A Master of the Chicken Business

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By Betsy Ramser Jaime

‘I, Lucas Omuko, was born in one of the poorest and violent “hoods” of Thika. Second born in a family of Six brothers and sisters, it was not easy growing up. Many days we went without food, but mama was determined to send us all to school. Her belief was that at least with a high school education, we could get by, and be ready for the job market. I got good grades in high school, and I could see myself in Uni. However, this was not to be.’

When it came to her children’s education, Lucas’s mother was faced with a lot of difficult choices. With a desire to help his family, Lucas started taking a variety of odd jobs and ended up at a factory. He knew that he had the grades to attend college and secretly suffered knowing that he could do more with his life than carry around heavy boxes.

Finally, he’d had enough. After failing to secure a job for the day, he left the factory and never returned. He notes, ‘Instead, I sought solace in the only place that had meaning to me; a district library about four kilometers from where we lived.’ Unfortunately, now that he was not contributing financially to the family, he was ostracized and forced to leave his home.

However, he didn’t let this setback discourage him. Instead, he moved out and started applying the skills that he had taught himself regarding repairing electronics. He quickly became a repair technician, got married, and eventually pursued the college education that he had longed for, graduating in December 2015. He is even on course to soon complete his Master’s degree as well.

By early 2015, Lucas set his sights on the agri business. He saw the potential in raising chickens and began by building a standard chicken coop that could house 300-500 birds. He says, ‘The reason for going into chicken is because I realized that the farmers in Kisii cannot satisfy the existing demand for chicken and eggs. Eggs are being imported from Uganda. I am aiming to be the person people come to when they want affordable chicken in Kisii. To achieve this, I am seeking someone, or people who will see beyond the cry for self preservation and into the desire to break free of the poverty cycle, not just for myself, but others too, by providing them with affordable food sources; someone or people to lend me a hand and see this vision come true.’

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With this vision, he soon after discovered Zidisha. In January 2016, Lucas requested his first Zidisha funded loan of $100 which he used to increase his number of chickens. A few months later, with a 3 part plan in place, he requested his next loan of $202. He used the first third of the loan to purchase feeding ingredients to make his own feed. He predicted that this would cut down his feeding costs by about 35%. In addition, part of the loan would go towards purchasing 50 new birds. Thirdly, he planned to use the remainder of the loan to make some improvements to his chicken coop to accommodate for more ventilation and space.

A few months later, in July 2016, Lucas requested his next loan of $303 to purchase more birds. He also planned to create a raised floor on one side of the coop to separate the growing birds from the mature birds. Finally, with the rest of this loan, he purchased additional vaccines and medicine.

On December 7, 2017, Lucas excitedly shared, ‘I am thankful for having my two sons with me at home. We get to play games together, and we all look forward to the evenings when I get back home so we can share stories and try to beat each other in playing soccer video games. I don’t always win, neither do they. The highlight of it all is getting daily updates from the elder son, Amos, on how the chicken are doing. He has taken up the role of managing the chicken, and I am reduced to overseeing what he does every once in awhile. He has set up a routine for himself, and has even mastered how to mix the feeds. He sometimes forgets to provide water for the sixty high-grade chicks (a later addition from five weeks ago) in the night (they drink a lot of water). About four times I have had to do it in the middle of the night. He has transformed into an accountable and responsible teen. What else could a parent wish for? I am thankful.’

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By January 2017, Luas was ready to buy an incubator. He had found that a hen could only successfully manage seven big eggs, so, with a $454 Zidisha funded loan in hand, he set out to purchase a good incubator that would require little attention. An added benefit was that he could share it with other farmers in his community. He predicted that the incubator could hold around 96 eggs.

On January 9, 2017, Lucas took to his discussion board and posted, ‘Thank you lenders for your confidence and contributions. I really appreciate your generosity and kindness. I realize there are many people who borrow, and some never get fully funded. Once again, thank you. Over time, hope to achieve one of my dreams; to be the most affordable source of chicken in the region. With my knowledge of feed formulation, different from the mainstream ideas, and disease management (again different from the mainstream practices), and now the ability to hatch chicks, I can say it is more likely that once I am done with own studies, I will devote a good amount of time to grow this venture, and all this because of your help.’

Lucas requested his most recent loan for $676 in August 2017. He says, ‘With this current loan, I will invest in something I tried before, and which is turning out to be central to my interest in education through poultry production. Animal feed production. This is a viable market, and the demand is there. I will use this loan to buy maize, and fishmeal primarily, and what is left, I will start as savings for a mill/crusher, or animal feeds machine.’

He has even inspired some other members of his community to get into the chicken farming business themselves!

Most recently, on August 27, 2017, he shares, ‘I take this opportunity to sincerely thank you for your investment in me. Your trusting me with your money is something that I cannot thank you enough for. This loan will go a long way to alleviate some financial constraints I have had because I am able to free some of my finances for school, and still have enough to invest in my proposed project. I really want to upset the chicken market balance in Kisii. I still look forward to the day when I shall be able to reduce production costs to a point where I can be the most affordable supplier of Chicken and feeds in Kisii. It is a big ask, but possible.

Lucas has truly taken what might have seemed to be an insurmountable problem, and now serves as an inspiration for his family, sons, and community. He concludes, ‘Being able to manage my son’s education is one of the reasons we have worked to grow the business. This would not have been possible without the money from Zidisha lenders.’

Are you an advocate for education and change? If so, head on over to our Lend page and find other incredible borrowers who are hoping to change their lives through education.

Zidisha team spotlight: Rodrigo Reyes, CTO


Rodrigo with son Mati in their hometown, Guayaquil, Ecuador


By Julia Kurnia, Director

Rodrigo joined Zidisha as an engineer over a year ago, and became Chief Technical Officer in January.  It’s already hard to imagine Zidisha without him.

The role of CTO is central at Zidisha, because we are a technology organization.  By automating tasks hitherto done manually, our technological infrastructure makes it possible to offer microloans at far lower cost to borrowers than traditional microlending institutions.  And technology is what enables the direct connections between lenders and borrowers that make the Zidisha community one of a kind.

As CTO, Rodrigo has the incredibly important job of overseeing the technological infrastructure on which our platform depends: our website code, database, website server, Android app, data science and metric tracking platforms, and more.  Zidisha members produce tens of thousands of communications and transactions each day.  It’s thanks to Rodrigo that these connections take place accurately and seamlessly.

Rodrigo is not only a talented engineer and skilled communicator, but also shares our community’s passion for social justice and bringing people together to improve lives.  I am inspired daily by his dedication to excellence in the service of a higher purpose.

I finally managed to catch up with the busy Rodrigo this month, and he generously took some time off from his many responsibilities to participate in this interview.

How did you hear about Zidisha?

Late one night, I was reading Hacker News while also looking for some interesting project to collaborate with. That’s when I saw Zidisha’s ad and it struck a chord for me: it was a microcredit project, they were helping real people with real problems and I had previously worked for another NGO around the same area!!! Besides, they were looking for a developer to help them improve their platform and that was exactly what I had been doing for the last ten years for different startups around the world!!!

So, I spent some time making sure Zidisha was a real NGO and the more I read about it, the more enthusiastic I felt. So, I sent my resume as fast as I could and prayed someone would notice it. And indeed, Julia wrote me back some time later and I was given the opportunity to start collaborating with Zidisha.

Why do you choose to spend time working with Zidisha?

I’ve been involved in social work one way or another since I was in high school. By the time I got out of university, my career looked to me more and more unrelated to my social vocation: a software developer working for social justice was not a very common thing indeed, but that was what I wanted to do!!! Probably out of this disconnection, once I got my degree, I started to look for an opportunity like this. Part of me thought it was not really going to happen ever, but even though it took some time, here I am!!! So, Zidisha’s opportunity to combine my profession and my social vocation feels like the fulfillment of a longstanding wish to me.

What does your work with Zidisha involve?

Currently, I am Zidisha’s CTO and I am responsible for our software platform and the decisions related to its maintenance and evolution. I am actively involved in both creating new features and improving the ones we already have. Lots of coding and research, both of which I love. 🙂

Do you have a favorite Zidisha entrepreneur story?

Yes. It is called “The stuff heroes are made of” and it’s about Sammy Kanja, a founding member of Zidisha’s community in Kenya. He is a volunteer mentor that in October 2013 lost contact with one of the members he had helped, Mr. Francis Kiiru. After several unsuccessful attempts to call, Mr. Kanja went to visit Mr. Kiiru’s home and discovered that Mr. Kiiru had been injured during the Westgate Mall shootings in Nairobi and had been hospitalized. His condition was serious and he had no money to pay for his medical bills.

At this point Mr. Kanja could have gone home quietly, telling himself that there was nothing he could do to help. Instead, he traded his business assets, the source of his family’s livelihood and hope for a better financial future, to procure life-saving medical care for Mr Kiiru!!!

Ultimately, Mr. Kanja’s story was known and lenders touched by it raised enough to cover the cost of a new high-yielding dairy cow for Mr. Kanja’s family.  Mr. Kanja tells us that the new cow is extraordinarily productive, yielding as much as 20 liters of milk per day.  He keeps two liters for his family and sells the rest each day, generating a comfortable flow of cash for school fees and other family expenses.

When I read this story, I was humbled by this man’s and his family’s generosity!!! Stories like that bring back to me a song’s verse in Spanish that goes something like “¿Quién dice que todo está perdido? Yo vengo a ofrecer mi corazón” (“Who says that all hope is lost? Here I am, offering my heart”).

What do you like to do in your free time?

Traveling with my family, reading, programming, social work, watching movies and practicing Yoga. 🙂

Rodrigo, thank you so much for sharing this interview, and for giving so generously of your time, energy and talents.

Styling Her Way to Success

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By Betsy Ramser Jaime

As a single mother with six children, Dorice Mikanga has not always had an easy life. She was forced to end her own schooling when she found out that she was pregnant while in Primary school. She then got married and had two more children but found herself in a bad home situation as her husband had hallucinations and would beat her at all hours of the day. After ending the marriage she eventually married again and had three more children, however, this was also a troubled marriage as her husband drank heavily and did not provide for the family in any way.

After 6 tumultuous years, Dorice summed up the courage to start a new life for herself and her children. She returned home to see her Mother, acquired a passport, and set off to Saudi Arabia to work as a housemaid. Unfortunately, the family that she worked for treated her poorly so after her contract ended she was ready to return home to Kenya.

Although she didn’t have much, she used the little money she had to start two businesses, one selling used clothes, and the other a beauty shop and salon called Mama Vera where she also sells beauty products such as shampoo, hair extensions, and wigs. Her shop is located in the Kima area which is home to around 50,000 residents. Dorice notes that with it’s semi urban lifestyle, ‘my business is bound to grow by leaps and bounds.’ There are also two schools within close proximity, which account for a large number of her customers.

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Dorice first discovered Zidisha in June 2016 and began with a modest loan of $20. At this point, she was receiving about five customers each day and during the busy season in December, had around 10 customers per day. With her first Zidisha funded loan, she hoped to put the money towards a new digital ceramic blow dry machine. She adds, ‘my current one is not enough as blow dry is becoming more popular hair styling gadget here.Thanks lenders hopefully you will help my dream become a reality.’

A few months later, Dorice was ready for a second loan. In September 2016, she requested a $40 loan to purchase smooth egg shampoo in bulk. She mentioned that this is the best product on the market and that buying in smaller quantities would be much more expensive. She determined that after buying in bulk, she could also re-sell the product to individuals and other business owners.

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She requested a second loan in September for $111, which she was excited to put towards an electric massager. She says that she is ‘slowly turning my small salon into a beauty parlour.’ Initially, she expected to charge $5 for 30 minutes for using the massager.

By December, Dorice was once again ready to expand. With this next loan of $272 she was ready to purchase a hair drying unit. For her business, this meant she was entering into the busiest time of the year. With only one hair dryer on hand, she knew it would not be enough to sustain the surge of business she would be receiving. The new machine would handle the excess clients who would previously have had to wait when she only had one machine. She was also excited because this new dryer would also have steaming abilities as well.

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On December 8, 2016, she posted on her discussion board, This business has helped me take my daughter to a good school. She is finishing high school now. Thank you my lenders.’

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By April 2017, Dorice was ready to share an update and request a new loan. She mentioned, ‘Hello lenders. Thank you for my past loans, truly I am succeeding. I have managed to buy some machines for my salon and I am planning to relocate to a more up market stall and locate my salon there in order to have customers who pay well.’

For this loan she requested, $497 in order to purchase a modern salon station which would include a manicure set, large mirror, reclining chair, and a place to house all styling accessories. She notes, ‘this station will allow me to beautify my salon and make it modern.’

A few months later, Dorice requested her most recent Zidisha funded loan of $859. She begins by sharing this inspiring update with her lenders, ‘Thank you my lenders and Zidisha team at large. It has been a very fruitful walk with Zidisha. My lenders, you have transformed my life, with every loan my business is doing so well that I never miss a chance.’

With this loan, Dorice planned to hire an extra 10 girls to work in her business. She explains, ‘For me this is a great loan it has come at the right time as Kenya is going through the election period. Most people here in the western region move from cities to come and vote in their original homes. So the village is flooding with city people and they have to maintain their hair styles.’

Shortly after, on August 15, 2017 Dorice shared on her discussion page, ‘I want to register my great gratitude to my lenders. I wish I could name you all. Thank you very much, this is doing me a great service and I will prosper.’ She also says, ‘I promise to be faithful and hardworking so that one day I may also be an instrumental lender.’

It’s incredible to see how far Dorice has come. It’s clear that she has so much to be proud of and is certainly a source of inspiration to each of her six children. For Dorice, Zidisha, her lenders, and her business have truly transformed her life. She shares, ‘Wow. Thanks lenders for putting your trust in me. My dreams are unfolding before my eyes. In this part of the world where poverty is the order of the day and banks are charging poor people a lot to get a loan, I say thank you. My lenders I will never disappoint you. This business has seen my children through secondary school and they are still continuing. I am praying hard for God to help me see all my children succeed in life even as a single mother.’

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Like Dorice, there are hundreds of other borrowers ready for the next loan that could change their lives. Check out our lend page to learn more.

A Little Goes A Long Way

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By Betsy Ramser Jaime

Michael Kihungi Makumi, age 27, is a Kenyan citizen, and was raised in a big family as the second of four boys. Education has been an important part of his life. After making his way through secondary school and passing his O level exams, he was fortunate to attend college where he earned a diploma in Computer Studies. After completing his studies, he started off his career at an agricultural firm called, ‘Kenya Agricultural Research Institute where he worked in the computer labs. After that, he transitioned to working at the Ministry of Health for his county, still working in the IT department.

Oftentimes, men and women find themselves thrown into the realm of entrepreneurship because they are frustrated and unhappy with their options or current situation. This was certainly the case for Michael. Since he was only considered a ‘casual laborer’ or contract employee, in his job, he was laid off after three months.

However, instead of remaining frustrated and angry with his circumstances, he decided to channel his energy and meager savings to start a business of his own. Using his education and training with computers and IT, he now does computer repairs, mobile phone repairs and sells memory cards, CCTV camera installation, and does troubleshooting and diagnostics.

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In addition to his business, he has also been able to take on an intrinsically rewarding new opportunity. He says, ‘Recently I was fortunate enough to get employed by a medical firm called eastern deanery aids relief program as their Health Management Information Systems Officer, on a yearly contract basis. It deals with taking care of people living with HIV and AIDS by providing comprehensive care throughout their lives for free. The program is funded by CDC and PEPFAR. It not paying but the satisfaction I get when I contribute to making the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS better, it’s payment enough.’

Since partnering with Zidisha, he has also been able to add a medium sized cyber cafe and computer tutoring classes. He says, ‘Zidisha has really helped me a lot, I can never take it for granted. Through Zidisha, I have also been able to buy a full CCTV installation kit, a cordless drill and two more computers for my cyber cafe and computer tutoring classes. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all so much for your continued support. This great level of kindness that you show me and my business ventures will never go unpaid, I thank God for all my dear lenders and also the Zidisha Team and may He bless you all with the blessings of Abraham. Shalom!

One of the reasons why Michael’s Zidisha story is so impressive is because it shows firsthand that a little really can go a long way. From the information above, it’s easy to assume that Michael has been partnering with Zidisha for many years and has raised thousands of dollars in loans, and in fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Michael’s journey with Zidisha started quite recently, in January of 2017, and his first two loans of four total, were under $10 USD. Many of us mistakenly believe that big changes require deep pockets, and sometimes they do, however, Michael, and many other Zidisha borrowers would argue that a $10 loan could be the start of something really significant.

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Michael’s first loan, back in January 2017, was only for $5 and with this small sum he was able to buy memory cards wholesale from a local vendor. In addition to the money, Michael saw the bigger picture that this was also a great opportunity to build trust and a good long term relationship with his lenders.

A few months later, he requested his second Zidisha funded loan in May 2017 for $8. With this loan he purchased a new CCTV installation kit which consisted of: pliers, a crimping tool cable stripper, cable tester, and other gadgets. Michael notes, ‘This is a worthwhile business and the toolkit would be a great starter pack and it will go a long way.’

Later that month, he found himself in need of some additional business tools. He requested a loan of $87 to purchase a drill. He mentions, ‘A drill will assist me in provision of quality work, instead of hammering the screws inside the walls while setting up the cameras, which usually ends up messy, a drill would go a long way in neatly securing the screws and the cameras.’

Most recently, Michael requested a loan of $198 in July 2017. His largest loan yet, this allowed him to purchase more computers for his shop to start a cyber cafe and computer literacy classes. He explains the felt need for this as he says, ‘We are in a digital world where almost everything is run by computers. Internet services provision and computer literacy is very essential. I am looking to buy two computers at the cost of 10,000KES or 96.39 US dollars for each computer making it 20,000KES or 192.77 US dollars for the two computers. I already have an internet connection from a reliable and local internet service provider Safaricom Limited. A computer literacy package or training will go for 5,000KES or 48.19 US dollars per person, and with a projection of at least 5 new enrollments per month, it would make it 25,000KES or 240.96 US dollars as profit. Surfing the internet will be 2KES per minute. I will also create employment since I will have to hire a good computer tutor and a cyber cafe attendant.’

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This new venture proved to be a strong idea for two reasons. First, a cyber cafe with computer literacy classes clearly falls under Michael’s education and area of expertise. In addition, he did his research and determined that quality computer literacy classes were not being offered in his area.

As he reflects on his months with Zidisha so far, he can already see changes happening in his life. He shares with his lenders, ‘Throughout this journey of self employment, Zidisha has really come through for me especially by financing my projects to buy gadgets to ease my working conditions and to attain profit margins since now I do not have to hire equipment to do my work, I have my own. As a volunteer mentor, I thank God for Zidisha, and I will always be in debt to all my lenders and those who have always come through for me.’

While Michael loves to work hard in his business, he also enjoys giving back and having fun. When he’s not working you can find him doing charity work and visiting the sick as a Community Healthcare Worker, or listening to good meaningful music. Also, he wants lenders to know that if you are an animal lover as he is, he encourages each of you to come visit Kenya’s beautiful national parks.

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A small loan can make a big impact. Head on over to our lend page to read about our other amazing borrowers.