“The story has changed”

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Hello Zidisha and lenders, I’m very grateful for your loan because it has brought a lot of change in my life. l used to go to the nearby market to sell my clothing; now I open my own clothing [shop] at home getting all the profit [since I do not have to pay market fees / transport costs]. My children would stay at home even for two weeks because of lack of [school tuition] fees but since I got a loan from Zidisha to expand my business the story has changed. May God bless you lenders and increase you mightily. I’m a testimony now because of you.

– Posted by Mercy Wanjiku in Mombasa, Kenya 

How to Overcome the Geographic Handicap

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By Julia Kurnia

I’ve spent the past few weeks in Indonesia, one of the countries at the forefront of the developing world’s internet revolution. I often work out of a nearby convenience store that has a wifi connection.

Behind the store is a maze of sheet-metal homes, where families sleep ten to a room on rough concrete floors. The neighborhood lacks plumbing, and open sewers line the alleys. Heavy rains regularly flood people’s rooms with polluted water, so the residents rely on high-hanging flower plants and cages of singing birds to beautify their surroundings.

Last week I arrived at the store before sunrise for a Skype call with a colleague in California. I placed my laptop on a table facing the window and started a video conference. My confident professional colleague appeared on the screen, her elegant home visible in the background. Even though we were on opposite sides of the world, it was as though we were in the same room.

During the call I glanced up, and realized the two of us were not alone. Outside the big glass window, a woman about my age was methodically searching through the contents of a garbage bin. I guessed that she was looking for bottles that could be sold for recycling, or edible leftovers. Perhaps there had been no money that morning to purchase food for her children’s breakfast. Her eyes met mine, but there was no hint of envy. She had the grim look of someone who has given up hope that tomorrow will be different from today.

My colleague in California chatted on brightly, and I refocused on our conference. Being in a low-income neighborhood in Jakarta didn’t hinder my ability to interact with the rest of the world. The internet made geography all but irrelevant for me.

But I kept thinking about the woman on the other side of the window. Unlike me, she was a prisoner of physical location. The dearth of opportunities in her immediate community left her with few options for survival. An accident of birth had put our lives on radically different trajectories.

There is nothing new about the fact that a person who happens to have been born in one part of the world will enjoy far fewer opportunities than someone born in another part of the world. We’re so accustomed to this state of affairs that we no longer dwell on its monstrous injustice.

But in fact, the assumption that geography determines opportunity is outdated. In the last several years, cheap cybercafes have proliferated even in the most marginalized parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Often little more than a collection of second-hand desktops in a room the size of a closet, these establishments offer browsing for just pennies at a time. Young adults often visit the cybercafes to read the news, look for jobs and catch up with migrating friends and relatives via Facebook.

View the full article at the Huffington Post.

“One day I will be in the same position”

Dear Zidisha family, I take this opportunity to thank you for the good work you are doing. I took a loan of 150 dollars 5 weeks ago and promised to be repay on time which I honestly did. Since I was not able to get the eggs I ordered on time I decided to use the loan on the existing chicken. The loan has enabled me to buy good quality feeds for my chicken, buy vaccination and I remember when they fell sick I lost 5 but since I had ready money from zidisha I was able to pay a veterinary who advised me to buy the best medication on time hence I saved the rest from dying. Thank you, thank you, thank you. As I said earlier don’t take it for granted. Find photos of my indigenous chicken, very healthy and clean. Thanks for the good work you are doing. My gratitude goes to JessieD and goodwithout god. JessieD am honestly touched by your positive comments. It puzzles me how you trusted me a stranger with your money. I hope one day I will be in the same position to lend to the needy. I made sure I paid a day before my repayment date just incase there was a problem with the network. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU.

Posted by Edith Tumaini in Syokimau, Kenya on 23 May 2014

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Story of the week: Elizabeth Kariu, Kenya

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Elizabeth is a single mother who is determined to make the most of life.  In an effort to support her small family she moved from Kenya’s mountainous interior to Mombasa, a large port city on the coast.  There she worked at different jobs, serving in traditional female occupations as a school teacher and support person in a bank.

Though her employment at the bank put food on the table, it didn’t satisfy Elizabeth’s desire to dedicating her working life to build something new in the world.  After two years she left the bank to “work for her own mind.”  

With some small savings, she began to retail mobile phone cards and accessories: a promising business as Kenya is one of the world’s most rapidly growing markets for mobile phones.  Little by little she progressed to selling higher-value mobile phone-based payment transfer services, but growth was slow due to lack of substantial capital to expand her inventory.  Local bank loans carried hefty collateral requirements, as well as high interest and fees.

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She first heard about Zidisha in April this year, from her friend and current Zidisha member David Ndungu.  At first, she thought David was joking when he said she could use a computer to connect with lenders in other countries.  “I did not believe that it would work,” she said. “But it was so easy. I browsed, dropped in and within a week I received the funds.”

She invested her first loan of $150 in a new stock of high-value mobile phone handsets.  “I witnessed growth in quantity and quality due to the overflow of customers,” she wrote.  She repaid the $150 in four weekly installments, and has just raised a new loan of $448 to expand her mobile phone sales even further.

Elizabeth uses her business earnings to procure the best possible education for her two children, aged 17 and 19.  Both of them are now in college.  With such an inspiring entrepreneur for a mother, who can tell where their own careers will lead?

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To view more comments and photos, check out Elizabeth’s loan profile page.

Thanks to Kenya Client Relationship Manager Intern Theresa Schneider for providing the content and photos for this story.

Spotlight on Magatte Fall, Senegal

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By Paige Klunk, Senegal Client Relationship Manager Volunteer

My name is Paige Klunk, and I am currently a Client Relationship Manager for Zidisha in Senegal. Yesterday, Miriam and I had the opportunity to meet Mme. Magatte Fall at the office of AFAO in Dakar. She met us in front of the building with a warm smile and gentle wave, leading us upstairs to her fifth floor office.

Mme. Fall is currently on her second loan with Zidisha. Her first loan enabled her to commence her business of making juices, and with her second loan she was able to expand by buying a freezer to store the juices she makes. The freezer was a great success! Mme. Fall’s business has doubled.

The benefits of Mme. Fall’s loans are evident in how she supports her family and her local community. She mentioned she was able to pay a full year’s tuition for her son, who just past his baccalaureate exam! Not only does her family benefit but she supports the sustainability of her association as well. Women who are members of the association actually buy juices and other goods from her to resell.

While discussing the success of her business, Mme. Fall was also very eager to talk about her full-time work. Mme. Fall is Technician of Health at AFAO Senegal, also known as WAWA (West African Women’s Association) in English. She travels often to rural areas to educate about the prevention of diseases, such as malaria and AIDs. AFAO also gives women the formative and educational tools they need to be successful in their trade. Mme. Fall proudly showed us several of the pamphlets that AFAO uses, ranging from topics on how to package local foods for resale to pamphlets educating on importing goods through customs.

Mme. Fall’s success has not only benefited her family but her local community as well. She is very motivated with her work with AFAO and is proud of the success of her business. Miriam and I had a pleasant visit with Mme. Fall, and I only look forward to the next time I can visit to see how Mme. Fall’s work has continued to progress.

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To learn more, check out Mme Fall’s loan profile page at https://www.zidisha.org/microfinance/loan/maguettefall/4422.html.

Small loan, big difference

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Talk about small loans making a big difference!

Evans in Kenya raised $150 for this machine to make environmentally friendly biomass cooking briquettes for low-income households in Nairobi, Kenya.  In these neighborhoods, the traditional cooking fuel is charcoal made from cutting down trees.  The use of charcoal fuel harms the environment by destroying native forests, and long-term exposure to its fumes harms people’s health.

Evans’ briquettes are made from agricultural by-products and recycled materials such as used paper, rice husks, sawdust and banana leaves, and he prices them affordably.  Demand is strong, and his main bottleneck is production capacity.

Before the loan, he could make only 500 briquettes a day using manual methods. The machine quadrupled his production: now, he is producing 2,000 briquettes every day!

Evans is using the profits to open briquette outlets in more neighborhoods to reduce transportation costs – creating employment while saving trees and improving air quality for the households that use his innovative product. 

You may learn more about Evans’ business at his profile page: https://www.zidisha.org/microfinance/loan/kencoffee/6891.html

Story of the week: Samuel Shehi, Kenya

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By Theresa Schneider, Kenya Client Relationship Manager Volunteer

Pleasant, energetic and clever – that’s Samuel Shehi. He is one of those rare people who leave a lasting positive impression in a very short time.

Mr. Shehi accidentally came across Zidisha as he was Googling for a phone product to sell.  His search turned up the profile of a Zidisha member who sold that product.  He read over the profile and further informed himself.  Already for a long time he had been thinking about taking a loan, but the fees and interest charged by local banks were high enough to wipe out the profits on loan-funded business investments.  Zidisha’s lending model, with its low interest and fees, was more compelling, and he started his first loan application in August 2013.  Since then he has continuously raised loans with Zidisha and enlarged his business, with never a delay in repayment.

Mr. Shehi’s Business Story

Mr. Shehi is very well educated and has a bachelor’s degree in finance.  Because of weak employment opportunities and his passion to be an entrepreneur, he decided to set up his own small enterprise.  He recognized the technological gap in his area and opened a one-computer cybercafé in a shop he built himself.  

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He shares the interior of the shop with his friend Jeremiah Maina, who sells milk, water and homemade juices. Their businesses are complimentary: clients have the opportunity to stay refreshed while working on the computer. In addition to browsing services, Mr. Shehi provides hands-on coaching as needed, assisting his clients to access their email, to download forms and to use social networks.  Occasionally Mr. Shehi is also asked to fix computers and to replace damaged components.  In addition, he sells mobile phone accessories.  The latter are in such strong demand that Mr. Shehi opted to invest his loans in developing the mobile phone retail business.

Mr. Shehi used his first two loans, of $100 each, to enlarge his stock of memory cards, covers and other mobile phone accessories. Mr. Shehi’s third loan was for $300, which he used to buy more accessories for Christmas holidays, as during this season there is greater demand in the coastal area where many relatives come to visit their families. He maintained a 100% on-time repayment rate for all weekly installments over the course of the three loans.

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His fourth and current loan was disbursed in May this year.  This time the loan increased to over $1000.  Mr. Shehi used the loan to extend the interior of his shop and to venture into a lucrative new business: the sale of mobile phone handsets, from simple text-and-call phones to data-enabled smart phones that are starting to penetrate the Kenyan market.  

So far he is very optimistic.  “I sell what people like, not what I like,” he told me. That may be the biggest secret of his success. “I always buy small quantities, though they might be a bit more expensive and first give new accessories a try. If their demand is high I buy more the next time.” Mr. Shehi does not fill his shelves for vanity’s sake. “I only sell the products in the quality and quantity that is demanded.”

Mr Shehi told me that his life has improved a lot within the last month.  The new inventory has boosted his revenues substantially, and this in turn has impacted his family’s standard of living. They now use gas to cook, which is much more convenient and healthy than cooking over an open fire. He dresses better, which also helps him to promote his business. And overall life has become much easier and decent as there is less need to worry about money.

In the future he aims to buy his own plot of land to house a larger, more permanent building for his business.  At the moment, he still pays a high rent each month for the small plot on which he built his shop.

 

His work as a Volunteer Mentor

Mr. Shehi engages a lot with Zidisha and he wants other people to benefit from its cheap loans.  Therefore he introduces and explains the concept of Zidisha to people he regards as responsible and trustworthy.  Mr. Shehi chose to become a Volunteer Mentor because he saw the need of someone in his area to represent Zidisha and help clients to understand the procedures and requirements. Mr. Shehi told me that he wishes for the long-term success of Zidisha and he is willing to contribute with some time and effort to ensure that only serious creditworthy people from his area are entering the platform. He wants more people to benefit from Zidisha, the way he did.

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You may view Mr. Shehi’s story in his own words in his Zidisha profile page.

“An opportunity to interact with some wonderful people”

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Most of our blog posts have showcased borrower stories.  This week, we’d like to feature the perspectives of a lender.  Evelyn, one of our most active lending members, graciously agreed to share this interview.  

 

Can you tell us a bit about yourself? 

I live in the suburbs of a big city in the United States. Although it is considered a “wealthy country” many people work hard and struggle to meet their monthly expenses. I have a full-time job to pay my bills. I have worked in my career as a photographer, editor, writer and graphic designer.
 
As I child I had an entrepreneurial spirit. When I was six years old, I began helping a relative with watching their sales table at occasional trade shows. I handled the transactions with customers, and offered some of my own crafts for sale. I also helped a neighborhood sales lady with her door-to-door sales; and sold food door to door for fundraisers. Later when I was older, I continued to have jobs and self-employment experiences working in sales and customer service.
 
In college, I majored in mathematics and fine arts and studied in France on two different travel-abroad programs. I had to borrow money through student loans to pay for my college tuition. One of my on-campus jobs was running a faculty and student computer center to help pay for my expenses.
 
I love art, music and photography, reading non-fiction books and spending time with family and friends. I especially like to learn about other cultures. It is an amazing experience to arrive in a foreign land and be surrounded by different sites, sounds and languages and to interact with people whose daily lives, experiences and environment are so varied. If I had more money I would travel a lot to other countries. In the meantime, I like that I can use my French language skills to understand borrowers’ profiles on Zidisha and people’s French comments in the forum.
 
 
What drew you to Zidisha?
 
I’m not a big corporation or rich person who can just give away a lot of money. But microfinance allows me to help in a small way. I can add some money to my account sporadically as my monthly budget allows. Unlike just donating to charity I like that I can get money back to reloan to others. When I discovered Zidisha it complemented my lending though other microfinance platforms. I like that Zidisha has an added dimension of being able to interact directly with borrowers and other lenders through borrowers’ profile pages and in the forum.
 
 
What keeps you coming back to Zidisha today?
 
I like reading what the borrowers have to say in their own words about their lives, businesses and towns where they live. I’ve learned from them that these loans are giving people hope and enabling them to realize their dreams. I see Zidisha empowering people in their daily lives and I’m enjoying the conversations with the borrowers.
 
I also really want to see Zidisha continue to make a difference in people’s lives for a really long time. When I learned that Zidisha was being run by one person out of an apartment in a suburban US city I was really surprised. Even though the website conveyed a sense of greatness, there was no large staff of employees. When I began lending on Zidisha two years ago, founder Julia Kurnia was still answering many of the service emails herself. Through these interactions I realized that she was a very intelligent person, with good ideas and she conveyed an excellent grasp of customer service.  I couldn’t believe that someone so young, a person who was still in her 20s, had already founded a non-profit organization. I devote time to Zidisha because I feel doing so can have the greatest impact.
 
 
Can you tell us about an especially memorable entrepreneur you have supported?
 
I can, but I would prefer not to name him. This borrower from Kenya regularly wrote some very insightful comments about his family, his business and his daily life. He successfully repaid several large loans and said that Zidisha had changed his life, had given him and his family hope and enabled him to buy the “cow of his dreams.” All of us have goals and dreams for our lives and it never occurred to me that someone’s dream might be a high quality cow. I was very happy that Zidisha helped him to fulfill a dream. I was sorry to learn more recently that he has faced hardship in the last few months which has resulted in his silence and financial difficulties.
 
 
What advice or tips would you like to share with Zidisha borrowers?
 
I imagine that most of the lenders and Zidisha volunteers are not wealthy, but are hard working people with bills to pay who hope their loans will have a positive impact on you, your families and your communities.
 
Borrowing money and having debt can be a burden. Chose the interest rate and the amount you borrow wisely.
 
If you want to increase the chances of having lenders look at your profile and wind up lending to you, use a profile photo that shows you in your business or working. A good photo in your daily working environment gives additional information about you and your business and invites the lender to click into your profile page to learn more.
 
Even though lenders might live in a “wealthy” country none of us is immune from having bad things happen. If you are experiencing a hardship in repaying your loan, most lenders would rather have an honest update than months of silence. If I lent money to someone and picked them because I found some aspect of their life interesting or I felt proud of them and their achievements, I’d sincerely like to know if they are OK.
 
 
What advice or tips would you like to share with other lenders?
 
Zidisha’s vision is that it is only serving as a marketplace, where you can lend directly to someone in another country. It envisions itself only as a platform to connect the lender and borrower. This is different from many other popular microfinance sites. The businesses are not vetted. It is up to you, the lender to decide if a person is honest, has a good business and is deserving of the loan. Take the time to choose people who you feel good about and would like to see succeed.
 
Also be patient. Unless the borrower is running a cybercafé they probably have to pay for their Internet time just to post comments on their page. Due to the costs and travel time to get to a place to access the Internet, some might not communicate often.
 
If you are lucky enough to be lending to a borrower who is trying to engage lenders with meaningful comments, take the time to write back to them and to post comments on their page. I imagine how sad it must feel for a borrower to post updates to “mysterious” lenders in far-away places for weeks or months on end and never have a reply from a single lender. You are missing out on an opportunity to interact with some wonderful people.
 
 
Evelyn, thanks so much for sharing your insights, and for all you have done to bring opportunities and encouragement to our members around the world.

Story of the week: Violet Karwimbo

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By Traci Yoshiyama

Zidisha has reached beyond the entrepreneur’s doorstep and has now become a family affair.  Emanating a sense of pride, Violet Karwimbo smiles as she speaks about her two children’s interest in their mom’s celebrityhood among the Zidisha community.  

Violet and her children (16 and 10 years old) often go together to the cybercafe in their Nairobi neighborhood to update lenders on the progress of her store, God Has Extended My Territories (GHEMT) Hardware & Electricals.  The children find joy in seeing their mother’s photo on the internet and her obvious success as a self-made businesswoman.  Prior to becoming a Zidisha member, Violet found computers to be foreign and daunting machines, but through the encouragement of her family, friends, and the organization itself, she can now use one without intimidation.

Violet’s career in hardware began in a shop similar to her own, where she worked as an employee for ten years.  Her decision to seek employment there was a choice of convenience, for she was able to take her baby with her to work, but it eventually became a life-altering experience.  For ten years, Violet slowly built the knowledge base needed to start her own business in hardware – until she was let go due to the shop owner’s decision to employ family.  This unexpected change of events set the path for her current success: Violet launched GHEMT with a savings of $250 in 2009.  The growth of GHEMT Hardware & Electricals since then is proof of Violet’s successful business approach.

Violet was introduced to Zidisha by another member, Vitalis Opondo, and received her first loan of $302 in 2012.  Since then, she has been able to stock her shop with desirable and hard to come by plumbing equipment, such as water pipes.  Wanting to make her store more aesthetically pleasing, Violet also put in new shelves, which enabled her to display her stock to the many passers-by.  Having the opportunity to supply GHEMT with new supplies has increased her sales, for although there are many hardware stores in the area, most do not sell water pipes and fittings.  As her name grows and sales increase, Violet hopes to move her store to the newly paved road in the town shopping center.  She would also like to start selling mattresses, plastic wares (buckets, wash bins, etc.), and school trunks for students attending boarding school.

Before our departure, Violet invites Vitalis to her shop, where another benefit of being a Zidisha member is revealed.  Violet comments that without her business, she would have never met Vitalis, heard about Zidisha, or learned how to use a computer.  The encouragement they are now able to provide for each other is uplifting, and the avenues that Zidisha paves have proven to be endless.

Violet successfully repaid her first Zidisha loan, and went on to raise a second loan of $966 to purchase a higher-value inventory of materials for installing electricity and plumbing in homes.  Her children continue to be supportive: “My kids assisted in helping me do window shopping,” she wrote in a recent update. “It was fun including them in buying this items and arranging them in shop.”

To learn more about Violet Karwimbo, check out her Zidisha profile page.