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A few weeks ago Unaitas Sacco concluded its inaugural chama competition that aimed at bringing out the best in Kenya’s investment groups and on reflection the show has offered a treasure trove of lessons for aspiring groups.

The competition attracted over 1,000 investment groups or chamas that were shortlisted to 14 with Kabati Pork, an investment group that runs a pork abattoir in the Kabati area, north of the Nairobi emerging the winning group.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that Kabati Pork and runner ups such as Fiorente Divas are not accurate representation of the average Kenyan investment group or Chama.

From the entries submitted it seems that the perceived preferred path to prosperity is purchasing plots of lands, mostly in satellite towns which have lower land prices, and then flipping these land parcels at a future date ostensibly when prices have sharply risen.

While there is nothing wrong with this approach there are other viable sectors of the economy that offer opportunities for chamas but are often overlooked.

Smaller business ventures-most Chamas come together often with lofty dreams and business ideas, the paradox is that they believe that they can only do big projects and or businesses because they are in a group and as such waste a lot of time thinking and planning for those huge projects forgetting the old wisdom of starting small

Place for proper business practices-investment groups like most Kenyans believe they can do business are good business people and can do it yet most of them do not have the basics on how to run a business-in the final analysis they become frustrated and even disintegrate due to lack of knowledge and congruence on what to do.

Leadership management & development-just like the case with business basics leadership is also an issue-the point of origin is that most investment groups come together from a social context and as such a lot of camaraderie is prevalent in their dealings where original group mobilizers are retained as leaders irrespective of possession of other skills

Being enjoined by diversity but separated by prosperity-most groups come together focused on tackling an element of challenge or problem and this pulls them together and gives them a common agenda however once they begin to prosper and overcome the original problem, their prosperity becomes a source of problems, interests, goals, and objectives change making the group sustainability difficult

The chamas that made it to the final stages have shown that agribusiness, food processing and education are some industries that chamas can and should invest in as sustainable business models drive them.

A good example is the meat industry, which produced the winning investment group.

Kenya’s rapidly urbanising and young population will need a constant and large adequate of meat, presenting a golden opportunity for chamas.

A report on Kenya’s meat sector that was prepared for Dutch businesses found that beef, chicken, mutton, goat meat consumption will more than double over the next two decades for the aforementioned reasons.

Dissecting the meat industry further, the report shows that there are opportunities in deboning, slaughtering, packaging, vet services, animal feeds, cold storage, transportation and other processes along the value chain where chamas can invest in.

Looking at value addition possibilities in education, transport, energy and other sectors it is clear that there are major opportunities for chamas that are yet to be exploited.

In addition to earning dividend such investments would create jobs, contribute to government revenues and give much needed support to the “Buy Kenya, Build Kenya” policy.

There are however no low hanging fruit. For chamas to seize these opportunities they must be willing to invest resources including time to carry out thorough research.

The importance of research cannot be overemphasised. Research allows chamas to spot opportunities as well as identify threats. Chamas can additionally package their products and services to best serve those markets as they keep track on what is happening in the industry.

Chamas should also have Spartan financial discipline and members must embrace a shared vision if they are to go to the next level.

Kenya has an estimated 300,000 chamas that control close to Ksh 300 billion, a remarkable achievement by any standard.

These chamas have the potential to change the fortunes of generations to come if they challenge themselves to do the extra ordinary and now is the best time.

The writer is the Chief Executive Officer of Unaitas Sacco Society Limited.