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Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya: Mariam, Microentrepreneur Who Must Choose between Feeding Her Children and Feeding Her Business

Mariam is among millions of microentrepreneurs living hand-to-mouth. Stuck at what C. K. Prahalad called the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP), these entrepreneurs struggle daily to create economic opportunities that enable them to escape crushing poverty.

The mother of three young children, Mariam faces a dilemma in Nairobi's Kibera slum. "Cash or credit?" she thinks, taking out her last 5,000 shilling.

Cash will allow Mariam to return home a hero, with food for her children. Credit, in the form of cell phone airtime, or M-Pesa which doubles as local currency, will sustain her business.

Mariam takes a resolved step toward an airtime retailer, where she loads 5,000 shillings onto her phone. She elects to invest in her business. One thousand shillings in M-Pesa mobile money is one day of cash flow for her business.

Mariam takes the forward-looking view to increase her ability to earn a living: She's investing in her future potential for commercial transactions, rather than the security of tangible goods in hand. Mariam sees opportunity over risk.

When asked about her decision, Mariam says she is opening her own doors. "Everyone keeps doors closed to businesspeople! That is unless you have a bribe. Otherwise, they force you to go under the door, around the door, or even create your own. Why have doors if we cannot go through them?"

One of a legion of struggling BoP entrepreneurs, Mariam's frustration is palpable. Her only hope is that her children avoid her fate through the education and quality of life she strives to give them.

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