Vitaline’s inspiring journey from street hawker to entrepreneurial triumph

The oranges from Vitaline Jemaiyo Kiprop’s plastic basket spilled onto the high street.  There was one in a road-side puddle that bobbed a bit as the traffic went by in the Central Business District.  The others had rolled under cars, dropped in the muddy ditch, or just lay where they hit the ground with a thud as Vitaline ran from the police. Oro oro – hawkers like Vitaline — can move from sitting on a roadside bench to a full out sprint. Kenya’s champion runners like Kipchoge aren’t the only ones in Eldoret that know how to move. When you have to choose, hold onto your cash and leave the fruit behind. When Vitaline had her first daughter, she took a break for three weeks.  Then she wrapped her newborn daughter in kitenge on her back and went out to sell again. Vitaline continued oro oro hawking for seventeen more years and two more children.

Today, Vitaline opens her produce shop each morning. In the early hours, she pulls opens the corrugated awning to put out rows of mangoes, hang the ripening bananas, and carefully weigh bags of fresh shelled beans and garlic. When COVID turned the world upside down, the crackdowns on hawkers became unbearable, and Vitaline finally opened a small space in a market corridor.  While she’s just a few streets away from where she used to carry heavy baskets and jangle loose coins in her apron pockets, the difference in her life is significant.

While she had a physical space now, the challenges of running a stationary location, managing inventory, paying taxes had all been new experiences for her. Vitaline joined Inkomoko’s program for small enterprises in mid-2023. Approached by an Inkomoko staff to join the new business advisory program, Vitaline slapped her ID on the counter and said “sign me up” – decisive, wanting more for herself and her children. 

On the first day of training, Vitaline stood outside the hotel where dozens of Inkomoko entrepreneurs had gathered. Not fully literate, she never found comfort in classrooms. Our trainer found her outside, invited her in.  Since then, her growth – in revenue and confidence – has been exponential.

In about 9 months, Vitaline finished the advisory program, took a low-interest loan of 400,000 KES ($4k USD) from Inkomoko to open a second storefront, and hired three more staff, including starting deliveries across the city.  She’s sent her daughter to boarding school in Australia, and has taken in her in-laws when her husband died, creating an improved life for her family of six. And when the Inkomoko investment officers reviewed her financials for a round of due diligence, they couldn’t believe this revenue was all stemming from a small produce stand.  She started hawking with 500 Kenyan shillings – about $5 USD. 

With more skills, more access to finance, and advocates at Inkomoko who are cheering her on, Vitaline stopped running on the street, and now runs the most successful business on the street. 

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