By Kage Njoroge and Azael Masese
When the book of Unaitas history, the name of Joseph Ngaai Kabugu is read loud and clear.
Kabugu, the founding member of Unaitas when it started in 1993 in Murang’a, has risen through the ranks to become the society’s third chair.
“Members proposed that I join the board in 2000 having participated in championing their welfare,” he says.
After his Form Four examinations in 1983, in Nyandarua, where his father had migrated to, he went back to Murang’a, his grandfather’s place.
At the time, the Government under retired President Daniel Arap Moi was encouraging the youth to venture into tea farming.
To achieve this goal, they formed a self-help group where they assisted one another to plant tea bushes.
In 1993 they formed a society which would later transform to Unaitas. However, the need to buy a power saw that would cost Sh45,000, with savings of Sh15,000, made him become actively engaged in the activities of the society.
He took his second loan to build a house and in 2000, he took his third loan to buy a piece of land measuring 1.5 acres and planted tea.
“I had started as a tea farmer in Mathioya, Murang’a but due to my vision to improve the social and economic wellbeing of the members, I was elected a delegate in 1998,” he says.
In 2000, members proposed that he be elected the board member due his vision of helping members mobilise savings and taking loans to engage in social and economic activities.
He continued serving until 2008 when he was appointed as the vice chair, which he served for three years until 2011 when his predecessor retired.
Firmly as the chair, he rallied the board members and management to rebrand the society from Muramati to Unaitas in July 2012.
“When we opened a new branch in Juja and Tembo Road, in Nairobi, we realised that Muramati would not appeal to members from outside Murang’a hence the decision for the change,” he said.
Though they had invested immensely in Muramati, they took a bold step and rebranded to Unaitas in 2012.
Since he took over, share capital has shot to Sh3.3 billion according to audited financial report as at 31st December 2018 compared to Sh186 million in 2012.
However, this involved taking a deep outlook on why the society and other societies in general were unable to mobilise more savings as part of their core mandate.
“The issue revolved around good corporate governance and in 2012, Unaitas participated in the Champions of Good Governance, initiated by the Institute of Certified Secretaries,” he said.
During the year, Unaitas emerged third and the following year, Kabugu was declared the Chairman of the Year.
Members, he realized, did not have trust and confidence to deposit their money with the co-operatives and the first task was to improve on this.
“It was a deliberate effort to see that the practices of corporate good governance are properly entrenched in the society and have management and board separate,” he says.
Since then, the performance of the society has been on the upward trajectory where its capital rise from Sh186 million when he took over to over Sh3.3 billion by end of December 2018.
To cultivate prudent leadership, the board sits after six months where they evaluate the chair and the chair evaluates the rest of the members.
“We invite an external examiner who sits with each board member to point out areas of weaknesses and on which to improve on.”
Unaitas membership has grown to over 300,000, one of the highest in Africa in the co-operative sector.
His working relationship with the CEO is cordial. His vision is to ensure members save and participate in building their economic well-being.
“It is easier to grow by saving and grow slowly and I want to improve on the culture of saving in the members,” he says.
With a footprint in thirteen counties, Unaitas is set to open new branches in 2020.