Mr.  Samuel Maina, Chairman, Urithi Housing Co-operative.Mr. Samuel Maina, Chairman, Urithi Housing Co-operative.

One of the traits that define outstanding   entrepreneurs is their ability to identify and relentlessly pursue   business opportunities.  By avoiding the trodden path, they turn such opportunities into successful enterprises within a relatively short period of time.  In the process, they create wealth and numerous income generating opportunities for their respective nations.  The success story of Urithi Housing Co-operative Society Limited exemplifies this spirit.

Three years ago, a group of  ten likeminded entrepreneurs from Thika in the central region of Kenya  teamed up in a bid to  establish a business  which  would  not only be a source of income during their retirement days, but  also  an inheritance for their children.  After putting their heads together, they identified housing as the most ideal venture for the goals they had identified.    This saw the birth of Urithi (Kiswahili for inheritance) which within three years has become a giant housing co-operative society in Kenya, with mega projects to its credit.

Humble roots
To  successfully    steer  a  ship to its  destination,  a  resourceful  captain  and  crew  are required. In that regard,   Mr.  Samuel Maina and Mr.  Daniel Kamau were chosen as Urithi’s first chairman and treasurer respectively by the members.  Consequently,   they  were given the  demanding  task  of  spearheading   the  organization’s     growth  in  its  demanding    days  as  a  start-up ( they still hold  the two positions to date).

In order to  reduce  the  burden  of   overheads, the chairman  allowed  the young  organization to operate from  his  private  office  in  Thika town  for  the  first  eight  months. “  Besides  giving  Urithi  space  in  my  small office,  I  also  shared  the services  of  my secretary  with the young organization  since  its   financial  resources  were  limited,”  Mr.   Maina recalls.  Indeed, to demonstrate the  high level  of  sacrifice  made  by  the ten founding    members  in  the  formative days  of  the organization,  none  of them  was  getting  paid  for  rendering  his  or her services.

To start with,   this team   purchased a three acre piece of land at Gatuanyaga (along the Thika – Garissa road) at a cost of Kshs.3.6 million.  They raised Kshs. 360,000 as a down payment for the maiden transaction.  The land was subdivided   into thirty plots and each was sold at Kshs. 150,000.

After eight months, Urithi formally opened its first office at Rubia House in Thika town. It also recruited five members   of staff to oversee its operations. Moreover, it purchased its first vehicle as   it embarked on an ambitious marketing   campaign to   recruit   more members.  Currently, it is operating  from   its  own  office block   at  Thika’s Section nine estate.  As  a sign  of   the  organization’s fast growth , it is putting up a  modern  office   complex  at  Ruiru  town  which  will  serve  as  its  headquarters   in  the near future.

Another feather  in  Urithi’s  cap  is  the  growth  of  its  membership  from  the  ten pioneers,  to  the  current  12,800.  “We intend to grow our membership to 20,000 by end next year and to 60,000 in three years in line with our strategic plan,” says Mr. Maina.

Legal entity
Precisely, Urithi   was registered by   the government as a housing co-operative   on 24th September 2012.  It serves under the Ministry of Industrialization and Enterprise Development‘s co-operative department.   Legally, the organization subscribes to the Co-operative Act Cap 490 that governs all co-operative societies in Kenya.

It   was founded to help  in  mitigating  the risks  of those who  are  unable  to access   the  services  of   housing co-operatives,   by virtue of where they work  or   the nature of their profession.  “   As  a  co-operative,  we  have  brought   people  from   different socio-economic   and   political backgrounds together  and  they   have  benefited  immensely  from  our  unique   product  offering,” shares  Mr.  Maina.  “ We  have  products  for  the low ,  middle  and  high  end  market segments ,” he adds.

Since its inception,  Urithi  has  made  great  strides  in   addressing    the housing challenges caused by economic  downturns  that  make it  extremely   difficult  for  many  people   to own assets like land and houses.

“  We acquire land at negotiated prices and by    leveraging  on   economies of the scale,  we are able to sell   it  at  subsidized  rates  to  our  members,”  says  Mr. Maina.   “  The  small profit realized is  shared   as  dividends  by  the  members ,  besides  being   used to facilitate  value addition activities like  construction   of  roads, water  installation , electrification, fencing and tree planting in  our  housing  projects,” he adds.



Urithi Olive Villas.

Achieving target
Over the last three years,   the  fast  growing  organization  has  successfully  completed  over 34 projects  in  various  parts   of  the  country  while 32  are at different  stages  of construction.  In addition, it has issued 3,400 title deeds, while over 3,000 others will be processed within the next five months.   According to the chairman, Urithi’s   target is to complete all its   ongoing projects by February next year.

“ We realize that  most  people at  the   bottom  of  the  pyramid   cannot  access  financing   to buy land or houses   because  they  do  not  have  collaterals, “  Mr.  Maina  observes.

“ As   a   co-operative,    we   have   given   them  a  platform   to  pool  their resources  and  ultimately, they  have acquired  pieces  of land  and  decent  houses,”  he further  says.

The   organization  also  educates  its  members  on  the  investment  opportunities   available  in the  lucrative  real  estate  market.

Despite making   major breakthroughs   in its undertakings, Urithi has faced a number of challenges.  To  start  with,  some  of its  members ( mainly the ones  running  small  businesses  or  in  low paying  jobs)  are  unable  to  finish  paying  for  their houses or plots within  the agreed  time frame.

Secondly, many   Kenyans   are risk averse and  they  therefore rarely  invest  huge  sums  of  money   in  asset  classes  they are not  familiar with.  “ In  that regard, we  undertake  extensive  education  campaigns   through   the media  and  public   forums  so  that both   our  existing  and  potential   members  can  understand   our  business and  the projects  we  are  undertaking,” observes Maina.

Unique model
In a  sector  where  many  investors have lost their  hard earned  money  to unscrupulous  traders,  Urithi stands out  because of its exemplary  business ethics. “ We  do intensive due diligence to ensure that  all  the land we put on sale to our members is genuine and we issue them with title deeds within two months after  they  have   settled  their payments, as opposed to  share certificates,”  says the chairman.  Being a legal document, a title deed comes in handy when one is need of financing. In addition, a member can easily trade with a piece of land which bears this important document.

The organization differentiates itself   from other players in the competitive real estate business by     offering unique products and services.     It   focuses mainly  on    the  construction  of  decent  and  competitively  priced  residential  and  commercial  centres.  Currently, it has a presence in four counties: Kiambu, Nairobi, Nakuru and Kajiado.  In three years time, it is planning to expand into seven more counties as per  its strategic  plan.

Significantly,  Urithi’s  projects  are aligned  to  the  rolling out  of  Vision 2030 flagship  projects  including : Konza Technology City,  Lamu Port- Southern Sudan  Ethiopia Transport ( LAPSET)  and  various  by-passes which have been constructed  to ease  traffic  congestion around Nairobi. “ We  purchase  land in such  strategic areas  on behalf  of  our members  before  any developments have taken place ,” Mr.   Maina observes.  “The value of this land appreciates a lot when the developments commence and our members therefore realize high returns on their investments,” he adds.

Moreover, before buying a property, Urithi researches on its location and bargains on the best price possible.   “ We also engage  a team of professionals   comprising   architects, structural engineers,  quantity surveyors and lawyers among others to advice us on  various technical issues  pertaining  to  the  real  estate  business,”  he  further  says.

Strategic partnerships
In line with the modern business practices, Urithi has developed strategic partnerships with financial institutions including, commercial and microfinance banks.  More   importantly though, the organization works closely with its members in developing unique    housing   concepts   which     meet their ever changing needs.

To  start  with  is  the ‘own a  room’ concept  which  was  launched  three  years ago.  It  targets  the  youth,  young  families  and  students  looking  forward  to  having   their  own  shelter,  as opposed  to  paying  rent.   The  first  project  in this  category  was put  up  in  Juja  on a  half  acre  plot.  It comprises 374 bedsitters and a few commercial units.  The  second  one  ( also  in  Juja)  is   nearing  completion  and  it  has  over  700 units.   Urithi  is  planning  to  roll out this  concept in  Nairobi, Mombasa  and   Nakuru  among  other major  towns in  the country.

Secondly  the  organization’s  ‘nyumba  mia’  concept   entails  developing  modern   housing  units  in  secure  and serene  locations .  These  houses  have a  fence  and  a  gate  so  as  to  enhance their security.  The  concept   targets  middle  and  high  income households  who nowadays  are preferring to live in  gated  communities,  in  line with  the  modern  housing  trends.  It has successfully been rolled out in Thika, Juja, Mombasa and Rongai.

The road ahead
Urithi has developed a three year strategic plan which is anchored in its mission, vision and core values.   “Our vision is to be a principal provider of housing and settlement solutions in Kenya, while our mission is to improve the quality of lives of our members through the   provision of decent housing and settlement using innovative technologies,” shares Mr.  Maina.
One  of  the    organization’s  strategic  goal  is   to  have a  membership  of 50,000 within  the next  three years, who will in turn create  demand for  its   products so as to grow its  revenue base through improved sales    and  excellent  customer service.   It is also planning to   increase its   product range through diversification into other sectors like education, insurance and hospitality.

Indeed,  the  ambitious Urithi  has  already  made inroads into the  hospitality industry   through  the Hilltop  Resort  project  it is  currently undertaking in Nakuru.    In  this  regard,  it  is  intending   to build 80 cottages which shall be sold to its   members   at a cost of  Kshs. 2.5 million  each,  and  Kshs. 3 million to  the  non members .  On average, each   cottage   is expected to raise a minimum of Kshs.  3,000 per day.   Once complete, the facility will be run by Uriithi.  It will comprise a   hotel, two wedding gardens,   a club house and a gymnasium.  It is   ideal for conferences, retreats, weddings and honey moons.

“  In   the last  one  year,  we have put in place effective   structures and systems  to enable us  manage   and   sustain  our fast growth which  we  have    mainly  achieved  due  to  the  support  of  our  loyal members    ,” the chairman  concludes.

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