By Benedict Ngetich
Born and bred in a humble background in Seretet location, Kipsolu in Belgut constituency, Kenya Highlands Chairman, Mr. Richard Mutai has a story to tell. He started off as co-operative officer and rose through the ranks due to his unequaled resilience, patience and hard work to head the premier Sacco.
A pillar of hope and optimism in the Sacco for the period he served in various capacities. He started as a small scale shopkeeper operating a kiosk in his village for over 18 years. His diligence and patience saw him finally became an advocate for the Kenya Highlands Sacco Society. Mutai’s rise to the top is feat to be emulated by the new generation of young savers in his locality and beyond.
The long serving Chair says he joined Kenya Highlands accidentally, reminiscing: “I used to farm tea on a 0.5-acre parcel of land and my tea proceeds used to be channeled through a local bank. But on one occasion the proceeds went to the then Belgut Tea Sacco without my knowledge. I went to inquire but was told the only way to get the money was by first opening an account with the then small society which was based in Kapsoit Trading Centre.”
“I proceeded to open one and after that I realized the goodness of the move and the rest as they say is history. That was around 1995,” he says.
Mr. Mutai went to Kericho Tea Boys for his secondary education and later trained as a Certified Director at the Co-operative College. Mutai who has undertaken short courses in various fields, says that from proceeds of the 0.5-acre tea he later was able to purchase a bigger farm which he put under tea bushes, greatly increasing his monthly earnings.
In the year 2000 an opening occurred in Seretet zone position of delegate.
“I entered the race where I had to fight it out with 10 candidates where each individual was selling their manifesto. Luckily, and after serious campaigning I emerged the winner. I had a threshold of 80 per cent as per requirements then. Only five candidates managed to secure the required threshold,” he added.
The position of Field Representative is like that a delegate currently and like the current delegates they were to be the ambassadors of the society in the grassroots, selling its policy and recruiting more members. He later joined the Belgut Sacco Board Committee where he was appointed to the Education Committee position he held for three years.
“I also joined the Credit Committee and became Credit Secretary in the third year, a position I held for 8 consecutive years. Later I became Credit Chairman for one year from 2012 to 2013,” he explained. He was elected the Society Chairman in 2014 and has been steering the Sacco in in that position up to date.
As Chair it has not been an all a rosy ride for the Sacco which has grown in leaps and bounds to become one of the strongest pillars for tea farmers in the region and the country at large.
“Our achievements together with the other board members under the stewardship of the Chief Executive Officer, Mrs. Alice Kosgey include the introduction of the Delegate System,” he says.
His able team at the board include; the Vice Chair Mr. Johana Towett and the Treasurer, Mr. Daniel Lang’at who is among the founder members of the society. Together with the CEO who is among the founders they have steered the society from its humble background in Kapsoit to its current status.
He says they introduced attractive packages which have seen the sacco grow from a membership of 67,000 to the current over 93,000 and growing.
Under his leadership the society also managed to purchase the iconic building at the Kericho Central Business District which was owned by the Standard Chartered bank. “We also bought and built the Kabianga branch and the latest baby is the Silibwet branch, which is situated in the neighbouring Bomet County,” he says proudly.
“We owe our success to vision of the entire board and co-operation of delegates and very positive thinking membership,” he stated.
The chair says the board has been very adaptive of the new innovative technologies and they were constantly staying ahead in the ICT realm.
“We intend to put up a modern building at the Kericho Town branch to cater for the future needs of the members,” he added.
They have however been facing stiff competition from commercial banks, while the constant fluctuation of tea prices in the global market remains one of the biggest headaches to the sector. This compounded by unpredictable weather conditions impacting the society negatively. Prolonged drought has also affect tea production besides unfavorable regulations imposed by the government, he noted and called for greater consultation before they are implemented.
Corona has made people borrow loans for their upkeep, he noted.
He is full of praise for the society delegates, management, staff, shareholders and calls on all of them to be patriotic and faithful to Kenya Highlands Sacco adding, “this is a people driven society, which has been surviving by the grace of God who has been the light of the Sacco with the trust and goodwill from its members and the community.”
“This is why we have managed to emerge stronger from complex and challenging circumstances and our strongest pillar has been the trust given to its management by the local community and leaders,” he notes.
The chair thanked their partners who include James Finlays, Williamson Tea, Evergreen, the KTDA,Litein Mission ,Kaisugu Tea, the County Government of Kericho and many others for having trust in them and channeling their proceeds through the Sacco.
Mr. Mutai is full of optimism for the future of Kenya Highlands saying it was set to scale higher in giving loans to its members and broadening their economic base.
Mr. Mutai holds management positions in various organizations including the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) and schools. He is the current Chairman of his local Kesaketiet Primary School. His awards and achievement are as follows;
In the year 2018 the Sacco participated in Ushirika celebrations both at national and county level.
In the national level they were ranked as follows;
1. Best managed Sacco-Agriculture based- 3rd position.
2. Best in Credit management-Agriculture based-3rd position.
3. Governance awards-2nd runners up
4. Efficient-agriculture based – 3rd position.
In the County level they were ranked;
1. Highest Interest on Deposits Sacco with FOSA- 1st position.
2. Loan deposits rates Fosa’s -1st position
3. Date of AGM/ADM-Fosa- 1st position
4. Growth in Income- Fosa Saccos- 2nd position
5. Champions of Governance -2nd position.
6. Growth in Loans-2nd position.
7. Low committee expenditure and budget ratio-fosa Sacco- 2nd position.
8. Best in Education Fosas-2nd position.
9. Innovative Products- Fosa – 3rd position.
10. Risk Management Fosa- 3rd position.
11. Capitalization –Fosas- 3rd position.
12. Wide Coverage – 3rd position.