Hope in the Hills

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By Rebecca Wolfe, Entrepreneur Story Writing Intern

The sun beats down. Sweltering waves of heat and light bake the red, dusty roads of Ngong, Kenya. A motorcycle drives along, stopping and parking beneath the corrugated tin awning of Dannex Motorbike Spares & Repairs. The rider dismounts his bike and walks inside where he is greeted by the shop’s owner, Daniel Maluli, Daniel’s wife, and one of the two mechanics that the shop employs. His bike is one many in the area, the number of which is steadily increasing. Most all of the riders, when they need repairs, come here to Daniel’s place. The parts they need are always in stock.

Daniel Maluli is a husband, father, and Zidisha borrower. Not only that, he is a Zidisha mentor and something of a Zidisha evangelist; he has invited twenty-four members to join and shares his business expertise with another forty-seven. Daniel has received funding for four microloans, with the access to financial capital significantly increasing the capacity and revenue of his repair shop. Over the course of the last year, he has been able to obtain and renew his business license, increase his inventory, and hire a second mechanic. In June of 2016, roughly three months after the receipt of his most recent loan of $563, Daniel posted on his discussion page. “I really don’t know where I would be today if it was not for Zidisha!” He said. “My livelihood has really changed dramatically thanks to Zidisha.”

Born in a rural area, Daniel attended primary and secondary school, going on to study shipping in Mombasa. He succeeded in his academic pursuits but, unable to pay the exam fee for his final evaluation, could not complete his course of study. Following this, Daniel was hired as a trainee at a 5-star hotel in Mombasa, Kenya’s second-largest city and a popular tourist destination. Located on an island, the city boasts beautiful white-sand beaches and a large collection of historic and colonial sights. After working at the hotel for four months, Daniel was offered a position as a reservation clerk. Taking quickly to his new role, Daniel enrolled in an evening Travel and Tourism class, paying his own way through to the Consultant level. He sat for and passed the International Air Transport Association (IATA) exams in 2013 and received full accreditation as an IATA travel agent, granting him greater access to the travel industry.

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The next year, encouraged by his success as a travel agent, Daniel opened a motorbike repair shop in his new residence of Ngong Town on the southwestern side of Nairobi. Nestled into the beautiful, sloping Ngong hills, the town has lots of motorbikes. Buzzing and rumbling up and down the narrow roads, two wheels are better than four for traversing across the lush green slopes, sailing past the gleaming white windmills and squat little shrubs that freckle the hills. Daniel chose his market well. His profits were significant, “almost 100%”, and his business was growing. He found, however, that he could not always keep up with demand. As the number of bikes in the area increased, so did the need for parts and repairs. Though he still worked as a travel agent, his income was not enough to significantly increase his inventory.

It was in the midst of this struggle that Daniel found Zidisha. “When I saw Zidisha and how it has built people up through lending them money, at 0% interest rate, to grow their businesses, that gave me the courage to believe that my dreams are attainable,” he said. Receiving a $50 loan in August of 2015, Daniel was able to invest in licensure and inventory. Two and a half months later, Daniel proposed another loan of $100. With this loan funded, he was able to meet the increasing demands of the community as the weather was getting colder and “During the rainy season, motorbike tires record the highest sales.” Daniel provided his lenders with a detailed list of costs and counts, profits and projections for his new purchases. “The stock doesn’t even last for one week,” he said, “as every client is rushing to buy before the rain hits the ground.” In December of 2015, Daniel brought another loan proposal to the table, again with a detailed list of costs and profits projected from the $199 investment he hoped lenders would make. This loan, he said, “will see my business grow, step by step.”

Lenders came through, and with their help, Daniel has accomplished much. His motorbike shop is thriving and growing, and he has been able to gather the capital to register his own tourism company called Sceneric Tours and Safari. He hopes that his bike shop will enable him to invest more in Sceneric Tours, with a long term goal of expanding the business to branches country wide. Since receiving his fourth loan in March of 2016, Daniel has been very active on his discussion board. He posts often – every other week or so – updating lenders on business ventures, sharing concerns about health issues, thanking his supporters and wishing them well. “This really is a dream come true,” he writes.

Daniel shares photos of his family as well, proudly announcing the first day of school for his youngest, Mary Kaveke, and sharing his affection for his oldest, Hervey. Though Daniel has faced many challenges throughout his life, he has responded to these difficulties with determination, not defeat. He has created employment opportunities for members of his community, having hired two mechanics as well as several young people from the community to work the counter. He has repaid all of his loans in good faith and on time, and hopes to, one day, become a Zidisha lender himself.

In March of 2016, responding to a lender’s glowing feedback on his profile, Daniel wrote, “Thank you, Laurie, and I promise not to ever let you or any other lenders down. I will always do what it takes to uphold my trust with lenders throughout. It’s my hope that one day, after achieving my goals, I will also join the good lenders we have here on Zidisha so I can also touch a life.” Laurie replied with wisdom. “You are most welcome, Daniel,” she wrote. “And while I know what you mean, wanting to help others financially (which I’m sure one day you, too, will be able to do), I want you to know… that you and so many of the people I’ve met through Zidisha already *do* touch other lives… and in ways just as important and maybe even more important than financially.”

Zidisha lenders have made a difference in Daniel’s life, and the lives of his family members. Daniel makes a difference in the lives of his mentees, his invitees, and employees, to name only a few. Daniel has found hope for the fruition of his dreams in a little shop in the Ngong hills. Many of his lenders have found hope in watching him succeed.

If you would like to give the gift of hope today, head over to our loans page and make a contribution to another world-changing entrepreneur.

The Clack of Keyboards

by Rebecca Wolfe, Entrepreneur Story Writing Intern

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The clack of keyboards is a constant sound in Elijah Mwenja’s life. The sounds of a computer mouse sliding across a mousepad and a customer’s laughter as she jokes with her friend seated at the computer station next to her are likely also very common occurrences in his busy cybercafé in Githuri, an area of Narobi, Kenya.

Elijah is an amazing example of a self-starter. Entering the workforce in the construction industry, he saved what he could and eventually stored up enough to start his own poultry business in 2008. Entering the realm of entrepreneurship through this endeavor, Elijah grew his business to a capital of more than ten times the funds that he began with. Three years down the road, he was ready for a change. Having a long-standing interest in computers and networking, Elijah, his wife, and his son, started up the cybercafé in 2012. The café is a gift to local residents, enabling them to access information, communicate with distant friends and family, and type up and print their personal, business, and academic documents.

In January of 2015 the booming business began to take its toll on Elijah’s supplies. His café’s printer had worn-out nozzles and was no longer printing as it should. Around that same time Francis Kamau – a neighbor, friend, Zidisha microloan recipient, and owner of a Nairobi hair salon – invited Elijah to join Zidisha. With a small, $100 loan funded by nineteen different lenders from Europe and North America, Elijah was able to buy replacement parts and have the printer professionally repaired. The printer was soon up and running again, shooting jets of black ink onto smooth white pages. Six months later, having faithfully and efficiently repaid his previous loan, Elijah posted another proposal to Zidisha. This loan of $187, funded in June 2015 by a single lender, allowed Elijah to expand his cybercafé business to include a new computer, reducing customer wait time and increasing profit. In later updates, Elijah stated that this new unit was “one of the computers that [his] clients prefer using.”

As Elijah and his family continued to prosper, Elijah’s wife began to see her long-held dream of continuing her formal education as a financial possibility. Possessing a “gift and passion for business,” and boasting a strong track record of successful business development, Elijah’s wife hoped to pursue a degree in business. In December 2015, that hope came to fruition. Elijah applied for a Zidisha loan of $366, a sum which covered the cost of the first installment of tuition fees at Kenya’s Zetech University. Elijah’s wife enrolled in the program, and is now beginning the first semester of her second year, becoming one of an increasing number of women in higher education in Kenya. Making swift use of her education, Elijah’s wife has taken over the management of the family’s cybercafé business.

With his wife managing the cybercafé, Elijah has begun work as a local business consultant. Inspired by his community and other entrepreneurs in his area, Elijah wishes to “utilize [his] professional skills to help other businesses.” He now shares his expertise in business, bookkeeping, and credit management, and his work has helped neighboring business to keep better track of their fiscal performance. Currently, with the help of a $564 Zidisha microloan, Elijah is entering into a master’s degree program. He says that “most businesses in Kenya are struggling with strategy management and practitioners in this sector are few.” With the knowledge he will gain through his master’s, Elijah will be better equipped to handle “complex assignments in strategy management” and “be of benefit to the community at large because they would no longer be entering into businesses without a projected growth plan.”

Elijah and his family have been able to repay all loans which they have taken out, in full and on time. They have grown their business and improved their standard of living. Throughout the loan process, Elijah has provided regular updates to his lenders, expressing profound gratitude, sharing his joy about his thriving businesses.

The clack of a keyboard is, for Elijah Mwenja, quite likely the sound of hope, education, and a successful entrepreneurial endeavor. It is a sound that has been made possible in Elijah’s life through the loans of Zidisha lenders. Now, by sharing his business expertise, Elijah is able to help other entrepreneurs thrive. Just as he and his family are now sharing their success with their community, many other people in Kenya will soon be able to do the same. One thriving business fosters another. One generous neighbor creates another.

If you’d like to be a generous neighbor, clack out a number and contribute to the success of one the other self-starters profiled on our loans page.

 

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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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.