to propel her to do more than just a mobile payment platform.
I then suggested that we all commit to tip the young lady as an addition to our shopping so that she could expand her business and share the spirit of generosity with her.