Cellular Charging Stations Encourage Commerce and Empower Female Entrepreneur

Margaret Lemois, a resident of Oldonyiro, in central Kenya’s Isiolo County, walked hastily up the hill toward the newly installed cellular phone charging station as the sun set. The USAID-funded Resilience and Economic Growth in the Arid Lands – Accelerated Growth (REGAL-AG) program is installing charging stations at the livestock markets it has recently constructed throughout the region. REGAL-AG provides services to pastoralists to strengthen the livestock value chain through market linkages and livestock productivity.

Margaret, a small-scale trader and mother of seven, says

“I like charging my phone after completing my business chores, and that is why I come here in the evenings.”

REGAL-AG Value Chain and Inclusivity expert Venny Mayaka explains that

“After the market was constructed, we realized that one of the major constraints limiting it from attaining its potential was poor telecommunication coverage, which meant that producers, traders, and customers were locked [away] from the world. This led to discussions with one of the main Kenyan telecommunication companies for a [charging station] to be installed in Oldonyiro. As a result, the area now has strong network coverage that facilitates easy access to calls, Mpesa [an SMS-based money-transfer system], mobile banking, and the Internet.”

During market days, Margaret sells groceries at a stall at the Oldonyiro livestock market. On good days, she earns up to Ksh. 12,000 (US$ 118). Some of her customers pay with cash, while others pay by Mpesa, a service previously unavailable to people in Oldonyiro. Mpesa allows people to exchange money safely and securely with their phones. Margaret adds that

“Oldonyiro used to be a quiet town, with people getting supplies twice a month during market days. However, with [REGAL-AG]’s support, the market now operates on a weekly basis, and has opened up a lot of business opportunities for women, who like me, can now operate small businesses.”

She continues:

“Today I am able to communicate with my customers to get orders, then I call the supplier to place orders. Come market day, and my stall is fully stocked and business is good. I can now provide for my family and offer a good education to my children.”

Charging stations will be installed at those REGAL-AG markets currently without strong network coverage, such as Merille, Illaut, Forole, and Eskot. Improved telecommunications boost the economy in Kenya’s arid lands.