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.

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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”

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Before and after

“Many many thanks to my lenders. You have really changed my life situation. I live in a very remote area where water is very scare and water is found some distance far away from where I live. With your help, I bought a donkey to help me transport milk to my customers.  This donkey has turned to be of great help to my family. It is helping me transport water from a far river to my homestead. Many women in my village are going through a hard time because they have to carry water on their backs because they lack means for transporting the water… This is how women and children in my village transport their water because of lack of transportation.  I am happy because I now have a means for transporting my water.”
– Posted by Naomi Ngetich in Kericho, Kenya 

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Three businesses named “Zidisha”

We’re so honored and humbled when Zidisha members name their business ventures after our community.  Here are three of our favorites!

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Zidisha lenders funded Rachmat‘s dream to open his own photocopy shop in Surabaya, Indonesia.  Touched that so many strangers on the other side of the world reached out to make it happen, he named the shop “Zidisha” in gratitude.

 

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George in Kumasi, Ghana launched the Zidisha Youth Empowerment & ICT Foundation using second-hand computers purchased with Zidisha loans.  The foundation provides internet cafe and computer training services to hundreds of teenagers and young adults in his community.

 

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We couldn’t resist including the very first “business” to be named after Zidisha.  We found out about her in early 2012, when Client Relationship Volunteer Achintya visited Serah in the remote village of Mugaa, Kenya.  “I was a little startled when she said to me ‘Zidisha will start giving milk from next month,'” Achintya wrote.  “I later found out that Zidisha is the name of her cow.”

Zidisha the cow has been our unofficial mascot ever since.

“It’s just an incredible feeling”

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By David Henning, Kenya Client Relationship Volunteer

Yesterday I met Bornface Omallah at one of the petrol stations close to the main market in Kisumu, Kenya. Each of us took one of the bicycle taxis (widespread in Kisumu) through the main market. There were stands aligning all the streets and people walking around bargaining and arguing. We went further and further out of the main areas and as we reached the outskirts we arrived at Bornface’s stall, a print and computer service shop.

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Bornface tells me that the current location was not the original one. In the beginning of the year they were situated much closer to the center of the market.  However, the landowner of that stall decided to upgrade the stalls (building small places out of cement rather than using wood and iron sheets), which led to a doubling of the rent! Bornface could not accept this and decided to move out. His current location is, luckily, close to a school, which is where most of his customers come from.

He has one person employed, called Fred, but rather than calling him an employee he sees Fred as his partner and hopes that as the business grows Fred help him to make the business more profitable and diverse.

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Bornface is also preparing to open a new stall in another part of the market. This stall is made out of cement and makes the business look very professional. I personally met the landowner and he assured me that by the end of the week Bornface would be able to move in and open his shop. This enables Bornface to have two shops simultaneously which would give him a much better income. He has already contacted a lady that would be willing to work for him and could then be stationed in the new shop.

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The new shop location!

On a typical day Bornface walks around and tries to find jobs for his print shop, while Fred is stationed in the shop itself. Being in the business for quite a while now and knowing many people and organisations in Kisumu makes it increasingly easy for Bornface to find jobs for his business. Bornface’s future looks bright. His business seems to be prospering and his income gradually increasing.

However, up until recently that was not the case. Due to mismanagement at his former workplace, a microfinance company, many people had to be laid off, Bornface unfortunately being one of them. For a prolonged period he was living from hand to mouth, barely being able to provide for himself, his wife and his three children. “It really brings you down when you cannot provide well for your own family. You feel guilty and sad, and try every little thing to improve the situation,” he tells me with a sad look on his face.

However, Bornface had heard of Kiva and desperately looking for money he began searching for microcredit companies online. Zidisha came up, and intrigued by the Swahili name he entered, registered himself, and quickly sent out a loan proposal. After only three days his loan was raised, but only when he received an SMS saying that the money had been transferred to his account did he believe it was true.

Since then things have improved dramatically. With his first loan of $93 he purchased a printer. With the second of $283 he managed to buy a combined printer / scanner and a minicopier, which enables him to offer a range of different services: typesetting of student theses and contracting proposals, and printing of business cards, brochures, event programs and even wedding cards.

Profit has increased dramatically, and Bornface can pay school fees for his children as well as his younger brother’s high school tuition.  With a big smile he tells me, “You know, it’s just an incredible feeling when you can offer your children meat once or twice a week, when you know you will be able to pay your rent and can ensure that your children attend school. It just makes the day so much brighter!” I didn’t say anything, I just smiled, but to myself I thought, “I cannot claim to know that feeling, but it must be absolutely wonderful.”

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

Kiva vs. Zidisha: Three Common Myths

Some time ago the President of Kiva, Premal Shah, posted a thoughtful response to my article Zidisha vs. Kiva Zip. Zidisha is a nonprofit website that I founded as an alternative to traditional microlending servies such as Kiva, whose loans must be passed on to borrowers at high interest rates (~35%) to cover field partners’ administrative costs. Zidisha reduces the cost of microloans by eliminating field partners and allowing today’s internet-capable borrowers to transact directly with lenders via an international person-to-person lending platform.

If Zidisha has created something of value, it’s because we stand on the shoulders of giants: Kiva was a main source of inspiration for Zidisha, and one of my earliest exposures to microfinance was through work with a Kiva field partner in 2006. Kiva has done immense good by supplying microfinance organizations with much-needed lending capital, and its vision of human connection across geographic barriers has fired the imaginations of people worldwide.

It would be a shame if this vision were to grow static and atrophy through failure to adapt to changing technology. The world is so different now from a decade ago; many microfinance borrowers are online and can be served in new and better ways. It’s why I’ve dedicated my life to building Zidisha, and is why I disagree with Mr. Shah’s dismissal of innovations that disrupt the “classic” Kiva model.

The essence of Mr. Shah’s comment (originally posted here and reproduced in full below) seems to be that traditional microfinance models such as Kiva are more worthy of support than disruptive models such as Zidisha. This conclusion seems to rest on two flawed assumptions, and one debatable value judgment. The flawed assumptions are 1) the use of field partners results in high repayment rates at the borrower level, and 2) direct person-to-person models like Zidisha cannot offer financial sustainability to lenders. The debatable value judgment is that philanthropic microlending platforms like Kiva and Zidisha should optimize predictable returns for lenders, rather than higher profits for borrowers.

I think these three myths are shared by many thoughtful people who care deeply about the future of microfinance, and I’d like to address them here.

Myth #1: Over 98% of Kiva borrowers repay their loans

Mr. Shah cited a figure of “4% loans at risk on ‘classic’ Kiva.org,” and I see that 98.85% of loans made through Kiva.org have been repaid to lenders. However, my understanding from analyses such as this one is that the repayment rate at the borrower level is probably far lower than 98%. The reason, from my understanding, is that the field partners typically cover borrower defaults unless the partners themselves go out of business. The field partners do this to preserve their ability to raise funds through Kiva. The cost is borne by borrowers, who pay hefty interest and fees to cover the partners’ operating costs.

View the full article at the Huffington Post.