By Betsy Ramser Jaime

‘My name is Gabriel Kariuki, I am a marketer by profession, I hold a Master’s degree in Business Administration and a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management. I describe myself as honest, aggressive & an ambitious person, generally I am an achiever. I come from Kirinyaga county in central Kenya. My constituency Mwea is known for rice production, 85% of the supply of rice in east Africa comes from this region.’

During his 5 years with Zidisha, Gabriel has maintained two side businesses. The first, being farming, and the second, in the solar lighting business. For his solar business, he typically buys solar lamps from distributors and then re-sells them to customers throughout his village. On a weekly basis, he typically sells 4-7 pieces.

Graduating with his Master’s in Business Administration

Explaining how he got into the industry, he shares, ‘Currently I’m in the solar lighting business as an LME (last mile entrepreneur). I have noted that many Kenyans in the village interiors live below the poverty line and can hardly afford to pay for electricity connections in their home. I note that most of the village dwellers lack information and end up spending a lot on paraffin for lighting which despite having a high cost on them it also has health implications. My main motivation to solar business was triggered by my relentless efforts in advocating for use of green products and the need to embrace the green concept in the community. My main selling points are based on the benefits thus cost effective, quality, safe, healthy and environmentally friendly products with long term benefits.’

Gabriel has been proud to add a new product to his inventory, as he explains, ‘Recently I introduced energy saving cook stoves to my product line. I have noted that 90% of Rural homes rely on open fire for their cooking, where research has proved that every home spends between $1.5-2 dollars on firewood daily on their cooking, I noted an increase in expenditure/costs on firewood which seems very unfavorable to the rural homes most of whom who live below the poverty line and can hardly bare any further increase on firewood costs. As a way of giving back to the society & caring for the environment I decided to introduce the Philips energy saving jiko which can reduce the daily spending on firewood for rural homes to costs of between $0.2 to 0.5 dollars daily thus about 80% reduction in costs on firewood. Generally Philips jiko uses Biomass i.e dried cow dung, rice husks, wood pellets (compressed sawdust) to burn hence does not rely wholly on firewood.’

Since joining the Zidisha community in March 2015, Gabriel has raised 7 Zidisha funded loans. With his first loan of $50, he was able to increase his tomato crop for his farming side hustle.

Shortly thereafter, as his farming business was going well, he shifted his efforts to his solar business. He explains, ‘My business activity revolves around buying solar lamps from major distributors in town and selling these solar lamps to the customers in the village interiors. My main target groups include investment groups in the village, women merry go round groups etc.’

At this time, he was relying on his bicycle for transportation, and knew that by raising funds for a motorbike, he could greatly expand his reach, and would hopefully gain more customers in the process.

As 2016 rolled around, Gabriel found himself with a problem that needed solving. Not having an office space of his own, he would often meet potential clients in restaurants, or other public places. He found that many customers did not take well to this, and that they would have preferred to meet in an office environment.

Therefore, with a $370 loan from Zidisha lenders, Gabriel set out to acquire an office space. Sadly, as Gabriel saw the exorbitant costs of buildings, he knew there had to be a better way, especially since he spends so much time out of the office. As a solution, he realized that he could rent a space, and partition the building to have space for an additional business. He would use one side and would rent the other side to barbers that didn’t have spaces of their own. This is a great example of turning a situation that at first seemed to be a big setback, and making it into an opportunity.

A year later, Gabriel successfully raised an additional Zidisha funded loan for $544 allowing him to purchase a laptop computer for his business as he says, ‘I plan to buy a computer laptop for my business, I realize nowadays the market has become very competitive with the marketing aspect assuming a paradigm shift where now most of businesses are adopting digital marketing through the websites & social media, emails etc. Digital marketing has proved very important in business as it helps to nurture a relationship between a business & its customers.Through digital marketing, businesses have been able to respond promptly to customers queries hence gaining customers confidence/loyalty hence a competitive advantage.’

Would you like to support a forward thinking entrepreneur like Gabriel? Make sure to head on over to our Browse Projects page to read about inspirational business owners all over the world.

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