The importance of social networks in Kenya

September 24th, 2015

After ten years of research in Kenya, we at FSD are beginning to have a relatively detailed understanding of how financial behaviour, needs, interpersonal relationships, and financial products interact.

From the start, we focused our research on the poorer, less-well served groups in society. These are the most vulnerable, who not only stand to benefit most, but are also most likely to be excluded from Kenya’s rapid development unless action is taken.

The financial lives of poor Kenyans are unbelievably complex, as demonstrated by the Kenya Financial Diaries  but we strongly believe that understanding key to making financial products that work for them, and, ultimately, help to lift them out of poverty.

As Europe reels from a refugee crisis on a scale not seen since the Second World War, extraordinary tales of good will and human kindness are emerging: Greek restaurant owners turning their carparks and canteens into refugee camps; Czechs providing makeshift water stations and giving out clothes to refugees walking to Austria; the German police meeting refugees off the train with teddy bears and blankets.

These acts of kindness surround us everyday, but often go unnoticed. We decided to review our detailed and still very much relevant 2014 study on the importance of social networks in Kenya, which outlines some equally remarkable facts on how Kenyans support each other. Read it and feel proud to be Kenyan!

Here are some highlights:

  • 75% of instances where Kenyans give “support” to others via mobile money are gifts – there is no expectation that the value will be returned.
  • Kenyans value “advice” as an important form of “support”, illustrating how highly people value trustworthy information and guidance, particularly when they face problems in their lives.
  • Kenyans use the exchange of financial support to develop and consolidate their relationships with others.
  • Some enjoy giving surprise gifts to longstanding friends, underlining and re-affirming the value of a friendship.
  • For women, there is an intimacy in assisting or being assisted with a financial problem, displayed through the language of adoption, for example, a neighbour who helped another’s daughter to go for police recruitment ‘took the daughter as hers’.



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