Meaningful Business (MB:) Please tell us a bit about your background.
Nasreen Ali Mohamed (NM:) I am a Social-Techpreneur passionate about inclusion of low-income households, especially women and girls. I co-founded two social enterprises – Cherehani Africa and Afrikapu, both focused on facilitating the sustainable growth of vulnerable women micro-entrepreneurs in East Africa through technology, capacity building programs, and giving them access to vital business tools and market information.
I hold a Bachelors (Hons) degree from University of Sunderland, UK and I am currently pursuing a Master of Science degree in Innovation, Leadership and Management from University of York, UK. I am a Mandela Washington Fellow (Dartmouth College – USA), UK Go-Global Africa Champion (UK), Alibaba and UN eFounder Fellow (China), Harambe Associate (USA) and Tech by Her Fellow.
As a woman growing up in Mombasa (a small city in Kenya along the Coast of the Indian Ocean), I adequately fathom the struggles other women go through in their pursuit of excellence. As a child, I often noticed and questioned the inequality and marginalisation I perceived among different ethnic groups in my region. There was always an unconscious bias.
My mission is to give disadvantaged women and youth a voice through business growth and help them be ambassadors of advocacy issues affecting their communities.
I am inspired when I see that the women and girls we support dream bigger and are able to exploit their full potential, yet they had been excluded from economic development. I am inspired when I see them wanting more for their children and their families. It makes me realise that my responsibility goes beyond just me… And that is what keeps me going each day.
MB: What led you to start Cherehani Africa?
NM: My mother was a micro-entrepreneur whom we largely depended on for up-keep and education. I saw how difficult it was for her to keep her business sustainable and at the same time provide for her children. She borrowed from loan sharks whose high interest rates stagnated the potential of her business. Witnessing her struggles during my formative years made me empathise with women and girls with a vision to start and run their own businesses.
My partners, Wesley Owiti and Robert Mboya, also attribute their formative years to their mother’s hard work and resilience. In 2014, we co-founded Cherehani with a shared vision of building thriving communities through access to financial services.
Cherehani is driven by the belief that informal economies are invigorated when women micro-entrepreneurs have convenient access to vital financial services and business management skills.
MB: What are the main problems you are trying to solve?
NM: At Cherehani Africa, the core problem we are addressing is the lack of traditional credit assets and financial illiteracy which limits women and adolescent girls’ access to vital financial services, inhibiting their socio-economic mobility.
1.1 billion women around the world currently lack access to formal financial services. Kenya is home to more than 10 million women-owned businesses. Less than 7% have ever accessed credit from formal financial services, leaving a credit gap of approximately $1.5 billion every year.
Nasreen Ali Mohamed, Co-Founder, Cherehani Africa
MB: What is your biggest challenge right now?
NM: Our main challenge when starting out, which continues to be a challenge as we penetrate new markets, is the attitude of our target customers towards lending institutions. They’ve seen or heard about other micro-entrepreneurs being harassed by financial institutions for defaulting on repayments.
At Cherehani, our goal is to build thriving communities and lift our customers out of poverty, so we have made it our priority to win our customers trust by building a long-term partnership with them, and not just a lender-borrower relationship.
MB: What is your vision for the future of your business?
NM: Our mission extends beyond monetary support and looks to facilitate the sustainable growth of micro-enterprises through financial literacy training and customised business advice.
We currently serve more than 18,000 women micro-entrepreneurs with a specific focus in very rural and remote underserved regions in Kenya.
Our focus is to go beyond the traditional notions of financial inclusion to the broader universal goal of financial well-being. Our goal is to build a financial service company for rural Africa starting with micro-entrepreneurs in rural Kenya. By building a credit bureau for the financially excluded, we provide a pathway to sustainable economic citizenship.
We aim to expand our suite of service offerings beyond lending to support growth of our customers’ micro-enterprises. This includes: a micro-enterprise insurance scheme to shield customers from uncertainties, and opening the learning platform to reach customers outside our lending pipeline.
My goal is to be able to work with other global leaders who are pursuing poverty eradication – with a focus on women empowerment.
MB: What is your advice to other leaders who want to combine profit and purpose?
NM: Find your WHY? When you know your top 3-4 values, you know exactly what you want and what you don’t want.
Use your strengths, talents, drivers and networks to get started. Start small and do what you are really good at and what you truly believe in. Don’t try and boil the entire ocean
MB – What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
NM – Take action. Intelligent action. And just trust the process… There’s going to be obstacles but its going to be incredible!
MB – Who inspires you?
NM – My Mama! She has grit and grace, a powerful combination!
MB – How do you define success?
NM – Continuous growth – and lifting others up in the process.
MB – What is something you wish you were better at?
NM – Saying no.
MB – What is the one book everyone should read?
AG – “The Leader Who Had No Title” by Robin Sharma
MB – What do you do to relax?
NM – Explore nature.
Discover the other MB100 leaders recognised for their work combining profit and purpose to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in 2020, here.