From struggling to join a Sacco to leading one of the biggest in the country, it has been long journey for Robert Kithanju.
When he applied to join the Embu Teachers Sacco in 1990, he had to wait for long before his application was accepted. Three decades later, he is the leader of the very sacco which was later renamed Winas Sacco.
“I had intended to save earlier but that was marred by a perception that teachers’ Saccos were district-based. The Sacco thus took long to admit me. So when I joined I saved all I could in order to attain my financial goals. I dedicated my entire salary to saving because, as a drama patron, I was involved in extra-curriculum activities and getting some money on the side,” says Kithanju.
From that time, Kithanju who is also the Chairman of the Kenya Teachers Sacco Association (KETSA), has never looked back. He not only strove to build his savings but also aspired to take the Sacco to greater heights by taking up a leadership role.
Winas Sacco Sacco stands tall among its peers in the region. Kithanju credits the Embu County-based Sacco’s impressive performance to vigorous marketing, recruitment of new members and offering of an array of products that suit the needs of existing and new members and other business processes re-engineering.
But it has not always been like that for the Sacco which was established in 1977 to serve teachers in the then Embu District.
The Sacco’s trajectory changed for the better when a new management took over in 2003 at a time when the institution was ailing, with members frustrated due to poor services.
“The new team embarked on deliberate and ambitious revival by introducing a good corporate culture. We streamlined our operations and today professionalism and customer service characterize us,” says Kithanju who has served as the board chairman since 2008, but was briefly out in 2010.
Kithanju says the overall performance has been good including meeting regulatory requirements.
In 2007, the cooperative was able to clear the backlog such that people would now wait for a maximum of two months to have their loans dispatched and by 2008 to just a month.
“Today, a loan application is approved the same day or within a week at most,” observes Kithanju.
The Sacco is deeply entrenched in Embu County with branches in Kiritiri, Ishiara, Runyenjes and Matuu, among other outlets.
Kithanju says the Winas Sacco Plaza in Kiritiri town, which hosts the area branch, has helped build confidence of the Sacco among people in the area. He adds that also applies to the Ishiara branch.
The Sacco rebranded to Winas Sacco from Embu Teachers Sacco as it diversified its membership to effectively tap the economic potential in all viable sectors in Kenyan and beyond.
Opening of the Sacco’s common bond in the year 2010 allowed members from other sectors, and not just teachers, to join the Sacco, a move that saw membership shoot up and the fortunes of the Sacco brighten.
Kithanju says the smooth running of the Sacco and products tailored to meet needs of members has seen new members join the cooperative in droves.
For the period the Sacco performed dismally, Kithanju recalls that teachers in their hundreds ditched it and joined other Saccos in the neighbouring Kirinyaga and Tharaka-Nithi counties, but when they gained confidence in the new management they trooped back.
“When the Sacco recovered, the teachers came back and became key marketers. They brought in their spouses, children, colleagues and the community,” states Kithanju.
“Traders, civil servants, private sector employees, mama mbogas and boda boda riders, among others clients have joined the Sacco. More keep on joining because we have developed products that meet the financial needs of specific segments of the economy,” he explains.
The institution has developed systems that it uses to reach to the young people. For instance, the Sacco launched an initiative to educate boda boda riders on financial management. Kithanju described the training, which reached 600 riders, as all rounded since they brought on board the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA), Kenya Red Cross, National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF), CIC Insurance and the Ministry of Health.
Kithanju says they capped the training by issuing the riders with coded jackets for ease of identification as per an agreement they had with the government.
At a personal level, Kithanju credits the Sacco for contributing considerably to his personal development.
From their savings boosted by financing from Winas Sacco, Kithanju and his family ventured into commercial maize milling.
Their company Croran Millers Ltd produces Ugali Chonjo maize meal brand whose sales are performing well in Eastern region and making inroads to other parts of the country.
By Our Reporter
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