Ingrid Munro

After a career in housing, Ingrid Munro, a Swedish architect and urban planner, retired and founded Jamii Bora, a microfinance trust. A former UN-Habitat worker, Munro previously worked with the Swedish government in the Bureau of Housing Research before moving to Nairobi.

As a housing expert with the United Nations, Munro pressed for decent housing rights for the poor. When a Pan-African inter-governmental housing organisation — the African Housing Fund — was formed, Munro was chosen to head the programme. Advocating for the homeless, the programme sought to begin projects that would spur more initiatives in providing housing solutions to the very poor. She headed the fund for 11 years until her retirement. In March 1999, Munro loaned a group of 50 street beggars US$5 each. She got acquainted with them through her son whom she and her husband had adopted in 1988.

This would mark the birth of Jamii Bora. That initial group of 50 grew to 5000 in just six months and Jamii Bora Trust was registered. It was a fitting name that espoused their core belief — even beggars can be good families.
In 2010, following exponential growth as a microfinance company and with increasing regulatory demands from the Central Bank, Jamii Bora Trust bought the smallest bank at that time, City Finance Trust, and converted it to Jamii Bora Bank. Munro quickly realised that for holistic transformation to occur, the poor needed more than just
microfinance. She therefore she started a savings and credit cooperative society to continue meeting the needs of the urban poor and those in remote rural areas who could not be served by their branches.

At one point, Munro noted high rates of defaulting by members. After some home visits, she discovered that most of those struggling to make payments had a sick family member and this was affecting their loan payments. When she failed to get affordable medical cover for her members, she started her own health insurance. Members and their dependents were covered and the response was positive. In addition to its lending programmes and the health insurance, Jamii Bora expanded to provide disaster insurance (members affected by the 2007/2008 post-election violence were compensated), extensive staff training (through Jamii Bora Business Academy), a clean-and- sober programme (for drug and alcohol rehabilitation) and a beggars’ programme.

Moreover, Jamii Bora opened opportunities for home ownership to its members, providing dignity and decent housing to those in the slums. With a strong foundation of members’ savings, innovative programmes and the use of technology, Jamii Bora is in a class of its own.

In her televised programme on Kenya’s Citizen TV, Who Owns Kenya, Julie Gichuru stated that Munro’s name should certainly be in the ranks of Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi Nobel prize-winning microcredit banker. She undoubtedly saw a gap in the lowest social classes — criminals, prostitutes and street families had been neglected and she did something about it.

Munro’s empathy, entrepreneurial spirit and unwavering belief that the poorest of the poor can be trusted with microfinance and empowered to improve their own lives is the defining philosophy that has constantly driven her pursuits. This is contrary to prevailing thought in conventional financial circles.

With proper assistance focussed on empowerment and sustainability, Munro has proven that even the most impoverished person can climb out of poverty.

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