Zidisha in the Women Startup Challenge!


We’re incredibly honored to have been invited to join the Women Startup Challenge, a prestigious crowdfunding competition featuring some of the most innovative women-led ventures.

We’re inviting all Zidisha lenders to contribute what you can afford to the campaign.  Here’s why:

  • 100% of the amount you contribute will be allocated to your lending account, so that you can use it to fund loans.  We’ll cover the payment transfer fees, so you don’t have to.  (Note: Any amount you contribute via the campaign cannot be withdrawn as cash.)
  • An anonymous donor is matching contributions to this campaign dollar for dollar – so each dollar you give will unlock TWO dollars for Zidisha!
  • The top fundraisers have a chance at winning $50,000 plus lots of publicity – something that will help us fund many more of our entrepreneurs’ loan projects.

Here’s how to participate:

  1. Go to our campaign page at https://www.crowdrise.com/Zidisha-WomenStartup2015 and use the Contribute button to make a secure donation.
  2. Make sure to enter the same email address as is registered with your Zidisha account.
  3. We’ll credit the contribution to your lending account within 24 hours, and you’ll receive an email notification so that you can allocate it to entrepreneurs of your choice.

We need your help to make this campaign a success!  Please join us today.

The Miracle Baby


By Julia Kurnia, Director

Violet Owino is only 23, but she’s been earning her living like an adult for over a decade.  Growing up in a polygamous family (her mother was one of four wives), there were always too many mouths to feed, and Violet joined her mother working as a hired hand in other people’s fields at the age of twelve.

Her family couldn’t afford to send Violet to high school, so – at the age of fifteen – she migrated to the city and began working as a maid, sleeping in people’s kitchens and washing bachelors’ clothes on the side to make money.  Sometimes people hired her and refused to pay.  From time to time, Violet would go back to the countryside to buy potatoes, which she fried and sold as snacks in the city at a profit.  In this way, over many years, Violet accumulated enough savings to buy her own plot of land.  At age eighteen, Violet married “a wonderful man who does all he can to support me with the little he also earns.”


Over the years, Violet’s fried potato business evolved into a small shop, which she opened at a strategic location near the gates of Sang’alo Institute of Science and Technology, where the students are her most faithful clientele.  Violet used her first Zidisha loan, of $50, to acquire high-yielding seedlings for her garden and stock her shop with fresh cassava, tomatoes and potatoes just in time for the busy holiday season.  Profits came pouring in.

Then the unexpected struck: Violet experienced complications in giving birth to her second child, and needed a Caesarian section.  Though surgery is far less expensive in Kenya than in wealthy countries, it is still out of reach for most, and many women die needlessly in childbirth.  Violet was lucky.  She wrote: “I gave birth to a baby boy and the proceeds of the farm that I put in the shop gave me a boost in my profits at just the right time.  It was expensive to give birth by Caesarian operation and had it not been for investing in my farm produce and shop I wouldn’t have had the money to pay for the birth.”

Baby Amani (Swahili for “peace”) was born at midnight of the 2015 new year.  Thanks to a helping hand at the right time, he and his mother are healthy.


Violet successfully repaid her first $50 loan, and used her second loan of $100 to acquire a Wahl haircutting machine and chairs so that she could add barbershop services to her shop.  Business is booming, she reports: at 10 cents per haircut for children and 20 cents for adults, she will soon have so many customers that she will need to hire an assistant.


A self-taught computer aficionado, Violet has also set aside some savings to take computer classes.  Meanwhile, she is working on adding a computer to her shop, a strategic investment that will allow her to offer typesetting services for student reports and exam papers.  Violet reports that she has already purchased the CPU, and “halfway paid for” the monitor.

Violet works incredibly hard to increase the value of her business.  Why do so much?  A glimpse of the inside of her shop offers a clue.  She’s inscribed the names of her children, Baraka (“blessing”) and Amani, where only she can see them.



Zidisha team spotlight: Paige Klunk, Senegal Country Liaison


By Julia Kurnia, Director

One of the really special things about Zidisha is that it’s a volunteer-driven community.  Almost every aspect of our operations – from new member application review, to sending loan disbursements, registering repayments, accounting, fielding email questions in multiple languages, meeting with entrepreneurs and sharing success stories – is the work of dozens of generous volunteers.  Volunteers are the heart of Zidisha, and our work could not happen without them.

Another remarkable thing about Zidisha is that, true to our mission of making geographic barriers irrelevant, we don’t use brick-and-mortar offices.  Most of us have never met in person.  Instead, we use internet technology to collaborate from our own locations around the world.  The Zidisha team has members on every continent except Antarctica!

Since so many of our lenders and borrowers volunteer for our community in such diverse ways, it’s really hard to thank each one individually.  But when Paige recently celebrated her two-year anniversary with our team, I couldn’t let the occasion pass without highlighting her contributions.

Paige is at Ohio University at the moment, where she is pursuing a master’s degree in International Development Studies.  But she’s equally at home in her “adopted country” of Senegal – she speaks French and Wolof, follows the West African hip-hop scene, and even plays the balafon, a traditional Senegalese musical instrument (pictured above).

Paige has fostered the development of our lending program in Senegal for the past two years, traveling back and forth between the US and Senegal while juggling work and graduate studies.  She has personally visited and provided orientations to many of today’s new members and Volunteer Mentors in Senegal, establishing good relationships that have served as a foundation for future growth of the program.  Paige also overcame nearly insurmountable bureaucratic barriers to open our first mobile phone payment account in Senegal – something that will allow our lending program to operate at far greater scale in the future.

Paige generously took time from her busy schedule to share her perspective on what volunteering with Zidisha means to her.  Here is the interview in full:

How did you hear about Zidisha?

I found out about Zidisha through Idealist.org. At the time I was looking for ways to become involved in development while working full time, and a friend had recommended to me that I look into microfinance. I found the listing and thought the idea of online volunteering was very cool. I have been hooked ever since.

What sort of activities have you done since you started volunteering with us?

I have been involved with all ranges of activities since I began with Zidisha…application reviews, the repayment entering for Senegal, and responding to emails and text messages.

What sort of activities do you do now?

Right now I am mainly involved with entering repayments from Senegal and managing the pending disbursements. I absolutely love watching on a monthly basis who is making repayments on a regular basis. It really manifests daily for me what Zidisha is really about.

What is your favorite Zidisha volunteering activity?

Application reviews are definitely my favorite. I love watching Zidisha grow and seeing new entrepreneurs benefit from loans. Also from my on the ground experience in Senegal, I really love meeting with entrepreneurs to see how Zidisha loans have benefited their lives.

Do you have a favorite Zidisha entrepreneur story?

I have two favorite stories from Senegal. The first is of Ndeye Bineta Sarr. She was the first borrower in Senegal, who came to pick up her first loan check from the SEM Fund, where she ended up finding employment. Now she oversees the production of ecosacs (environmentally friendly cooking devices) at the SEM Fund office while still managing her business at home. Ndeye has been able to support the education of many young family members.

The other is the story of Fatou Amar. Her early loans helped her grow her beauty salon and now she has expanded into selling clothing. She has been very successful and has raised the largest loans in Zidisha’s history. Her family too benefits from her successful businesses because she can support the education of her two children. Stories like these are definitely the heart of Zidisha.

Where do you usually work with Zidisha (desk at home, cafe, park etc)?

Everywhere- I am a very mobile person. That’s what makes Zidisha so unique, you can work from anywhere!

What do you like to do in your free time?

Right now I am a graduate student so my free time is limited, mostly dedicated to school work. I am a musician though. I love following African hip hop and I play a West African xylophone called the balafon.

What are your long-term career goals? 

Right now I am pursuing a master’s degree in international development studies. Ultimately I want to end up working in nonprofit development abroad. Working with Zidisha helps advance these goals because it is giving me practical experience while I pursue my degree in development.

Zidisha chosen as one of 100 top “Gamechanger” brands in Peter Fisk’s new book


We’re incredibly honored to be featured in bestselling author Peter Fisk’s new book Gamechangers.

Gamechangers showcases case studies of 100 of the world’s most innovative brands – companies and organizations large and small that have had a transformative impact on their industries.  Other well-known brands featured in the book include Airbnb, Bitcoin, Etsy, M-PESA, Tesla, Tom’s and Zipcar.  (Check out the full list here.)

Peter Fisk Thinker’s 50 Interview with Des Dearlove