Critic Kate Copstick shows how to make a difference in Africa – or anywhere

Copstick (in blue) at Mama Biashara project

Copstick (in blue) at Mama Biashara project

In this blog, I have occasionally mentioned comedy critic Kate Copstick’s Kenyan-based charity Mama Biashara which helps poor people (mostly women) start up self-sustaining businesses by giving them very small grants and initial advice and help.

Although she never mentions this, Copstick takes no salary and covers none of her costs – for example, none of her travel or accommodation costs; none of her personal overheads.

It is a conscious attempt to make a difference on a small scale. But ‘small scale’ is a relative term, as this missive from Copstick shows.

There is chaos in Kenya. Teachers have been striking for extra pay. Government teachers mainly. They took their case to the High Court and won. President Kenyatta pays as little attention to his own courts as he does to the ICC, it would seem, and is ignoring the order. But so that no one notices that it is Government schools that are shut by the strikes, he has closed ALL schools in Kenya. Way to go Mr President.

I have breakfast (well, three mugs of milky coffee) and do a bit of writing. I get an email offering me the job of interviewing Charlie Higson for Radio Times.

Doris and I meet at Nakumatt – There is much good news for her to impart. I ply her with coffee, chicken and chips and extract the following updates on our groups :

Rabbit Boys – have expanded into Uganda.

Eggs – we now have about 1,000 people selling eggs.

Peanut Butter – the Somali 4th Wives Club who began the business have added another 39 ladies and did a roaring trade at the UN Car Boot Sale. The catering groups have been trained by Sudanese and Ugandan clients to cook using peanut butter as a frying medium and as a sauce and have expanded their client base.

Trousers and Assorted Clothes – although 169 Mama Biashara businesses were destroyed in the huge fire at Gikomba, they all started up again under their own steam. We now have about 300 small clothes sellers in the market. They have spawned more businesses in other markets including ironing businesses. All are from the original boys group with no extra funding from Mama Biashara. We are still adding business people to this group. It has infinite growth capacity

School Books – we now have about 100 people selling books plus a new group in Kisii of ten people

Kucha Kool – we have lost track of the Kucha Kool groups – they have expanded far into the distance. But, at last count, we were offering manicure pedicure and hairdos in 22 hospitals with 40 more hairdressers elsewhere. Kucha Kool now come along to some of the occasions where our catering ladies operate and do manicures during the functions/cocktail evenings.

Majani – another huge group which continues growing without the aid of any more grants. A new lady joins and she is given half a sack of tea and takes it from there with some training and a few introductions from our existing ladies. Who now number about 200.

Spices – our ladies now import their own from Uganda and Tanzania. And groups have spread from Limuru as far as the Coast – Mombasa, Mpekatoni, Ganze and Watamu – doing good business in the thick of the ethnic cleansing.

Rice – we now have more than 500 ladies selling rice. Businesses on the Coast (Watamu, Mombasa, Ganze and Mpekatoni) have doubled in the past three or four months.

Waterproof Panties – when we started selling these babies’ waterproof panties, we were the only ones making them. Originally there was a group of 29 ladies in Mathare and Doris brought in a trainer, who we paid a little fee. Now we have more than 1,000 ladies across Nairobi and in Mombasa, Watamu and Ganze. Although the Somalis have seen our success and have now gone into production themselves.

Pigs – thanks to the efforts of the loins of Dirty Neil, we have started another 160 businesses. Each litter gave one piglet to Mama Biashara. That is some serious loin-work.

Kuku – a massively successful business whose success is not always appreciated by others. In Kitengela, the market where our hardworking boys have their kuku (one group, but a big one), there is currently great unrest. Many years ago the Maasai had all the stalls in the market. However the Maasai are not big on being arsed to turn up and do business every day especially when business is not good. So the Maasai sold their stalls, one by one, to Kikkuyu people who DO like to do business. And now, after several years, the market is absolutely booming. Which has not gone unnoticed by the Maasai who have now decided that this market is theirs by right and want their stalls back (albeit they wouldn’t have a clue about running them successfully). And so there is much unrest and not a little violence. Which isn’t good for the chicken business.

Mashallah – our toiletries business (which includes accessories and sparkly bits and bobs) is doing really well and we now have 60 girls (and gay guys) in Limuru, 40 in Kikkuyu, 29 in Huruma, 67 in Eastleigh and about 40 in Kenol. Growing fast. And fully self seeding. Our dedicated accessory ladies and boys now number about 200. With special mention to our lovely strippers who started (they had been selling sex on the street but came indoors to tease and make a lot more money at stag dos and boys’ parties) with 6 and now have 20 young women in gainful employment.

Vicky’s Cleaners – are now a sort of All East African Cleaning Consultancy with contracts in Zanzibar, Tanzania and all points Coastal. They now operate from Mombasa and send their people all over to train up newbies wherever the work is needed. Vicky has gone Big Time. They are now going into the fumigation business as well as everything else.

Cake Making – we now have over 300 people baking cakes, bread etc with the most experienced supplying the wedding cakes for our Wedding Groups. This started about 18 months ago with 9 girls and 14 boys.

Samosa – From our original group of 5 young men, we expanded to do big contracts (orders of 2,000 daily not including the ones sold by our individual people). We are now at the stage where 70% of the samosas sold in Limuru are Mama Biashara Samosas. Yet again, very very little extra money went into the expansion.

Thabai – Our original group was 30. And it spread widely, into Tanzania and Uganda. Now we hear Mama Biashara is Persona Non Grata with the Maasai in the original area of the first group because the women tried to mobilise their husbands to do some work and contribute. And when they found they could not, the entire group took their kids and moved to Rwanda – where they can enjoy (as they put it) “wearing trousers”.

Vitamba – sofa and chair covers (a sort of glorified antimacasser set). From our original group (another 4th Wives Club within a Zimbabwean refugee community) of 25 we have now almost taken over supplying Sudan. We have 230 ladies and Mama Biashara is now a household name in Khartum and Juba. This has happened with only one extra grant being given.

Coffee – From 2 boys to start with we now have 20 urns in Koinganga, 7 in Limuru and 20 in Kikkuyu as well as in Nairobi Town. Each urn supports about 20 people working in shifts – coffee is a 24 hour business.

Mandazi / Chapati – Most of the new women who are taken in to do the catering functions leave at the end with a grant to set up a chapati business. They do chapati in the morning, mandazi in the afternoon and add other snack foods (like githeri or boiled maize) according to the area they are in. Altogether we now have about 650 women – all funded through the catering contracts we get for functions like TGIF evenings and corporate celebrations. And, of course, the weddings.

Detergent and Jik (bleach) – A good profit business and we now have over 500 people doing it plus a load (TBC) in Awendo and in Western Kenya. Our Jik is much in demand. And it comes in a pack of 36 tablets for £1 from Poundworld.

Those are just a few of our businesses.

After talking to Doris, I set off for Waithake. My journey is complicated by the fact that the Kenya Rural Roads Authority has started to tarmac bits of road. Oddly, they are starting with speed bumps on a road on which the finest rally drivers would be hard pushed to get above 30mph.

I meet a couple of young women who are representing groups from the Limuru area who need grants. One is fronting a group of 30 girls who have created a business where none was before in Limuru.

They are calling themselves the Sanitary Babes and are going around ten office blocks (who have agreed) installing bins for sanitary towels and coming round to empty and clean them. The used product is then taken to a man who – believe it or not – recycles them. “Not to use again,” I am told, reassuringly.

Because Copstick is having trouble with computers and internet access in Kenya, she will have missed a couple of our weekly Grouchy Club Podcasts but, on her return, four live – totally free – Grouchy Club shows/meetings are being held at her Mama Biashara shop in Shepherd’s Bush London. Details are currently on the Grouchy Club website.

1 Comment

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One response to “Critic Kate Copstick shows how to make a difference in Africa – or anywhere

  1. That’s a lot of great work going on. Congratulations everybody !!!

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