“In Kenya, it’s easier to go to the chemist than go to the hospital.” Faith is a pharmacist, known locally as a chemist, running a small pharmacy in Nairobi. Her business is open Monday through Saturday, and unless she’s out of town, she’s there from opening to closing. She sees countless neighbors in her work — fellow Kenyans, as well as immigrants from Somalia, Sudan, and other neighboring countries who live in her neighborhood. She herself came to the city from Kenya’s Makueni County, about 200 miles from Nairobi.
Faith was inspired to work in health care by her aunt, a doctor, who encouraged her. Faith has found her place as a pharmacist and entrepreneur. She understands her community, and her customers trust her to provide what they need — whether that’s medication, a referral, or just someone to hear them. “I listen to them. I focus on their problems. I advise them, if possible, then I dispense medicine to them,” she says. Faith, her husband, and their 10-year-old son live in the neighborhood where she works. Since 2014, she has filled prescriptions and offered advice to community members who often see her as the first point of contact for their medical care.
“In our country, people can buy medicine but might not go to the hospital. Because the hospitals, they’re expensive. So, most people prefer to come to the chemist,” she says. “There’s no consultation fee. They just tell me, I feel pain, I feel something. I see what I can give to them.” Her biggest sellers are painkillers and acid reflux pills.
Women like Faith make up just 42 percent of pharmacists in Kenya, and an even smaller percentage of entrepreneurs. Accion believes in the power of entrepreneurship to help women freely participate in the economy, to the benefit of themselves, their families, and their communities. Our investments aim to help women like Faith access the tools and financial resources they need to succeed.
To be sure, Faith has felt financial stress while running her pharmacy. Like other small businesses, community pharmacies face unpredictable demand, difficulty tracking inventory, and cash flow constraints when stocking their shelves. For years, she says, “I was ordering from wholesalers. It was difficult for me because sometimes they do not give on credit. So, they need cash. Buying on cash is not easy for a business. You need someone to support you. And so, I find myself using Shelf Life.”
Shelf Life is a platform product from Field Intelligence, an Accion Venture Lab portfolio company. “Field Intelligence is the healthcare supply chain for Africa,” says founder and CEO Michael Moreland. “Our goal is to support healthcare providers in every setting. We provide the planning, fulfillment, and finance for everything from the corner drug shop to the community pharmacy all the way up to the big tertiary hospital in both the public sector and private sector.”
Faith started using Field’s platform in the middle of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic had disrupted supply chains and people, afraid to visit hospitals, flocked to pharmacists for medical care.
“People were in panic,” she recalls. “They didn’t know what to do. It was something we had never heard about. Every person, they wanted everything which can prevent them from catching the pandemic.” Customers needed medicines, but the pandemic had disrupted supply chains worldwide and made it difficult to keep items in stock.
“The problem that we’re trying to solve broadly is availability,” says Moreland. Through his company’s platform, “the pharmacy is outsourcing all of the planning, all of the fulfillment, the stock management and accessing financing embedded into this complete supply chain solution. In this way, they can focus on treating the patient and not worry about managing a supply chain.”
With daily life returning to pre-pandemic norms and the flexibility that Shelf Life provides, Faith is thinking about the future of her business. Her husband encourages her to open a bigger store. “12 more, actually,” she says. “He loves what I do and encourages me to open a very big business. We would love to combine this business and his work.”
Accion Venture Lab invests in innovative fintechs like Field Intelligence, which make it possible to serve low-income consumers profitably and efficiently. Fintechs like Field optimize supply chains to help community pharmacies like Faith’s keep the best medicines available and concentrate on helping their customers. These resources can help women entrepreneurs grow and thrive.