Unaitas: 30 years of impact investing for success
Unaitas Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCO)
Longstanding Oikocredit partner Unaitas has helped more than 5,000 small and medium businesses and over 50,000 individuals in agriculture and other sectors since the coronavirus outbreak. As they celebrate 30 years of impact investing, we celebrate their story.
With the slogan ‘You and I’, Kenyan cooperative Unaitas SACCO Society Ltd crisply sums up the idea behind its establishment: Pooling the financial resources of all its members to form a basis for borrowing.
Unaitas offers savings and credit services to more than 350,000 members, who also jointly own the cooperative. Headquartered in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, it has 25 branches in ten counties across the country.
The cooperative has just celebrated 30 years of impact investing. It was founded by a group of tea farmers in 1993. For about 20% of its members, tea cultivation remains their principal source of income today, 30 years later.
Unaitas has been an Oikocredit partner since 1997.
Its focus on smallholder agriculture, small and medium enterprises, and social housing matches Oikocredit’s mission of enabling access to finance for low-income households.
With a 2021 loan of € 8.5 million euros from Oikocredit, Unaitas supports more than 5,000 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) whose growth was stunted by the COVID-19 pandemic. These enterprises include agricultural cooperatives, agricultural input traders and transport companies.
Additionally, an important goal for Unaitas is supporting job creation.
Curtis Musembi, Oikocredit Investment Manager for East Africa, is proud of the partnership and the role Oikocredit has played in supporting Unaitas’ growth and development.
From its modest beginnings as a savings and credit cooperative for tea farmers in Muranga, Unaitas has since experienced impressive growth. It is now one of Kenya's leading savings and credit cooperatives and has expanded its activities to include small businesses, including those outside the agricultural sector.
Over the years, Unaitas has built a loyal customer base thanks to its transparent business practices, customer focus and adherence to customer protection guidelines.
“This has helped build sustainable businesses ranging from agriculture to SMEs, real estate to manufacturing,” says James Kinoro, chairman of Unaitas.
Unaitas takes its name from the word chama, a kind of informal cooperative society typically used to pool and invest savings by people in East Africa. Unaitas translates to “home of the chamas.”
The cooperative now supports 22,000 groups.
Unaitas has a strong focus on supporting women entrepreneurs. Most of the businesses it supports are owned by women.
One example is the Githumu Vision Women's Group, founded in 2008 by 12 women members. The women apply for individual loans, for which the entire group is liable. They also commit to saving small amounts together so that members have access to financial resources in case of an emergency.
The loans fund the purchase of cows and chickens, and the members earn additional income by selling eggs and milk. They use the money to buy food and invest it in their children’s education.
In addition to the financial benefits that come with group membership, the members gain from strong social relationships. They share their problems, discuss issues affecting them in everyday life and help and advise each other. Being a women-only group has its advantages, they say – not least because the members can communicate openly and freely in the absence of men
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