Zidisha is hiring a remote engineer

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Update: This position has been filled.

We’re looking for a remote engineer to help us:

  • Build out our nonprofit P2P microlending platform using the PHP Laravel framework
  • Bring opportunity to some of the world’s poorest places by connecting them to a marketplace that’s independent of geography
  • Develop the world’s first direct P2P microlending community – a model that is revolutionizing access to finance in developing countries

Our technology stack: PHP, Laravel Framework, Propel ORM, Elasticsearch, Ansible, Vagrant, Composer, Git, Github, PHPUnitTest, Twitter Bootstrap, Rackspace Cloud, Nginx, jQuery, many third-party APIs (Facebook, Google, Stripe, Paypal, Telerivet, SendWithUs, SiftScience, Geoip2, Phpexcel, Supremenewmedia, guzzelhttp, laravel-phone).

What You’ll Do

As our sole engineering hire (for now), here are some things you might do:

  • Refactor our Laravel 5 codebase
  • Add and update unit tests
  • Optimize queues (Beanstalkd) and database queries to handle a rapidly growing transaction volume
  • User experience improvements: smarter loan project search results, customizable email digests for lenders, loan balance queries via SMS for borrowers, etc.
  • Work with data scientists to integrate credit risk prediction algorithm updates (Python)
  • Interact with our borrowers and lenders via email for technical questions
  • Help with other activities as necessary in a startup

About Us

Zidisha is a Y Combinator nonprofit and the first direct peer-to-peer lending service to bridge the international wealth divide, allowing individuals in the US and internationally to lend to and communicate with borrowers in developing countries without local intermediaries. We’ve been featured in numerous press and media for our groundbreaking work in using internet and mobile phone technologies to connect entrepreneurs in some of the world’s most isolated and impoverished places with the international peer-to-peer lending market.

Our mostly-volunteer team is distributed worldwide.  You’ll work with founder and front-end developer Julia Kurnia, and with our volunteers and interns via Skype, email and our team forum. Opportunities for greater responsibility / leadership will continue to open up as we grow.

About You

You’re not satisfied with a conventional job: you’re compelled to use your time and energy to make an important impact on the world.

You believe the international wealth divide is the major injustice of our time, and have dedicated your life to solving it.  You have a substantial track record of paid or volunteer work on some aspect of this issue.

You’re happy working remotely.  You prefer structuring your own work days and being alone to focus on a project.  You’ve figured out the work-life balance that’s right for you, and your social life is independent of the workplace.

You’re upbeat and consistently exude positive energy.  You think independently, take responsibility for the overall success of the organization, and have the maturity to speak your mind in a constructive way.  You communicate clearly in English.

You’re extraordinarily disciplined with time management.  You comfortably prioritize competing projects, making obvious, substantial progress on the most important goals each working day.  You pace yourself reasonably to avoid burnout.

You’re excited about pioneering something that’s never before been done.  You’re comfortable with ambiguity and lots of unknowns.  You understand that innovation requires constant experimentation and change.  You expect to modify and replace much of what you build as our lending model evolves.

If you aren’t an expert at our technology stack already, you can become one quickly.  You have extensive experience with refactoring substantial codebases and applying unit testing.  You’re comfortable with being the most expert engineer on the team and taking responsibility for the quality of our codebase.

You’re a fast, independent learner. You have a network of people and resources you can tap for advice.  You keep yourself up to date on the latest technology and security best practices, and take responsibility for applying them as appropriate.

About This Job

This opportunity is open to people of any nationality.  You can live and work from anywhere in the world with an internet connection.

We may consider both part-time and full-time engagements, depending on your situation.  Hours are flexible; you can work any time of the day or night.  Your productivity should speak for itself, rather than number of hours spent.

We have an open vacation policy: take whatever is reasonable and right for you (we recommend minimum two weeks per year).

We’re committed to fair compensation that is competitive with comparable nonprofit positions in your location.

Most likely, we’ll start with a trial period of one to three months.  If the fit is right for everyone, we’ll move to a long-term relationship.

How To Apply

Send an email with your resume to julia@zidisha.org.  Answer these questions:

  • Tell us about yourself.
  • How are you spending your time today?  Describe what you personally are building, either for a larger organization or your own project(s).
  • Describe any previous experience working with a team remotely.
  • Include a link to your GitHub page and a sample of code you’ve written.
  • Out of all the worthwhile things you could do with your time, why do you want to invest it in Zidisha?
  • If you had just five years left to live, how would you spend your time?

Zinc uses Giving Assistant to raise $92K for third-world entrepreneurs

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We’re incredibly excited to announce a $92,111 donation from Zinc, via the charitable shopping platform Giving Assistant.

Zinc provides a single API for operations at retailers across the internet. Its users can get product details, prices, make a purchase, or post a listing with a single POST to Zinc’s API. The API supports Amazon, Walmart, eBay, and more.

100% of Zinc’s donation will go to fund microloans for Zidisha entrepreneurs in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  Zidisha is a direct online microlending platform that allows low-income young adults in developing countries to raise zero-interest loans for education and self employment.  Zidisha loan fund donations typically finance more than triple their initial value per year in loan projects, as repayments are continually recycled into new loans.

Zinc’s is the first donation loan fund contributed by a company.  Zidisha has previously received donation loan funds from individual philanthropists like Paul Buchheit (creator of Gmail), Yun-Fang Juan (Facebook ads creator), and Craig Newmark (founder of craigslist and craigconnects).

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“Our software for Amazon and eBay sellers enables hundreds of enterprising individuals to work for themselves around the globe,” said Zinc cofounder Doug Feigelson. “We are excited to create even more opportunities for enterprising individuals through contribution to Zidisha.”

Giving Assistant saves shoppers money with cash back while enabling effortless donations for charities like Zidisha.  Use this link to sign up and Giving Assistant will give you free cash back while you shop, while making a donation to Zidisha with every purchase!  https://givingassistant.org/np#Zidisha

Celebrating 2015

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In 2015 we continued our five-year streak of 200% annual growth.  But our passion for life-changing person-to-person connections hasn’t changed since day one.  Here are some of our favorite milestones – and stories – from the past year:

 

$100 uploaded in January funded an average of $254 worth of loans by the end of the year.

Thanks to recycling of repayments into new loans, the average investment into a Zidisha lending account finances over 2.5 times its value in loans per year.  Talk about high-impact philanthropy!

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Wairimu was one of the few young ladies from rural Kenya to be accepted into law school. $100 in seed funding from Zidisha lenders helped her start a maize selling business to pay for her tuition – and ultimately realize her dream of getting a law degree.  Read her story here.

 

A record 5,156 lenders made loans in 2015.

5,156 people lent their own funds to Zidisha entrepreneurs during the year.

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Edward spent his youth in an orphanage in Ghana, reading American business books and dreaming of becoming a social entrepreneur. Today, he’s teamed up with Zidisha lenders to open a much-needed pharmacy in his isolated community.  Read his story here.

 

They came from 155 countries.

The top 10:

  1. United States
  2. United Kingdom
  3. Germany
  4. Canada
  5. Norway
  6. Australia
  7. India
  8. Netherlands
  9. Singapore
  10. Sweden

 

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Violet hasn’t had many lucky breaks in her life. As a young child she worked as a hired hand alongside her mother to put food on the table. By age fifteen she was on her own in the city, sleeping in people’s kitchens and scrubbing clothes for a living. When Zidisha lenders finally gave Violet the chance to invest in her ideas, she turned $50 for vegetable seeds into a windfall profit. And when complications arose during the delivery of her baby, Violet’s new earning power gave her access to life-saving medical care.  Read her story here.

 

They lent over $2 million – up from $1 million in 2014.

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Mardiana was determined to become the first producer of mushrooms in her community – but she lacked the money to leave her home island of Sulawesi, Indonesia for agricultural training. So she used the internet to learn the art of mushroom farming, then experimented to adapt it to Sulawesi’s unique climate. Today dozens of small farmers in Sulawesi are using the mushroom farming techniqus she pioneered.  Read her story here.

 

Our lenders and borrowers posted 76,194 comments.

Borrower progress reports, lender notes of encouragement, sharing of family photos and favorite recipes… 2015 was a record year for cross-border dialogue.

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It took Rebecca 2 years of saving to buy her first $135 camera. Now Zidisha lenders are turbo-charging her efforts to build a videography studio.  Read her story here.

 

Together we funded 13,575 loan projects around the world.

More than double the number of loans raised in 2014!

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Elizabeth wasn’t satisfied with the service jobs traditionally available to women in Kenya. So she launched her own business retailing mobile phones. Though demand was strong, banks wouldn’t give Elizabeth a loan for inventory. Zidisha lenders filled the gap.  Read her story here.

 

2015 was our best year ever.  Help us make 2016 even better!  Make a loan today.

The right tools

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By Lisbeth Overheu, Kenya Ambassador Volunteer

Rebecca Muthee has run her own freelancing business for the past several years. She lives in a neat one-bedroom apartment which she shares with her boyfriend in Zimmerman in northeastern Nairobi.

Rebecca works from home, so her living room is also her office. Her main source of income is writing online articles for various health, beauty and fashion websites, from which she earns about US $200 per month. She supplements this with wedding and events photography and videography.

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Rebecca’s neighborhood

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Preparing tea

A talented actress, Rebecca joined a theatre after graduating high school.  Though she loved acting, the pay was so low that it took her two years to save the $135 she needed to buy her first digital camera.  She used the camera to begin earning extra income as a professional photographer.

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Some of Rebecca’s photography work

At first, Rebecca needed to pay others to print her photos.  She used her first Zidisha loan, of $150, to purchase her own photo printer.  This not only increased her profit margins, but also gave her better control over the quality of the photos she delivered to customers.

With the funds from her current Zidisha loan of $447, Rebecca purchased a HP Probook. This laptop is much faster and has a larger capacity than Rebecca’s previous desktop computer, and has enabled her to do the video editing needed to offer videography along with her photography service – something increasingly in demand for weddings and other events.

The new laptop also has a much faster internet connection which is vital as Rebecca’s writing assignments are received and submitted via the net.  This translates to more earnings per hour spent on freelancing, and frees up more time for Rebecca to develop her photography and videography service.

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The Zidisha-funded laptop

Rebecca enjoys online writing, but her real passion is photography and she would like to expand the event photography and videography aspect of her business to make this her main source of income. In order to achieve this she is saving money from her writing, and with her savings and a possible future Zidisha loan she hopes to be able to purchase a new, higher-quality digital camera and professional lighting equipment.  With more equipment, she intends to employ other photographers at her studio from among the many talented jobless youth in Nairobi.

Having grown up in the central Kenyan city of Nakuru, Rebecca and her three brothers all now live in Nairobi. When she’s not busy working Rebecca enjoys taking a break from the hectic city life in Nairobi and visiting her parents and sister who now live in the town of Nyeri near the foothills of beautiful Mount Kenya.

Rebecca would like a family of her own one day when her business is more established, and she’s using her Zidisha loans to help her achieve this goal.

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Rebecca and Lisbeth

Reflections on Microfinance Interviews

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By Nikhil Srivastava, Kenya Ambassador Volunteer

One of my objectives in spending a summer in Nairobi was to immerse myself as much as possible in the culture and people of the region. This goal drove my decision to work as a country ambassador for Zidisha, a job that required me to meet one-on-one with low-income borrowers trying to start businesses across Kenya. The job description was definitely outside of my comfort zone; as my friends and family can attest, I’m not the natural choice for someone to host a stranger for hours, let alone one from a completely different culture. In retrospect, though, I couldn’t have chosen an activity with a better combination of personal education, growth, and fulfillment.

Conducting interviews that stretched for hours over leisurely lunches, walks, and house visits was at first challenging and occasionally awkward when I hadn’t yet built a reserve of insightful questions. In this regard, I was helped immeasurably by the fact that Kenyans as a group are incredibly warm and welcoming, and everyone I met made it easy and inevitable to interact as friends instead of clients. Once I established a good interview and note-taking rhythm, I stopped focusing on my high-value questions and instead let my natural curiosity about their lives and backgrounds take over. All people, and Kenyans especially, love to talk about their families and childhoods, and my natural interest in local culture and generational dynamics made for especially deep conversations.

Like a true New Yorker, my biggest frustration in the first few weeks of work was my average pace: one borrower visit per day, enforced by the madness of Nairobi traffic and the generally relaxed schedules of business and personal life. I tried to optimize by scheduling nearby back-to-back visits , but due to life on “Kenyan time” these double-headers inevitably ended up being more trouble than they were worth. So I took my foot off the gas and leaned back into the Kenyan pace, allowing me more time with each borrower. Another frustration, one I was not able to reconcile so easily, was the troubling and continuous presence of low-level corruption in various business functions: obtaining licenses, securing distribution, ensuring security. I didn’t see any direct evidence of this – except for a mysteriously-resolved police stop of my speeding matatu – but through conversations and insinuations it was clear that bribes and favoritism were just an accepted part of doing business in Nairobi.

Despite these setbacks, my work this summer had all the characteristics of a truly rewarding and enjoyable job: regular and solvable challenges, a never-ending learning curve, and the personal satisfaction of helping someone new each day. I’m also grateful to have developed a bottom-up perspective on development in the third world by directly examining the pain points and inefficiencies – in infrastructure, transportation, credit, security, stability – in entrepreneurs’ careers, both successful and struggling. (I hope to build a framework around these observations by teaching myself some basic development economics.) I also really enjoyed learning about the benefits and drawbacks and challenges of microfinance, which falls squarely at the intersection of finance and technology – an area I’ve spent most of my professional career, albeit in a very different economic stratum. Finally, I loved the constant excitement of meeting new people and sharing their stories, hospitality, and gratitude.

My most valuable function in meeting Zidisha borrowers was to give them a chance to communicate their capabilities and dreams to a larger audience. I met some truly remarkable people, whose stories were often hidden by technological or language barriers or simply from modesty. I met people who had suffered incredible financial and emotional hardships but maintained optimistic outlooks for their future. I met people who were incredibly determined to achieve success, to lift themselves and their families out of financial insecurity. And I met true leaders and visionaries who saw their life work in the context of the social and economic uplift of their communities.

This summer, I crossed paths with some of the hardest-working, warmest, and most inspiring people I’ve ever met, and the experience of spending my time and attention to help them succeed is something I’ll never forget.

This post was originally published in the Nikhil Nairobi blog.

The Social Network

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By Nikhil Srivastava, Kenya Ambassador Volunteer

Today I met with Grace Dawo, a single mother and entrepreneur who makes and sells homemade peanut butter. Grace has maintained a 100% repayment rate through two Zidisha loans even as she has struggled through health problems, and now – fully recovered – she is seeking a third loan to expand her business and promote her peanut butter in local supermarkets.

Grace graciously invited me to her house in Buru-Buru Phase 2, a quiet and secluded suburb due east of Nairobi’s downtown. Grace has lived here for four years, and she appreciates the tight-knit community in which her two daughters, Cynthia and Rosemarie, can walk home unaccompanied from work or school.

Cynthia is a student at Kenyatta University who works part-time as a saleswoman for the Athi River Mining company. She is also a Zidisha borrower who has a side business in handbags: she travels by overnight bus to Uganda to purchase her inventory and sells the bags to university students and employees.

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Rosemarie is six years old and has recently placed into Harambee Primary School, a high-quality government school just a few blocks from the house.

IMG_2410Grace’s largest financial expense is school fees, which she pays not only for her own three children (her son lives in the Umoja neighborhood of Nairobi) but for David and Mary, the two children of her husband’s second wife. Grace’s husband Martin passed away in 2011.  Since then, peanut butter sales are what have made it possible for Grace to support the children’s education.

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Grace roasts and grinds peanuts to produce natural peanut butter, which she jars and distributes to a small but loyal network of customers. Unlike the peanut butter available in Nairobi stores, which is difficult to spread and contains preservatives and flavorings, Grace’s product is smooth and spreadable, and its only ingredients are peanuts and sea salt. Her customers love its natural flavor and versatility, and they use it on bread, with vegetables, and with rice.

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On any given day, Grace can usually be found zipping between buildings in downtown Nairobi, delivering jars of peanut butter and picking up supplies for her business. After having lunch with Grace, I joined in her afternoon circuit – through three different downtown buildings, multiple clients and offices, and many conversations and deliveries. Grace is unstoppably social, always laughing on the phone or striking up conversations with friends and customers alike. She takes voice orders and relies on word-of-mouth advertising, and her network is dense – we ran into two separate groups of colleagues and customers on the streets of downtown Nairobi (not the easiest place to find someone you’re trying to meet).

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Grace’s social network runs deep within the Zidisha community as well. She has invited friends and family to join the community, and both her daughter and cousin have used Zidisha to fund successful businesses. Grace finds the Zidisha process encouraging: unlike local banks, Zidisha allows borrowers to choose their own weekly repayment plans and even adjust repayment amounts up or down, as long as at least one repayment is made each week.

This flexibility was crucial in the early days of Grace’s second loan, when a pinched nerve in her neck brought on debilitating headaches and prevented her from carrying even light deliveries, bringing her business to a halt. The treatment of physical therapy, painkillers, and bedrest required Grace to reduce her weekly loan repayments, but she made a point of always paying just a small amount on time.

Through her difficult times, Grace’s children were sources of financial and emotional support. Grace’s husband passed away four years ago, leaving her alone to raise not only her own three children, but also the two children of her husband’s other wife who is also deceased. (As a member of the Luo tribe from Kisumu, Grace had a traditional polygamous family.) Even though Grace’s children are all in school or university, they work part-time to reduce the cost of their education. Still, when she was confined to a neck brace and unable to deliver her goods, Grace worried about upcoming expenses of school fees, textbooks, and clothing for her family.

Luckily, Grace has made a full recovery in the last few months. She seems to be at full strength; she refused to let me to carry her delivery bag and even insisted we skip the elevator and walk up three flights of stairs. In fact, business has been so strong recently that Grace has already compensated for the diminished repayments and is looking to close out her current loan next week.

Grace buys peanuts at Gikomba market, where 1 kilogram of nuts costs roughly 150 Kenyan Shillings (about US $1.50). This amount of nuts can produce 1.2 jars of peanut butter, each of which sells for between 300 and 400 KSH (US $3 – $4). Because Grace used her previous Zidisha loans to buy her own roasting and grinding machines, her other variable costs are small: empty jars, labels, and salt. And she works directly out of her home to save on rent. When Grace has the capital for ingredients she makes good money, and consistently; what she needs is more capital to grow her volume and distribution.

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Grace is planning to apply for a third Zidisha loan to expand her business. With the money she raises, she will obtain a certification from the Kenya Bureau of Standards, a barcode that will allow her peanut butter jars to be sold in supermarkets, and an expanded stock of ingredients. Grace plans to gradually grow her distribution channels, starting with local markets before approaching larger chains.

When I asked Grace what the most important factor was in building a successful business, she responded: consistency. Too many entrepreneurs, especially those who sell a variety of items in shops or delivered to customers, take up temporary ventures or ill-conceived side projects that prevent them from building a consistent brand. Grace wants to be known for her peanut butter, and to earn the recognition and trust of their customers for a superior product.

Grace also hosted me for lunch and together we shared a delicious meal of ugali (cornmeal mash, a staple food in East Africa), beef stew, and cabbage.
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Grace, thank you for letting me join your sales route this afternoon! I wish you the best of luck with your business.

“You are part of my life”

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By Nikhil Srivastava, Kenya Ambassador Volunteer

This morning I met Ann Mwaniki, a wholesale phone card saleswoman and mother of two, who has used three Zidisha loans to expand her business inventory and provide extra income for her family.

Ann operates a delivery service in the town of Lucky Summer where she lives, supplying bodegas and groceries with the prepaid phone cards they sell to their customers. She purchases the cards each day from a bulk retailer downtown to resupply her roughly 30 customers, keeping track of their inventory and turnover to size her purchases. Ann delivers the cards personally to her clients, who choose her among competitors for her punctuality and reliability. Although as a wholesale supplier her margins are low, Ann’s access to a sizable portion of business in the growing neighborhood of Lucky Summer provides a helpful supplemental income for her family.

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Ann’s oldest child Favour Blessing in a new school uniform.  Her increased business earnings have allowed her to send him to a quality preschool.

Ann is on her third Zidisha loan and has maintained a 94% repayment rate. So far, all of her loans have been used to increase the inventory of phone cards, but within the next year she hopes to save enough to open her own retail store – selling phone cards and additional items like electricity tokens and M-PESA transactions to retail customers. Selling directly to consumers in a physical store will allow her to increase her profits and reduce the travel and delivery time that keeps her away from her family.

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Ann grew up in Nyeri, a small town 250 kilometers north of Nairobi, where her parents still reside. She currently lives just off the main road in Lucky Summer with her husband Oscar and two sons: Favour Blessing, almost five, and Trevor Mac, just 16 months. Ann’s husband originally began the phone card business, which Ann took over when he started a job at a nearby factory, but Ann was the first to use Zidisha loans to expand the operations.

Though Ann is a Kikuyu, Oscar is a member of the Luo tribe from the town of Busia in western Kenya. Oscar and Ann met after college, and after two years of dating their families approved the marriage though they came from two different ethnicities.

If there was any hesitation in the minds of Ann’s family about the marriage, it was put to rest four years ago when Ann gave birth to Favour. Unfortunately, the birth was a difficult one, and Ann was stricken with a severe calcium deficiency that left her barely able to feed her baby. For almost two years she was bedridden, eventually contracting tuberculosis due to her weakened immune system and needing to take a cocktail of pills each evening. Through the ordeal, Oscar supported his wife, helping to change Favour’s diapers and clean the house. Ann credits her husband immensely for staying by her side, something she feels another husband may not have done.

Now fully recovered, Ann is blessed with two healthy boys. On her way to work each morning Ann drops off Favour at a nearby preschool and Mac at his mother-in-law’s house, and she collects them on her way home. The two children have opposite personalities; Favour is always smiling and eager to pose for a picture, while Mac is reserved and rarely away from his mother’s shawl.

Ann is thankful to have access to Zidisha, and she serves as a volunteer mentor for 24 other borrowers.  In a recent comment, she thanked each of the 55 lenders who had supported her by name, adding, “You are part of my life.”

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Ann, thank you for your hospitality today in showing me your home and neighborhood. I wish you much success with your growing business!