Self-employment is a major source of income for low income Kenyans, and Financial Diaries respondents are no exception. When we talked to respondents in 2015, two years after the close of the original Diaries, those whose economic lives were improving pointed to business returns as one of the main drivers of their success.
Business opportunities are more widespread than employment and offer the possibility of increasing income for the household beyond the base pay of a salary. The businesses of low income people are quite diverse, at the lowest level encompassing petty trade in enterprises that come and go with high levels of churn. Only a few become more permanent and specialized, and almost none graduate into the traditional SME space, hiring formal employees, expanding branch outlets, or introducing new improvements in productivity.
In this paper, we take a close look at the businesses of respondents, the financial needs for different levels of business activity, and the limitations of these microbusinesses to join and contribute to Kenya’s modern economy.