Making an Impact in the Mobile Money Business

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By Betsy Ramser Jaime

Elinam Sekya has a work ethic that has gotten her far in life! Growing up as the youngest of seven children and raised by a single parent, college and a good job were not guarantees. As a child she helped her mother sell clothing and footwear to earn extra money for the family. While it didn’t come easily, Elinam was able to attend and graduate from the University of Ghana and obtained a degree in Psychology and Information Studies.

After completing her university studies and her national service, she was ready to start working. However, unable to obtain a permanent job, she decided to try out entrepreneurship as she shares with the Zidisha community, ‘I am very grateful to you for your support. With your help, I am doing my own business which otherwise would be difficult for me to start. Not being a salary worker, obtaining a loan from the banks is difficult.’

Elinam runs a mobile money business which includes deposits, cash withdrawals, and calling cards. Now, in addition to being a business owner, Elinam is also a wife and mother of two children, a boy and a girl. Her firstborn would like to be a nurse someday when she grows up and her son dreams of becoming a lawyer.

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So far, in her two years with Zidisha, Elinam has raised 5 loans, with the help of Zidisha lenders. She used her first two loans in January and May 2017 of $95 and $143 to get started and to then increase her capital. Her business center is conveniently located near a high school which has a population of around 5,000. She explains, ‘Currently I offer mobile money service to just a few of the students. The community also benefit from this service. Parents in the community receive money from their children, through mobile money.’

As business continued to grow, Elinam requested her third Zidisha funded loan in September 2017 for $204. This was used to have additional money on hand in her mobile money business. As people in her city became increasingly interested in mobile transfers of money, Elinam found that she was in the right business at the right time.

By March of 2018, Elinam was ready to make a big change, and hoped that her Zidisha lenders would be ready to help with a $393 loan! She shares, ‘My business has reached a point where I needed to expand into a wholesale of recharge cards alongside the Mobile Money since customers demand for this recharge cards is increasing. Other sales guys has also be informed of this decision to make it was easy for penetration into the market. I therefore humbly appeal to aid me in funding this loan for a good cause. Thank you.’

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Most recently, in November 2018, she was ready to expand again with a $399 Zidisha funded loan as she found the demand larger than what she could provide. This loan was used to purchase MTN Call Cards, Vodafone Call Cards, Tigoairtel Call Cards, and Mobile money. Elinam explains the importance of offering these services to her customers as she explains, ‘Clients buy Sim Cards of various network like MTN, Vodafon and Tigo to communicate with loved ones. They also register for Mobile Money account to access Mobile Money services. With the Scratch cards, clients top up their phones to stay connected with family and friends. Am very grateful to you all, stay blessed.’

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For Elinam, being a part of the Zidisha community has truly transformed her life as she shares with lenders, ‘Zidisha loans are a savior to me and my family. Having completed university without getting a job after completing national service, it’s through Zidisha loans I’m able to start my own business of selling call cards, mobile money, transfer of credit. I’m able to support my husband pay for the bills, pay the children school fees and put food on the family table. Always grateful and thankful to Team Zidisha and to all lenders for your show of love and care. God richly bless you all.’

Would you like to empower another Zidisha entrepreneur like Elinam? Make sure to head on over to our Browse Projects Page to learn more!


Viewing the World Through a New Lens

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By Betsy Ramser Jaime

Hezron Mwangi grew up in Nyahururu, Laikipia West County, Kenya, with his mother and three sisters. He shares that his childhood was not easy as he watched his mother struggle to support her children and send them to school. Because he was the only son and the eldest child, he was forced to start working right after high school to help support his family. After lots of saving and working in casinos, he was able to put himself through college where he earned a degree in Graphics Design.

He shares, ‘As fate would have it, I later got a job opportunity in Juba, South Sudan as a graphics designer. Unfortunately, I was forced to come back to Kenya after chaos broke out in the country. Amidst my struggles to establish myself in Nairobi, I met a former high school friend who introduced me into the world of photography.’

Hezron now has a freelance photography business where he attends events throughout the country. In addition, on Sunday’s, he works at his local church where he takes photos after the service. He also works a variety of events from burials, weddings, and school graduations. In a single month he is able to earn about Kshs. 30,000 from his business which allows him to support his household, his daughter, and paying school fees for his younger sister.

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So far, Hezron has been able to raise 6 Zidisha funded loans with the help of lenders ranging from his first loan of $16 to his most recent of $2,445.

With his first $16 loan in January 2017, Hezron was ready to prepare for an upcoming event that he would be working. He used $6 of the loan to purchase photo papers and the remaining $10 to print some banners. He expected to make about $80 at the event. However, he would need to subtract his expenses of transport ($7), Revenue fee ($5), Assistant ($10), Photo Paper and Banners ($16). This meant that his total expenses added up to $37, leaving him with a final profit of $42. He shares, ‘This profit will enable me run my day to day household operations as well as support my daughter’s financial needs.’

A few months later, Hezron reached out to lenders for his second Zidisha funded loan, requesting, $338. Because he runs a photography business, Hezron really wanted to upgrade his camera to a good DSLR camera. He hoped to purchase the Canon D70 model and also wanted to buy a 32GB SDG card.

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By July 2017, Hezron was ready for his next Zidisha loan of $512. He shares, ‘I intend to open a new branch for my Mediart Business which is a printing business dealing with online services delivery, general printing, graphic design, photocopy services, stationery supplies etc. The branch will be located at race course road Nairobi. The loan will help me venture into new opportunities.’

As he continued to grow and expand in his business, Hezron was ready for another Zidisha funded loan. In September 2017, he requested $1,366 from lenders in order to purchase a digital printing machine. He knew that this would allow him to help diversify his offerings.

In April of 2018, he requested his next Zidisha funded loan of $1,747 and shared with lenders, ‘With printing and cyber business gaining a lot of relevance in the Kenyan market, I have gained a reliable customer base in the heart of Nairobi city. There is a need to process their jobs faster and more efficiently if I am to maintain them. With this in my mind I will need a digital printer Konica Minolta – Bizhub C280 and an extra Epson photo printer model T50 to process print jobs and photographs. The cost is broken down as follows, Purchasing digital printer, Konica Minolta Bizhub C280 $1750 and Purchasing an Epson Photo Printer model T50 $290, I will top up the money I receive from Zidisha with my savings to enable me to meet the purchasing cost.’

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Hezron felt that by purchasing these two printers he would be better able to meet the needs of his customers and also increase his profits. This would allow him to do less outsourcing than he had in the past.

Most recently, in November, Hezron raised his sixth Zidisha funded loan, for $2,445. At this point, Hezron is looking to better his workflow and use high quality products. As a result, with this loan, he planned to purchase a new camera, specifically the Nikon D850 full frame camera which would cost $1,600 and extra batteries, and a camera lens amounting to $700.

On November 28, Hezron wished to show his gratitude to his Zidisha lenders as he shared on his discussion page, ‘Hello my lenders, I take this chance to thank you for being with me this far, the sky is the limit for me. I have managed to acquire new machinery and more to maintain the running capital of my Photography and Printing Business ensuring that the business is smooth. I thank my lenders for believing in me.’

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Would you like to empower another entrepreneur like Hezron? Make sure to head on over to our Browse Projects page to read the stories of our other inspiring business owners.

8 Lessons Small Businesses Can Learn from Tech Startups

Guest post by Rohit Mittal, cofounder and CEO of Stilt

Small businesses are the lifeblood of a growing economy, and they are popping up faster than ever. Whether it is a stay-at-home mom running her own business out of the family basement or a local grocer opening up a shop–small businesses are a big part of the economy.

More often than not, though, small business owners do not see the overlap with their businesses and tech startups. Your hand-made clothing business feels worlds away from Silicon Valley. You operate in different markets and face vastly different challenges, so what can you possibly learn from them?

Quite a lot, actually.

Basic business principles can be applied to any business, no matter where you are or what services you offer. Just because you greet your customers by hand and know them by name, it doesn’t mean your business can’t be built on the same business practices as tech startups.

Let’s take a look at some of the lessons you as a small business owner can learn from tech startups.

1. Learn from Other’s Mistakes

Learning from other people’s mistakes is one of the ways startups ensure they stay ahead of the game and are always moving forward. Your business, market, and niche may be unique, but the mistakes you’re likely to make are more common than you’d think.

If someone else has already learned a lesson the hard way, there is no need for you to do the same.

In the modern world, business resources are all around us–from blogs to video tutorials to books. Business owners share their advice on how to go about building a successful business, what they’ve learned, and things you should avoid–and a lot of it is out there for free.

The basic lessons available in these resources aren’t only applicable to startups, but all businesses, big and small. So dive in and make learning your new sport.

2. Don’t Worry About Perfect

All business owners want the same thing: for their business to be the best it can be. For it to be perfect. Unfortunately, the desire to launch the perfect business is what stops most would-be business owners from ever getting started.

Seeking perfection will lead to you over analyzing every situation and outcome, ever business decision. In the end, rather than building a successful business, you’ll find yourself crippled by perfectionism.

This is called analysis paralysis.”

To prevent analysis paralysis, startups use the “lean” approach to building business and make use of “minimum viable products”. Rather than waiting for a product to be perfect, a startup will build the best possible version of the product with the means it has, and launch with that.

If your product isn’t perfect, but it’s great, you can always continue to improve. Stilt (a Y Combinator backed fintech company) launched their product the same day their company was registered.

This is a great method to apply in your business whether you are launching, or planning new expansions or avenues. Don’t get stuck in the details. Rather, make it happen and continue to improve as you go.

3. Develop and Know Your Business Model

Most founders of successful startups suggest that you should not look for investors, do market research, or even design your website before you have a basic business model in place. You need to know what problem your business will be solving and how you’ll be solving it before you go any further.

Your business model is the blueprint of your business. In it, you identify your sources of income, your revenue model, your market, your customer base, the details of financing, and so forth.

So, how do you develop a business model?

There are great resources out there, like Business Model Canvas, that will help you step by step in creating your blueprint for your business.

And #2 applies here as well–your business model doesn’t need to be perfect before you launch. A simple, working business model is enough to start.

4. Stay on Top of Your Finances

Finances are the oil that keeps the machinery of your business running smoothly. If you’ve set up systems to do your financial recording and to keep your books in order, you’ll have more time to focus on other important aspects of growing your business.

Luckily, if numbers aren’t your strong suit and you can’t afford a top-notch accountant, you don’t have to worry. Most startups utilize simple-to-use, inexpensive accounting software to do their books and you can, too.

We’ll take a closer look at some software solutions available below, but, the point is, having your finances in order is really important. Nothing kills a business quicker than mismanaged books. It’ll cost you a lot of time and money to get the books in order, so make it a point to keep them in order straight from the start.

5. Adopt Software to Become More Efficient

Any worthwhile tech startup is using software to streamline its processes and tasks. Software is a tool that helps to automate the tasks associated with your business, freeing you up to work on other, less menial aspects of the business.

As we explained above, accounting is one area where software is a great business solution. Zoho Books is a prime example of this.

Zoho Books is a simple, subscription-based accounting software that has all the features you need to keep your small business books in order without having to pay a hefty fee. Zoho Books links with your bank accounts to keep track of your transactions and can also help you create and send invoices. Which means you’ll keep track of them more efficiently.

Not exactly what you are looking for? There are many other options, like FreshBooks and Waves App out there, too. Some are even free.

Using software to streamline basic tasks and processes in your business will save time and allow you to focus on what is most important–growing the business. If you have an online presence, think about using online-chat tools like Zopim to interact with your customers. E.g. When a new user comes to Stilt, they are greeted by a live customer support agent and are available to answer questions.

6. Seek Out and Welcome Feedback

Feedback is one of, if not the most crucial tool needed for your small business to grow. And it’s not just a one-time thing–we mean consistent feedback from different groups of people at different stages of business growth.

No one starting a tech startup knows everything about building a business. That’s why startup employees–whether they’re the CEO or the marketing guy–rely on feedback from more knowledgeable people.

If a small tech startup needs to improve its website’s store, the CEO might sit down with an expert website designer, eCommerce expert, or even another startup CEO who’s had the same problem in the past. The benefit here is that, rather than a constant process or trial and error, you can walk away from a conversation with the distilled information and feedback you need to improve your website.

This ties back to #1–learn from others’ mistakes. You might be considering a way to grow your business that someone else has already tried. Someone who’s been down that road already can give you insight on what may actually work, instead, and you can save time and money.

But this kind of valuable insight only comes from seeking feedback.

An obvious place to get feedback from is other people operating in your field and niche, especially those who have also started their own businesses. You can also ask people you respect for honest feedback. You’d be surprised how open people are to give their input if they see you only want a little time.

7. Become Data Driven

Better decision making makes for a better business. And in the 21st Century, it’s easier than ever to make good business decisions by becoming data-driven.

Data-driven decision making, in short, is using data to make better business decisions. This method of decision making has changed the way businesses, both big and small, operate around the world, saving them time, money, and improving how efficiently they operate.

But how do you get started?

The first step to becoming a data-driven decision maker is figuring out what aspects of your business you want to improve.

Once you’ve figured out where you can improve, you need to decide what data is important to look at to understand how to make improvements.

For example, say you want to improve in the way you order feed for the chickens you sell. You order six bags of feed every three months for your chickens, and some of it always ends up spoiling before it’s used.

Now that you’d identified the problem that needs solving, you can gather the necessary data to make a better decision.

At the end of three months, you would weigh the spoiled feed and purchase that much less next time and save money by not throwing it away on feed that will go bad before it can be used.

With this data, you can also understand how much feed a single chicken requires and scale your ordering up to account for more chickens if you want to grow your business.

Now, this is a simple example, but it illustrates clearly how making data-driven decisions can improve and help grow a small business. All you have to do identify a problem, ask the right questions and collect the data.

8. Test Your Market

Even with all your planning and preparation, there are some insights you’ll never know with experimenting. But it can be risky (and expensive) to launch a new product or expand your business.

One technique startups use to negate some of that risk is to do what’s called a “soft launch.” With a soft launch, you expose your business to a small group of customers or clients who you can easily engage with and get feedback from.

Then, you can use the data collected from the soft launch to readjust your business plan and projections.

This principle can apply to any industry, too–even a neighborhood grocery store. Say you want to offer a new brand of bread, but you aren’t sure how your customers will take to it. Rather than making a bulk order, you can order a few loaves, see how well it sells and how the customers are reacting to it, and then adjust your orders accordingly in the future. If they love it, order more. If they hate it, move on to the next offering.

The biggest questions you’re looking to answer when testing your market are:

  • Is the customer experience positive?
  • Is there room to improve the product?
  • Are the customers willing to pay for the product?

The benefits of a soft launch are that you get feedback and insights into how a product will perform without a time-consuming and expensive full-scale launch and you can use that data to adjust your plans if need be.

Whether you are the owner of the groundbreaking startup or you run a small business from your home, the principles discussed above will help improve and grow your business. And these are all things you can start doing for your business today! So what are you waiting for?

Have you tried some of these tips and have some feedback? Or do you have a few extra tips you want to share? Drop us a comment below and share your thoughts!

Bio: Rohit Mittal is the co-founder and CEO of Stilt. Stilt is a fintech company focused on improving access to credit for immigrants and the underserved. The core mission of Stilt is to improve financial inclusion and help people live financially healthy lives who are shut out by the current financial system.

Being An Entrepreneur Has Improved My Life

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By Betsy Ramser Jaime

Jesper Kumuhuza grew up in the Northwestern Province of Zambia, where his father worked as a truck driver for a Catholic mission. Jesper shares, ‘It was not an easy job for my dad to educate six children from the income he got from his job as a driver. We used to walk about 10 kilometers from and to school every weekday with my siblings and a few friends.’

While not easy, Jesper managed to work hard and completed his high school education as he says, ‘Attaining education in the village was challenging as there were a lot of hurdles that I faced personally and as a family. It was through my determination and hard work that I managed to pull through to grade 12. Despite the hardships I went through, I scored good results and got accepted at the University of Zambia.’

Jesper loves the town of Chipata and explains that it is a good place to live as there are good business opportunities, it is developing at a high rate, and it is also a border town.

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As he reflects on his life he shares that, ‘From college, I learnt that life/education is not about getting a job only, but changing the environment. I believe in a poverty-free community. I want to plant a good environment for my children, family and community; hence I started my own business. One thing that has helped me to overcome my challenges in life and pull through is because I am super focused, determined and organized on what I believe in and what is good for my life and the community I live in.’

While he certainly stays busy as an entrepreneur, he also loves reading and researching in his free time as he enjoys surfing the internet and staying up to date with the world.

Currently, Jesper runs his own poultry business of 300 chickens. Typically, he purchases small chicks from local sellers and then raises them as chicken is one of the most popular dishes in Zambia. Chicken is popular as it is affordable even on a small income.

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Jesper is able to sell a whole chicken for about $3.80. Through his business profits he is able to pay for his housing costs, bills, and food. The remaining profits are used to help care for his aging father and reinvestment into the business.

In the past two years, Jesper has successfully raised 4 Zidisha funded loans with the help of lenders. With an initial loan of $176 in August 2016, Jesper expanded his business by purchasing additional feed, medicine, and chicks. Each bag of feed cost about $24.30 and each bottle of medicine was purchased for $17. He predicted that this kickstart would result in increased profits and the ability to hire an employee.

After witnessing the positive impact of his first Zidisha funded loan, Jesper was ready to expand to start off the new year in 2017! His second loan of $264 put him in a good position to purchase additional equipment as he had previously expanded his space. This loan provided for feeders and drinkers, costing $6 each. By this point, he also found that hiring an additional set of hands would be crucial to continue to grow. He hoped to hire someone part-time and then eventually be able to keep them on a permanent basis.

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Ready to take the next step in his business, Jesper set out to open a selling center for dressed chickens. And with a $529 loan from Zidisha lenders, he was ready to put his plan into action! He explains, ‘This is one of my expansions in the business as I look forward to a greater future. I am therefore going to use this loan to pay for rentals for the shop I will be using, which costs about $50 per month. I also wish to buy a small refrigerator costing about $300 that I will use in preserving the dressed chickens. I will also buy a butchery scale to use in selling the chickens. The scale costs about $100. Among the things I need to purchase for this new project are plastic bags for our customers also.This will help us increase profit and sales because now we will be able to sell even chicken pieces to people who cannot manage to buy a full chicken.’

Most recently, in June 2018, Jesper secured his largest loan yet, of $615 to purchase a motorbike for transportation. Jesper found that transporting his poultry from the production facility to the market was proving to be a big challenge. He had tried hiring a van but found this option to be quite expensive at $10 per trip. In a single month this was amounting to $100 in transportation costs.

He explains the benefits as he shares, ‘The motorbike will help me to transport the chickens from the poultry to the market on a daily basis. It will be less costly to transport the chicken with the bike as it has low fuel consumption and maintenance is affordable. The bike will also help me to deliver chickens to customers’ homes. Some customers prefer calling for chickens to be delivered to their homes hence the motorbike will help a lot in this area.

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For Jesper, becoming an entrepreneur and a member of the Zidisha community has been life-altering as he proudly expresses, ‘Being an entrepreneur has improved my life. I have learnt alot and continue to learn more. Being independent and financially stable is what I have always aimed for and surely through this route (entrepreneurship) I will live my dreams sooner than later. Thank you always to the lenders on Zidisha for the great support.’

Would you like to improve the life of an entrepreneur like Jesper? Make sure to check out our Browse Projects page to read about our other inspiring business owners!

A Never Say Die Spirit

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By Betsy Ramser Jaime

Nicholas Nyongesa might have grown up in an environment that did not consider education important, but that didn’t deter him in the slightest! As he opened his mind to the power of education, he flourished, and even received a government scholarship to University. He shares that, ‘After my university education the entrepreneurial spirit within me arose and I started a data collection business where I could walk in the targeted places to interview the respondents on behalf of my clients undertaking research.’

Like many entrepreneurs, he’s also discovered the power of diversifying and maintaining multiple income streams as he also supplies stationery and food stuffs to nearby schools. In the future, he hopes that he can continue to grow and explore other markets. In addition to running his business, Nicholas also enjoys spending time with his young son who has dreams of becoming a pilot someday. As a lifelong learner, Nicholas also loves reading entrepreneurial books in his spare time.

Nicholas began working with Zidisha lenders back in July 2017 and has since successfully raised 7 loans. Starting small, his first $34 loan enabled him to purchase a bag to carry his stationary and data collection materials. This allowed him to transport and deliver lots of materials at the same time.

The following month, in August 2017, he raised his second loan, this one for $51. Like many of his fellow borrowers, purchasing items in small quantities was limiting his ability to grow. With this loan he started purchasing printing papers in bulk. This specific batch of papers was used to print field questionnaires for a client that he was working with. He shares, ‘From this engagement, my business will be able to earn an extra profit due to efficiency as opposed to previous encounters where I was purchasing in small quantities.’

An important way that Zidisha lenders often help borrowers is through loans helping them to bring tools and services in house. For example, prior to working with Zidisha, many borrowers must outsource things like printing, because they don’t have their own printers. This was exactly the case with Nicholas. Fortunately, through his next loan, of $108, he was able to purchase his own printer for his business. Previously, outsourcing printing services had been a major cost for him and with this change he predicted that his profit margin would double!

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On September 17, 2017, Nicholas proudly shared with Zidisha lenders, ‘thanks to my Zidisha lenders for making my dream a reality, your loan has made my business more efficient and customers more satisfied which has in turn doubled my profit margin due to clients trust. I look forward for your continued support. Once again thank you.’

Shortly thereafter, in November, 2017, Nicholas requested his next loan of $247, as he shares, ‘The last loan helped me to make more profit and as a result hired a new staff who requires a laptop as a tool for his work. The laptop will cost USD $370. This will enable my employee work efficiently and thus boost my business performance with expected returns doubling. Once the income increases the business will expand more with new other staff being employed with the aim of reducing the unemployment rate in the neighborhood. I therefore request my lenders to kindly help not only to achieve my business goal but also offer quality services to my clients in an efficient way and also offer employment to the youths.’

As Nicholas continued to grow with his business, he was faced with new and bigger problems. By February 2018, this was true as he had outgrown his office space. Not having enough room for his employee and clients, he found himself scrambling and getting creative by meeting with clients in hotels or rented boardrooms. Of course, he knew that this wouldn’t serve well as a long-term solution. Fortunately, with the help of a $485 Zidisha loan, he was able to solve this problem and procure additional office space.

With office space secured, the next step was purchasing office furniture for the space. Through a $846 loan from Zidisha lenders, Nicholas was able to purchase new tables and chairs. He further explains, ‘The furniture will give value to my business so that the bargaining power and confidence to the client is achieved. This will also increase the business profit by 40% from the current profit. With the new furniture also my working efficiency and effectiveness is expected to be enhanced as a result of a better working environment.’

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Most recently, Nicholas raised his largest loan yet, $1,291 to purchase a motorcycle. As he often needs to travel from location to location for data collection work, he found himself spending a lot of money on transportation services which were eating away at his profits. Having a vehicle of his own would solve this problem.

On October 18, 2018, Nicholas shared this exciting update on his discussion page, ‘I used the loan to purchase office furniture. This has enhanced the business work environment which in turn enhanced work efficiency. There has been also increased income due to confidence in clients when they visit the office location. There has been a 30% increase in income which I have used to employ a new staff to help enhance efficiency further for the increased clients. It is expected that with your continued support I will be able to employ more youths and also help pay school fees for the bright but needy students in my neighborhood.’

For Nicholas, his dream and vision for the future is much larger than just making money. He also dreams of continuing to impact the youth in his community in big ways, as he shares, ‘With your continued support I will be able to grow the business at the same time extend my hand to the less privileged within my area of reach especially to school going children who cannot raise school fees. This is in the spirit that education is the key to success and also opens doors where it seems impossible. I lack words to express my gratitude. Thank you’

Because of lenders like you, Nicholas is seeing his dream materialize right before his eyes! Would you like to help another entrepreneur do the same? Make sure to check out our Browse Projects page to help make this happen!