The Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI) and the Mastercard Foundation have started disbursing Sh600 million in interest-free loans earmarked for youth and women-led small businesses.

The loans are part of the Covid-19 Recovery and Resilience Programme. They are targeting small businesses that have borne the brunt of the negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused the Kenyan economy to contract by 5.7 percent in the second quarter of the year.

The one-year programme will be implemented by KNCCI through its chapters across the 47 counties with focus on agriculture, retail, healthcare and manufacturing sectors.

“While this crisis started initially as a health issue, it very quickly morphed into an economic disaster that has severely impacted many businesses (especially micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs), not just in Kenya but across the globe,” the programme’s project coordinator Louise Kabucho said.

She spoke in Nairobi after issuing Sh3 million to the first cohort of applicants, who were drawn from West Pokot, Tana River and Makueni counties.

The repayment plan for the loans carries a grace period of two months, which the funders said will not be extended to ensure the revolving fund reaches as many businesses as possible.

Eligible MSMEs include youth and women-owned (18-70 years).

Kenya National Federation of Jua Kali Associations chief executive officer Richard Muteti urged MSMEs across the country to utilise the funding window to help them bounce back from the losses and lost business.

Kenyans have increasingly opened small businesses in a bid to eke out a living following massive job losses after the pandemic struck the country.