A glass half full


By David Henning, Kenya Client Relationship Volunteer

Dorine’s story is one of the most remarkable I have heard so far. It is not necessarily the story itself that is so intriguing, but the way Dorine told it created a lasting impression on me.

We met at the main bus station in Busia, a town on the border to Uganda. After visiting her workplace we took a bodaboda (motorbike taxi) to her home. When we arrived it was already getting dark, but I could still see the sewage on the side of the road as we entered a small space, surrounded by elongated houses divided so that there is space for several families in each home. Throughout the evening Dorine told me her story in bits and pieces.

Out of the blue Dorine’s father decided to leave his wife and five kids approximately four years ago, leaving them with absolutely nothing. “You cannot even imagine how it is to have nothing, can you?” she asks me with a smile. “No,” I had to admit. They had absolutely, absolutely nothing, just the cloth they were wearing and a little bit of food – can you imagine that? Luckily, her uncle decided to step in and gave them enough money for a small rented room, and a bit of food. At the time both Dorine and her mom were unemployed and the future did not look bright.

Soon after, Dorine managed to acquire a job at a cybercafe in town, and thus managed to bring a little income, US $45, to the family every month.  Her mom however, still had no job. Through a dear friend Dorine heard about Zidisha, and started to look into the idea. Her mom was principally against taking up a loan, but Dorine saw Zidisha as a potential help for their dire situation, and figured they had nothing to lose. After a lot of thinking and weighing up the cost and benefits she decided to take a loan without telling her mom.  When Dorine received her first loan she gave part of it to her mother, who of course immediately became suspicious, and required to know where the money came from. Dorine confessed, and after a heavy discussion the mother agreed to try it out.

With the money received through Zidisha they bought a small stall in Busia and started selling clothes. They bought the clothes cheaply in bulk and sold them individually at their stall, which gave them a profit of a few Kenyan shillings. With each consecutive loan they stocked up their supply and widened their range of different clothes, steadily increasing their profits to around US $90 a month today. Together with Dorine’s income from the cybercafe, they now have approximately US $135 USD to live off each month, not a lot for a family of six, but an incredible improvement from the $45 per month they were earning before joining Zidisha. In addition, with their second loan they bought a plot of land and some corn (maize), which they have just harvested, further improving their situation.


Dorine and her mother with a pile of corn they have harvested

I spent most of my visit with Dorine, who is only a few years older than me. At one point I asked her what she does in her free time. “Free time? We don’t really have free-time here. I work [at the cybercafe] from eight in the morning to six every day from Monday till Saturday.  In addition, I usually wake up at five every morning to get water (like most homes in Kenya, Dorine’s house does not have indoor plumbing), do the dishes and clean the house before I go to work.  Afterwards I have to go home and help my mom with the household and take care of my siblings, else it would be too much to do for her. Sunday is usually my day off, but I still have to do the washing for my entire family, and after that I’m so exhausted that I usually sleep the rest of the day.”

I was stunned. It must have shown on my face, as Dorine burst out laughing. “Do you ever complain?” I ask her. “No no no, we don’t complain here, this is completely normal, this is just how life is!” she tells me. “I think you people up there just complain a bit too much!” she adds. “Yes,” I think to myself, “we really do complain way too much.”

Dorine’s story itself is impressive enough. However, the fact that she is still enthusiastic, incredibly positive, never complains and sees the beauty of life in all the small successes she and her family achieve every day is what really caught me. It made a lasting impression on my perspective of life.


Dorine and her family drying corn outside their home

The path to a better life


By David Henning, Kenya Client Relationship Volunteer

A small fishing village known by the name of Uhanya, right on the shore of Lake Victoria, is the hometown of Isiah Osire. This is where he spent his childhood, and after many years he has just recently returned to this place to build his home.

After finishing primary school he saw himself forced to move to Nairobi in search of work, because his parents did not have money enough to pay for his high school education and it was almost impossible to get a job in the area around his hometown. In the beginning life was tough in Nairobi.  Isiah took on any job he could just to get by.

After many months of hard work, Isiah managed to amass enough savings to open a second-hand shoe shop. Isiah was always determined to finish his education, and he used the first profits from selling second-hand shoes to pay tuition for evening classes so that he could finish high school.

Isiah successfully earned his high school diploma, but he didn’t stop there.  He continued his education, this time using profits from selling shoes to take a series of computer classes. This gave him the key professional skills he still relies on today.  In 2008, after finishing his computer classes, he opened a shop offering computing and printing services.

One year ago Isiah’s home village of Uhanya finally gained access to electricity. This marked a sudden change in Isiah’s life. Up until then he saw himself forced to stay in Nairobi, as his shop was impossible to operate without electricity. However, with his hometown now being connected and business getting tougher and more competitive in Nairobi he seized the opportunity and opened up a cybercafe / used shoe shop in Uhanya.


The shop in Uhanya


Isiah is now the go-to person for computing services in Uhanya and the surrounding areas, which have an approximate population of 5000 people. This gives him a solid base income and allows him to live in the same place as the rest of his family (including cousins, aunts etc).

Despite Uhanya now receiving power, the connection is very unstable, and frequently breaks down. Isiah therefore used his first Zidisha loan of $50 to buy a generator, which ensured him constant access to electricity. With his second loan of $150 he updated the software programs on his computer, as they were so outdated they were almost unusable. In addition, he acquired a printer which enabled him to offer printing services, which are in high demand in his community. Isiah’s third loan of $241 is currently being used to refurbish his shop and add two more computers to his cybercafe service.


Inside the shop


At the moment Isiah is also working to become an official agent of M-PESA, a payment system that works over mobile phones and is vastly popular in Kenya. He is thus offering an increasingly diverse range of services. Later he aims to also sell popcorn and sodas, so that when people come to use his computing services they will find it a pleasant and welcoming environment.

Isiah expressed great gratitude towards Zidisha and what the loans enabled him to do. I asked him if the Zidisha loans had increased his income and he said that he now approximately earns about 15000 kenyan shillings a month (US $170). “How much did you earn before?” I asked him. He laughs and says, “It was difficult to even get 10000!” (US $114) – so even the small early loans have helped increase Isiah’s income to about 1.5 times what it used to be.  He uses the profits to support his family and pay the school fees of his two young children.

When I asked him whether he is afraid of competition and what he would do to ensure his position, he answers: “There is already a bit of competition, but now I have been in the business for so long that I know how to handle it. It is all about providing better services than your competitors, and always be welcoming and friendly to your clients. Also, in Nairobi competition was really really tough, so anything is better than that!”

I leave Isiah with a smile, again being impressed by the courage, determination, passion and entrepreneurial skills so many of the Zidisha clients demonstrate.

Isiah recently raised a loan of $241 to grow his cybercafe business. You may read his story in his own words at his Zidisha profile page.

Business without borders

fatouBy Miriam Frost, Senegal Client Relationship Volunteer

Fatou Amar owns her own hair salon in Nord Foire, an neighborhood toward the northern end of Dakar, the capital of Senegal. Her salon has become quite successful in the years since she started it and she now trains others to manage it for her while she travels. Fatou said it was very difficult to start a business in a neighborhood with which she wasn’t familiar and where people didn’t know her, but she was passionate and determined to succeed. Now, she has gained the trust of people in the neighborhood.


At the beauty salon.  Fatou is wearing the flowered shirt.

Fatou’s earnings support her parents, brothers and sisters in addition to her own two children, aged ten and thirteen.  Her loans with Zidisha have allowed her to venture into a lucrative new business, clothing sales – and even to expand her the scope of her activities beyond Senegal’s borders. She has used her recent loans to travel to Mauritania, Mali, and Turkey to purchase clothing and fabric not available in Senegal and then resell them in Dakar. With her last loan, she traveled to Istanbul for six days to buy clothing items that she has been reselling. Fatou showed me a few of them, but they have been selling so quickly she doesn’t have much left!


Fatou with some of the shop inventory she purchased overseas

Fatou is an extremely business-savvy woman, as evidenced by the way she speaks about business. She understands the importance of buying and selling quality products, instead of trying to dupe clients into paying too much for something cheap. That way, her clients will trust her and keep coming back. Fatou also pays back her loans as soon as she has the money instead of waiting until the date it is due, which has led to her repaying most of her previous loan well in advance. She knows how important it is to repay on time and repays early to avoid any problems.

Thanks to her longevity with Zidisha and excellent repayment record, Fatou has the distinction of raising the largest loan ever funded through our platform: her fourth and most recent loan was for $4,136!  Fatou used the loan to fund a trip to Italy and Austria so that she could purchase new merchandise that she resells, like shoes, bags, and basin, a thick, shimmering fabric with rich patterns woven into the cloth.

The Senegalese are connoisseurs of fine fabric, and this gorgeous basin fabric is especially prized.  It is imported plain, and traditional artisans hand-dye with the vibrant colors and patterns that make traditional Senegalese clothing so distinctive.  The basin fabric is very in demand at the moment because many Senegalese purchase basin to make into a special embroidered dress, called a boubou, to wear for the holiday Korite (known as Eid outside Senegal) which marks the end of Ramadan. With Korite coming up soon, Fatou has already sold all but one of the basins she brought back!


Basin fabric ready to be dyed and turned into clothing

Fatou also showed us some bags she brought back from Italy. She purchased them for around 13 or 15 euros, about $17-$20, and resells them in Senegal for 19,000 or 20,000 CFA, around $40. She also allows her customers to purchase on credit and pay later for a small fee. Fatou makes a large profit from these sales and she said her merchandise always goes quickly, because she knows she must choose quality products to resell.


One of Fatou’s imported bags

I asked Fatou if it was difficult to travel to countries where she doesn’t know the language, but she said she gets by easily. She had a Senegalese contact in each country, but getting around and shopping for merchandise she did by herself.

Fatou also said that there are Senegalese people everywhere in Europe – she would often run into Senegalese people on the street and they would help her get where she wanted to go. In Senegal, the concept of “teranga” is very important, and it translates loosely to hospitality, though Senegalese hospitality goes above and beyond, and apparently even crosses international borders. In another example of teranga, even though it is Ramadan and she was fasting, Fatou set out coffee and pastries for us when we arrived.

You may view more comments and photos at Fatou’s Zidisha profile page.

An incredible work ethic


By David Henning, Kenya Client Relationship Manager 

I had the pleasure of meeting Ian Mwangi on Monday. We met in Nairobi town centre and together took one of the matatus (local buses) to his home in Buruburu, which lies on the outskirts of the city.

Ian takes me around a couple of corners along dusty roads with trash lying on the side to a comparatively nice house, which he inherited from his parents. The use of space is completely maximised. Upon going through a small door you are directly confronted with a bunch of clothing hanged to dry. Behind all the clothes, right in front of you is the house itself, while on the left hand side there is a small add-on that has now become the home for Ian’s new business, a call centre.


Ian’s story is full of challenges and opportunities created by hard work. After a few years of unemployment, at the age of 23, Ian managed to acquire a job in Kencall, the biggest call centre in Kenya. Here he worked as a transcriptionist (a person who listens to someone talking and types it out on a computer), which gave him the possibility to acquire the skills and education he was lacking. After two years he decided to quit his safe job and become independent.

He registered on Odesk, an internet site where he could get occasional jobs as a typist. In the beginning he was earning as little as US $6 for eight hours of typing – barely anything even by Kenyan standards. However, Ian was determined and put his entire energy into his job. He told me that in the year of 2011, at the age of 25, he was typing twenty hours every day. He told his mom to call him to make sure he stayed awake.

Ian’s hard work eventually paid off when a US client decided to give him a chance and hired him on a regular basis. The volume increased until one day Ian saw himself in need of assistance. He hired first one other typist, then three more.

Today Ian has a steady client in the US, another in India and another in the UK. Due to the increase in volume he has now employed four permanent transcriptionists, and on occasion might hire up to ten other temporary employees. He has three people working for him during the day and usually one or two during the night. He has even officially registered his company.

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One of Ian’s employees
He turned to Zidisha for the capital needed for the expansion from zero to four permanent employees. His first loan enabled him to buy more computers and stationary necessary to equip his permanent and occasional workers. His current loan is mainly used to market his company internationally and thus attract more clients. He also used a portion of the money to buy some equipment he needed to make his call centre efficient and reliable. But Ian has bigger plans.

One of the main things hindering further expansion is physical space. In the near future, Ian aims to move his call centre out of the add-on to his house to a bigger place. This would allow him to increase the volume of work immensely. He is certain that his company has become trustworthy enough that people will choose to give him the increase in volume.

In addition Ian has plans to create a school for typists. He will organise classes for typing and working on computers in general. This would give many more unemployed young people the opportunity to escape their current situation and earn a better living.

“I’m an honest person who enjoys working with good, honest people, who want to work hard,” Ian wrote in his loan profile.  “The funding I’m requesting is to expand and create satellite transcription training schools to be able to train, create and hire responsible, meticulous, reliable transcriptionists with a strong work ethic. The training we offer will enable Kenyans an opportunity to work from home. Ideal for housewives, college students, employed people looking for a second stream of income and people with restricted mobility.”

“Why do you believe a call centre in Kenya would be beneficial?” I ask him. “Well, you do not need a high education. You simply need to have a good ear and quick hands, and many Kenyans have both. In addition we are really good in English and we do not, compared to many other countries, require high wages. It seems perfect,” Ian replies with a smile.

Ian recently raised a third loan of $380 to further expand his transcription business.  You may learn more at his Zidisha profile page.

“Doing what I love”



By Lesley De Dios, Community Manager

Geoffrey Mwaniki resides in Nairobi with his wife Edith and son Nathanael. An accomplished farmer, Geoffrey mixes passion with practicality and grows tomatoes, capsicums, and mangoes and sells his fruit inventory to customers in Nairobi. Climate conditions in his area are favorable to his crops and his customers reap the benefits of his sweet fruit. In addition to farming, Geoffrey raises poultry, cattle, and goats. With proceeds from his farming, Geoffrey was able to construct a house for his 200 plus indigenous birds and increase his goat stock over 300%!

However, Geoffrey isn’t always experiencing rapid growth in his business. Last March, due to a poor drinking system, he lost more than 300 chickens when an outbreak of Fowl Typhoid broke out. When an epidemic like this occurs, business for the farmers, who typically rely on daily income versus a fixed salary, can be devastating; their livestock decreases substantially which in turn leads to fewer sales and less profits. It is important that farmers keep their products and livestock well maintained and taken care of in order to keep their business afloat.

With his current loan of US $393, Geoffrey will be able to fix a new drinking system in place, which will prevent outbreaks like Fowl Typhoid from occurring. This system will reduce water contamination and insure Geoffrey’s chickens remain healthy and well hydrated – meaning he can continue to profit from the sale of their eggs and further increase his inventory. Due to Geoffrey’s resourcefulness, the pipes and posts to support the new water system are already in place to minimize the loan amount. Once the new drinking system is in place, Geoffrey will eliminate the time consuming task of adding water by hand, thus enabling him to focus on sales and expanding business.

As a successful second-time Zidisha borrower, Geoffrey is motivated and enthused more than ever to further increase his family’s income. He currently has a 100% on-time repayment rate, using his first Zidisha loan to clear the balance of an incubator, which helped him increase the stock of his poultry and sell that supply to the market.

It’s not often that one finds pleasure in one’s work, so when you can couple your livelihood with what you love – capitalize on it like Geoffrey, “I started farming because I have a passion for it and I realized I can make money from doing what I love,” and the rest will follow.

Geoffrey Mwaniki recently raised a $393 loan to install a modern drinking system for his poultry farm.  You may learn more at his Zidisha profile page.

Building the future


By Lisbeth Overheu, Kenya Client Relationship Volunteer

Simeon Kisuya grew up in Bungoma County in far western Kenya. His father can read, write and speak English after a few years of primary school education.  His mother can’t, as she never attended any school because her parents could only afford to educate their sons. Though Simeon was just one of seven children, he was so bright that his parents scraped together enough money for him to complete his first three years of high school.  At that point, he took a year off to work and save enough money to finish his final year and KCSE (Kenyan Certificate of Secondary Education). Simeon’s parents still work on their small farm, and he helps support them as well as assisting with school fees for his youngest siblings who are in Forms 2, 3 and 4 of high school.

Simeon runs the small Heshimatt Enterprises general store in Githurai in northeastern Nairobi. He previously ran a small electronics store while his wife, Shillah, ran a green grocer, but as these businesses were not as successful as they hoped, they closed them and now concentrate on jointly running the store selling basic food and household items such as bread, eggs, flour, sugar, salt, biscuits, cooking fat, soda, soap, washing powder and mobile phone airtime. Shillah also runs a small tailoring business from the store making and repairing clothes for customers. Simeon further supplements their income by working part time for a friend, fellow Zidisha member Albert Ondera, in his nearby electronics store.  The family live in two rooms behind the store and, like many others in Kenya, share their toilet facilities with all the other families in the same complex.

Shillah, who is from Kitale just north of Bungoma, was orphaned at a young age.  She and her five siblings were raised by their grandmother, who could only afford for her to complete her KCPE (Kenyan Certificate of Primary Education). As a teenager she was fortunate enough to be accepted into an NGO-run tailoring college where she studied for two years, as well as a further two years of fashion design which is her passion. Although quietly spoken, Shillah’s English is excellent due to exposure to some foreigners at the tailoring college.


Shillah repairing a dress

Simeon and Shillah’s five-year-old daughter Abigael is in Standard 1 while their two-year-old son James is a very happy, active little boy who attempted to hijack my discussion with his parents as much as possible. He climbed into and onto everything, with the store obviously just a giant play ground in his eyes.  At one stage it seemed a bulk bag of toilet paper was going to be unravelled across the entire store. He also ate nonstop (no doubt to fuel all that activity) before eventually crashing out for an early afternoon nap.


Two-year-old James insisted on being in nearly every photo

Simeon and Shillah would ultimately like to increase their profits and run a small supermarket. To help them achieve this they are currently hoping to expand the M-PESA services they offer at their store. M-PESA (mobile money) is extremely popular in Kenya with people paying for a variety of goods and services and transferring money to and from friends and family through their mobile phones and/or small shops, such as Simeon and Shillah’s, without having to go to a bank or even having to open a bank account.


Simeon and his son James outside their shop

Like most Kenyans, Simeon and Shillah love football and there’s a healthy rivalry in the family, with Shillah supporting Arsenal and Simeon Manchester United in the English Premier League football completion. However, they seem united in supporting Brazil in the current World Cup. When they’re not working in their shop, which is open seven days a week, both Simeon and Shillah teach Sunday School to children at their local church.

Simeon recently raised a loan of $93 to increase his M-PESA “float,” or cash balance that allows his customers to withdraw funds from their M-PESA accounts.  With a larger operating float he will be able to increase the number of M-PESA transactions he can service, earning a small profit on each transaction.

Turnover is so frequent that Simeon estimates that the additional $93 in float will allow him to earn an additional profit of $35 per month from the M-PESA service, in addition to the increase in business at his shop.  He and Shillah plan to reinvest the profits in growing their business, so that it will generate sufficient cash to cover tuition by the time their children are old enough to attend high school and university.

“Many, many thanks indeed for the great people who contributed for my loan,” Simeon wrote in a recent profile post.  “Thanks for your confidence in me, a person you have never met, for trusting that I will pay back your money. I promise I indeed will not let your down. Much more thanks you for volunteering to contribute to the success of my small business which actually is the success for me, Shillah my beloved queen, Abigael my daughter and my son James…”

You may read Simeon’s story in his own words at his Zidisha profile page.