SMEs the missing link in Circular Economies


Clementina has a hair salon in an informal settlement on the outskirts of Nairobi's industrial area. She has been accepting Sarafu for almost 5 years now. She's the chairlady of the Shalom chama in Mukuru. She used to freely accept Sarafu for her hair salon services knowing she could go to the local wholesaler and trade in her Sarafu for hairpiece, hair products and even gas for her home.

But there aren't many of these wholesalers that will accept Sarafu and those that do only accept as much as they can spend on local purchases - like at the hair salon. Where would these larger businesses take the thousands of Sarafu they would collect from the low income neighborhoods if they accepted too much?

This has been the question that most Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) ask us when we try and onboard them. The existing networks of SMEs accepting Sarafu aren't enough to facilitate the trade between them and act as a credit clearing system.

Systemic and enduring development is possible when communities are able to initiate and drive their agenda by working with the public and private sector to access basic rights and services as well as harness and grow their own resources. Kenyans are a giving people, as evidenced by our harambee spirit and our constant generosity towards drought-caused famine, not to mention the 100 million raised via MPesa donations after the Westgate attack. This generous nature points to the possibility of leveraging existing businesses in the community like the local wholesaler and creating awareness of the Charitable tax exemptions that exist from the Kenya Revenue Authority.

With Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) philanthropy programs being written off as a tax exemption, organizations merely have to choose whether to help their local community, or pay taxes to a government whose reach is never felt in these settlements. Not only will it cost the organization nothing to add Sarafu to their balance sheets, the positive press associated with the support will act as great publicity for the organization and ensure customer loyalty as well as guaranteed sales.

If SMEs could offer a small percentage of their sales in Sarafu with a moderate maximum balance limit, not only will they be adding much needed liquidity into the markets, they will be alleviating the pain and suffering of their immediate employees and clients. If Clementina can buy additional items using some Sarafu, she will be in a position to increase her purchased items, therefore not only benefiting the wholesale shop, but Clementina, her family, and the entire community. This small gesture on the part of an SME can only be realized if their suppliers - say Hashi gas, Darling hair products etc (larger corporations) agree that they would accept Sarafu as well on their Point of Sales devices (as just another product they have in inventory) and record this on their balance sheets and write it off as a CSR expense - then they would be able to re-spend or give that Sarafu to their employees and needy community members.