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Time to make families, country think sustainably

By Ng'ang'a Mbugua
Friday, January 8th, 2021
Family prays to take supper.
In summary

It is universally acknowledged that the family is the basic unit of a nation. As Kenyans come to terms with realities of January after Christmas, it is imperative they critically examine their families to gauge whether they are functional and sustainable.

For only in doing so  will we, as a collective, be better placed to judge direction in which the nation is heading.

Is the family cohesive? Is the leadership structure working as it should? Is the family prosperous or prospering?

Is every member healthy, or at least enjoying some form of medical insurance, no matter how rudimentary?

Are there steps the family ought to take to improve the lives, fortunes of its members?

It goes without saying that when leadership is failing, or families are growing poorer, these are symptoms of a bigger social and economic malaise at a collective level.

One of the biggest challenges facing Kenyan families today is failure to develop a robust and deliberate savings culture.

They operate from hand-to-mouth, with little or nothing left at the end of each budgeting cycle to tide them over in hard times or when they need to make a significant investment, say in the education of their brightest child.

Yet, every poor parent knows long-term fortunes of their families depend on success or failure of their brightest or most diligent children.

It is a conundrum that despite knowing they will need to make this investment, thousands of parents sit on their hands, watching children go through school, yet making no tangible effort to prepare for the inevitable. Consequently, yearly thousands of children stare at a bleak future.

Of course, there is the argument that family incomes are too overstretched or too meagre to create any room for savings.

This argument, however, has been debunked by personal finance experts, who have often taught that savings should be the first expenditure.

At any rate, experiments by empowerment institutions, especially non-governmental organisations and social enterprises, have shown if families come together to form informal co-operatives and sell goods they produce collectively, they enjoy significantly higher chances of growing their incomes and transforming their lives. So why is it not done on a larger scale?

Take an example of pepper farmers in Kakamega, who had below average incomes from growing maize every year.

Yet, when they embraced growing pepper, with support of a foreign aid agency, their incomes shot through the roof.

Within months of the first harvest, they were building brick and iron-roofed houses, installing water harvesting technologies through communal free labour, and over time, started fixing access roads.

Honey sellers in Baringo, silkworm growers in Kitui and hay makers in Samburu have shared similar success stories, meaning that such economic transformation at the grassroots is not a myth.

However, for such successes to be replicated,  families - and their leadership -need  to be open to new ideas and innovations.

Similarly, change agents should trigger adoption of such innovations in small cohesive groups of families brought together by common interests, such as bee keeping or basket making.

More importantly, we must wean families of the dependency syndrome that holds back their most economically productive members.

We must challenge, for instance, notion that parents have to stop working when their eldest or brightest children get an entry-level job. 

As such, young people are compelled to take on responsibilities ideally ought to be shouldered by parents, thus delaying their own growth.

Let us make it fashionable to think sustainably, starting with our families. — The writer is a partner and head of content at House of Romford

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