The Future is Bright

profileby Rebecca Wolfe

Growing up in a single parent home, Wairimu Gathii  saw how her mother worked “single handedly… to bring up my siblings and I and give us an education.”  A child in Nakuru county, a poverty stricken area northwest of Nairobi, Wairimu is a daughter and sister, and now a mother.  Wanting to support her own family, to give back to her mother and siblings, and to  be the sort of role model for her son Victor that her mother was for her, Wairimu enrolled herself in university and started making plans for a business.

“I conducted market research and did due diligence,” Wairimu says, explaining her process of investigation. She found that “food products are very unlikely to lack a market because they are basic necessities. The target group for such kinds of commodities is virtually everyone.” Nakuru county, where Wairimu still lives, is “so fertile and the landscape is simply breathtaking.” When she can, she takes long walks “just to appreciate the beauty.” Despite this fertility, however, food insecurity is a major issue in the area. Entering the food business would allow Wairimu to contribute to greater food security and care for her neighbors by making sure they always had groceries available close by. Though not lacking in drive or ambition, Wairimu was lacking capital.  In a financially burdened household, Wairimu she was not able to start her entrepreneurial journey alone. Reaching out for help, she found a local community leader willing to give her a boost by supplying  a few kilograms of different grains that she could sell at market. This initial gift, she says, helped her“figure out a way to get on my feet.” It wasn’t long before her grain sales began to take off. She was proving to be a gifted businesswoman, her personality well suited for sales. “I love interacting with people,” she says, “and I do not pass by an opportunity to make new friends.”

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In 2014, Wairimu was still keeping up with her many roles: mother, student, entrepreneur. She had a lot on her plate, and on top of that she was struggling to keep up with her customers’ demand. Applying her proven research skills, Wairimu went on the hunt for financial help. That’s when she found Zidisha. Posting a proposal for a $100 loan, she hoped to purchase extra stock to supply her growing clientele, construct a covering for her market stall, and hire an employee to manage sales while she was away at school or purchasing stock from other local agricultural entrepreneurs.

In a matter of days, five members of the Zidisha community had banded together to fund Wairimu’s loan. A week later she was posting on her discussion page, thanking  her lenders and sharing the good news that her earnings had already increased. “I cannot say thank you enough times,” she posted. “You have contributed a huge part to getting me where I am today, and I must say it is a better place than where I was a few months ago… thank you for believing in me” The boost that this loan gave her was not only financial, it was also emotional. “My first loan came as a major life saver,” she said later. “It was difficult to make ends meet, the costs far outweighed the gains, and not once, not twice did I convince myself that throwing in the towel was long overdue.” A vote of confidence from Zidisha lenders, though, made her feel as though she had people on her team, rooting for her — and she did.

On November 13th, almost exactly one month after she received her loan, Wairimu had another great report to give her supporters: her business was thriving and she wanted to repay her loan ahead of schedule. She was serving more customers than ever before, and had also been able to rent a storeroom near the market, enabling her to centralize her business and keep her from having to haul her wares back and forth. “My mother has noted the improvement too,” she said, “because I am now able to contribute towards paying the bills and meeting our day to day basic needs.” Wairimu was delighted to share that she was  even able to buy her mother “something nice once in awhile.” In December, Wairimu hit another major success: graduation from university. “I completed my degree course and am super excited. THE MONEY EARNED FROM MY BUSINESS ASSISTED TOWARDS MEETING MY EDUCATION REQUIREMENTS. THANK YOU ZIDISHA,” she shared on her discussion page.

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A year later Wairimu was taking her education a step further. “I have been super excited this past couple of days,” she said. “I went back to school to take up my post graduate diploma, and I am studying hard for my bar exams at the end of this year.  My business is good, plus I have employed a person to manage the business while I am at school.” Not only was Wairimu succeeding in business, she was also succeeding in school, studying to become a lawyer at Kenya School of Law.

As the months went on, Wairimu was a continual bearer of good news. She celebrated rain for local grain crops, rising sales, her healthy, smiling son, and being able to invite some of her close friends to the Zidisha platform. In April, she reached out and asked the Zidisha community to support her and her business a second time. Her life was hectic, “trying to juggle between studies, and making a living both for myself and my family.” It was a lot to handle, but friends kept telling her something that she was truly becoming to believe as she saw it happening in her own life — the future is bright. Putting in a proposal for a $272 loan, she shared with the Zidisha community her big plans for this bright future.

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Wairimu was planning to purchase a  quality, durable bicycle and employ a member of her community to make deliveries. Previously, she said, her business was exclusively retail and customers had to come to her. With her second her second loan, she was hoping to become a supplier to small restaurants all over her town.  “I will be able to deliver right to my customers’ doorsteps. This will help give a major boost and keep me way above the competition… My profit will hit the roof.” With an expanded customer base she would see an increase in bulk orders, which would in turn increase her profit margin. According to her calculations, she was set to see a fifty percent increase within a matter of months. This would help her to pay her school fees, half of which were paid and half of which were due at the end of the year. “I know I will be able to meet [this payment],” she said, “if my business keeps scaling heights as it promises to do with your help.”

When her loan was funded, Wairimu responded with glee. “Happy dance, happy dance,” she said on her discussion page. “Words cannot possibly describe the feeling I have right now, the future has so much possibility… to my lenders, shukran,shukran shukran (means a lot of ‘thank you’ in Swahili).” In a matter of days Wairimu had her bicycle and a growing clientele. “[Zidisha is] someone that tells me my dreams are valid,” she said. The support of a community has made all the difference.

In September 2016 she shared a photo of herself and her son Victor, posting good news alongside. “My business is running well, my son got into school, and I am working hard towards my post graduate diploma. Sometimes being a single parent really does keep a person on her  toes. The challenge is good. It keeps me on point. Thank you zidisha, you have contributed greatly towards these smiles on our faces.”

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The next few months were hard for the business, but Wairimu stayed hopeful. The future, she believed, was bright. By December, the light was beginning to shine. “Things are looking up, slowly, granted, but surely. I am most humbled by your kindness,” she said to her lenders that month.

In Wairimu’s  most recent update, things are still looking up. Stock is going fast and her graduation from law school is growing closer. She living a full and joyful life as a mother, student, entrepreneur, self-described “terrible dancer” who loves to dance, book lover, and nature lover.  Her determination and business savvy are inspiring to those who follow her journey, and her journey is a testament to the difference that believing in one another can make. “My children, when they grow up,” Wairimu said. “I like to believe that they will want to be like their Mama… trying to make it, against all odds.” Wairimu has found, as many have, that the Zidisha a community is here to support and embolden her effort toward a brighter future.

If you’d like to support and embolden another entrepreneur, head on over to our loans page and fund another bright future.

A Space for Service

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Edward with a shipment of medication the clinic purchased with the help of Zidisha lenders.

by Rebecca Wolfe

 

Edward Agola believes in his community, in “the blessings that come with giving, and the ‘power of many’.” Heading up HeCom (healthy community) Medical Centre, a registered Community Based Organization (CBO) with Kenya’s Department of Gender and Social Services, he is doing his utmost to meet the needs of his neighbors.

The organization has four core values: volunteerism, collaboration, integrity, and transparency. All of these are evident on Edward’s loan page. He posts photos of community members seeking medical care, communicates regularly with lenders about the progress of the organization, and is eager to speak with those who have expertise. Continuing in this collaborative effort, HeCom is staffed by “health workers of varied backgrounds” with previous community health experience — people who are involved in the community and care deeply for  those in need around them. Edward himself has an extensive background in healthcare and volunteerism. He has been formally trained in clinical medicine, community health, and surgery, as well as certified in community health work, newborn care, and reproductive health by organizations such as USAID, the Kenyan Ministry of Health,  and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and has volunteered his time in a variety of medical contexts.

 

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Mr. and Mrs. Opiyo at the clinic.

At the organization, Edward and his fellow health workers go above and beyond. They are not simply employees or volunteers, they are friends and family, working alongside their neighbors and childhood friends. Knowledge is not handed down at HeCom; it is formed through community effort, shared amongst practitioners and patients. HeCom creates a culture of care and commonality around a potentially disconcerting, foreign-seeming medical process, weaving health practices into the fabric of its community. This helps form culturally appropriate procedures, making long-term health sustainable, practical, and above all, normal. With a majority of Kenya’s top ten causes of mortality being largely preventable conditions, including malnutrition, diarrheal diseases, and malaria, there is great need for this work.

Providing health education in local schools, churches, chiefs’ barazas (meeting places), and social groups, offering clinic services, and advocating for  policy reform, HeCom is a comprehensive effort. Its team of local, district representatives keep the organization constantly connected to the pulse of the community — literally and figuratively. Right now, all of this work is based out of a tiny health center. The clinic is doing amazing work, but it is not the only part of the organization’s effort. A year and a half ago, the clinic space, which doubles as the office space, did not even have a phone line. That is when Edward, on the hunt for solutions, came across Zidisha.

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A HeCom worker giving a health talk at a local school.

In July 2015, HeCom was in need. Their computers needed repair, they didn’t have the capital to start a website, and they didn’t have a phone. Edward, under the mentorship of Silas Barasa, brought a proposal to Zidisha lenders. The fifty dollar loan, quickly funded by two lenders, helped them get their makeshift office in working order. “Thank you Markus and Paul,” he said. “Thanks to Zidisha for making it happen.”

Six months later, in January of 2016, Edward’s initial loan had been fully repaid. HeCom was becoming a true force in its community. “We are advocating for and supporting healthy behaviour change in the community through health talks in schools, churches, chief’s ‘barazas’, youth and women groups and through workshops,” Edward said. They hoped to not only provide health care in the clinic, but to reduce the demand on limited area health care providers. The pharmacy at HeCom was one of these strained health services. The organization had some money put away for the purchase of medicine, but not enough to meet the need of the community. As demand for the clinic’s service increased, so did demand on the pharmacy. Edward posted an application, asking Zidisha lenders to help care for his community. On the loan’s second posting, it was fully funded. One-hundred and fifty dollars, provided by four different lenders, brought the organization the funds it needed to order a new shipment of medicine. “What you’ve done means a lot to me and my community,” he thanked his lenders. “Deep inside I feel a ‘thank you’ is not enough but, that’s what I can offer for now.” The next week, Edward posted again to his discussion page, jubilantly sharing the arrival of medication for the pharmacy.  “We ordered for the drugs earlier this week and we’ve received the package today,” he said. “At HeCom we thank you dearly.”

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Edward giving a health talk at a local school.

As Edward shared photos of people in his community seeking health services, it was clear to lenders that he was deeply invested in the well-being of his neighbors. In May, Edward posted to his discussion page thanking his lenders once again. In part because of their financial enablement, HeCom was able to officially register as a Community Based Organization (CBO), gaining mentorship, and potential funding, through the affiliation. With an official title, and many opportunities with it, the need for a separate HeCom office grew ever more apparent. The clinical space was simply too small to accommodate growing health education efforts. Bringing a proposal to the Zidisha community, Edward asked for help: one-hundred and fifty dollars to add to the organization’s funds. With this, they hoped to purchase a computer, printer, tables, and chairs, giving them a strong home base to work out of.

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Edward and Mr. Dominicus, a beneficiary of HeCom’s services.

This loan has been funded and just recently dispersed, but the impact is sure to be great. As the community of Healthy Community Medical Center grows, so does its impact. Zidisha lenders are an integral part of this important work.

If you’d like to be a part of other important projects, head on over to our loans page and fund another entrepreneur.

What We’re Thankful For

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by Rebecca Wolfe

The Zidisha community has a lot to be thankful for this year — entrepreneurs are thriving, communities are growing, and lives are changing for the better. We are grateful to our lenders for sharing their funds and support, to our volunteers for tirelessly working to keep Zidisha running smoothly, and to our borrowers for inspiring us and making this community possible. As Zidisha’s home country, the United States, celebrates its national holiday of Thanksgiving, it seemed a perfect time to express our gratitude for this amazing group of people.  

Thank you to all who are a part of the Zidisha community. Thank you for working hard and sharing your wisdom, for helping those around you in their times of need. Thank you for being people of generosity, compassion, leadership, and action, making this world a better place every single day.

 

In this same spirit of thanks, here are some messages of gratitude from the Zidisha community:

 

Joseph, Borrower, Kenya

“I am very much grateful to the great Zidisha fraternity for the great and wonderful things you have done… changing the lives of many around the world… thanks to … the technical team that makes sure that the system is smooth and working, the staff who volunteer their precious time for the success of this platform, Zidisha lenders who trust us with their money to see us succeed in our projects, the Zidisha VMs who volunteer their time for the success of this great platform, and also all the trustworthy borrowers who make sure they honour their agreements. I love you more dear friends.”

 

Alejandra, Operations Coordinator, Mexico

“I’m grateful for the gift of trust that nourishes our community.  I’m grateful for being part of an amazing team of wonderful, selfless and giving people that volunteer for Zidisha.”

 

Lucky, Borrower, Kenya

“My children were able to go to school, eat and grow healthier. My parents benefited greatly with my progress and now they are able to put food on the table with my help. I am very grateful to you lenders and Zidisha organization. Thank you everyone.”

 

Dennis Matacho, Borrower, Kenya

“Dear lenders, thanks for the continued financial support. You have given me a reason to live, because life without you is just surviving and not really living. This loan that I am raising is to help me to realize a distant dream… Thanks, lenders, for all your efforts in making my dream come true and my life happy.”

 

Laurie, Anglophone and Francophone Liaison, USA

“I am very, very grateful for the unusual kindness of so many of the people I’ve met through Zidisha: borrowers, lenders, and teammates on staff. In addition, I am extremely grateful for the ability to work with Zidisha from home in the afternoon or evening and well into the night; not having to commute to work and especially not having to work mornings helps a born night-owl like me to maintain good health! What else I’m most grateful for is the opportunity to help students and entrepreneurs with a hand up toward their dreams… As so many of our borrowers often say, ‘Long Live Zidisha!’”

 

Julia, Zidisha founder, USA

“Six years ago we made our first loan to help an entrepreneur in a remote settlement in Kenya acquire a cow.  Today, our community is over 76,000 strong and has funded over $7.6 million worth of loans.  I’m so impressed and grateful for the way people all over the world have come together to turn Zidisha into a force for growth and opportunity in the places where it’s most needed.  This is an incredible legacy, and each Zidisha entrepreneur, lender, volunteer and team member has our sincere thanks.”

Introducing Impact Investment Funds

Our new Impact Investment Funds let anyone open a growth-enabled donation lending account.

Impact Investment Funds work just like regular lending accounts, in that 100% of the lending funds you upload, and their repayments, go to your chosen entrepreneurs.  In addition:

  • A portion of the 5% service fee paid by all Zidisha borrowers is reinvested in the account with every loan funded, so that its value can grow over time.
  • Lending funds paid into the account are tax-deductible as charitable donations in the United States.
  • Impact Investment accounts include a Lending Fund Value page, which tracks changes in the value of the fund and its outstanding loan portfolio.

 

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Who should open an Impact Investment Fund?

Impact Investment Funds are intended for anyone who would like to make a charitable donation and watch its impact grow over time.  (The average $50 lending account funds over $750 worth of loan projects in five years!)

Is this a financial asset?

No.  All funds paid into an Impact Investment Account are considered charitable donations to be used only for funding loans, and cannot be withdrawn.

Why are withdrawals not enabled for Impact Investment Funds?

Since Zidisha is not an investment broker, US securities regulations do not allow us to offer revenue-generating financial investments to the public.

How are Zidisha’s costs covered, if it is returning service fee income to the Impact Investment Funds?

Our costs are covered separately by the portion of the 5% service fee not credited to the Impact Investment Funds, and by optional tips from lenders.

Why not reduce or eliminate the 5% borrower service fee, instead of crediting part of it to lending funds?

Our founding purpose is to reduce the cost of microloans in the world’s poorest places, where interest rates upwards of 40% are common.  That said, we believe it is optimal for entrepreneurs to pay a modest cost for loans, because it helps prevent dependency on subsidized services, and encourages entrepreneurs to invest in revenue-generating projects.  In addition, returning the service fee revenue to lending funds increases the capital available to other deserving entrepreneurs over the long term.

How much of the service fee is credited back to Impact Investment Funds?

Currently the full 5% service fee received for every loan (or portion of a loan) funded by an Impact Investment Fund is credited to the fund at the time the loan is disbursed.  This may change in the future, depending on how large a percentage of loans are funded by Impact Investment Funds.

Are Impact Investment Funds guaranteed to grow over time?

No: Impact Investment Funds are subject to the same risks as other Zidisha lending accounts, including currency exchange rate fluctuations and non-payment by borrowers.  Reinvesting service fee revenue is intended to help counterbalance these risks and make fund value growth possible, but does not guarantee it.

How do I open an Impact Investment Fund?

You may convert an existing withdrawable lending account to an Impact Investment Fund in the Account Preferences page.

To open a new Impact Investment Fund:

  1. Go to www.zidisha.org.
  2. Use the “Sign Up” link to create an account.
  3. Go to the Account Preferences page and choose the Impact Investment Fund option.

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Going Global

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by Rebecca Wolfe

Francis Maweu is always smiling, because, he says, he always finds something to smile about. A loving son, hard worker, and entrepreneur at heart, his passions have driven him all of his life. He started his first business as a young boy, raising and selling rabbits and chickens to supplement his mother’s breadwinning income in their small village in Eastern Kenya. His father passed away when he was quite young, and he has helped to support his mother and younger brother ever since. When Francis was nineteen he started a photography business, expanding to videography a year later.  This is how he got his start in technology. In 2013 he relocated to Nairobi, where he was able to open a cyber cafe, providing internet access to his new community. These two enterprises paid Francis’ way through university, his hard work resulting in a Bachelor of Economics Degree from University of Kenya in December of 2015.

Still a college student at the beginning of 2015,Francis wanted to boost his business, but found himself unable to put forth the necessary capital. This is when Francis found out about Zidisha. Invited by friend and fellow entrepreneur Earnest Makau, Francis joined Zidisha and posted his first loan proposal in January of 2015. The $100 loan was quickly funded, and allowed Francis to purchase a new computer for his cafe. Just as he had hoped, business increased, and his income rose “tremendously.” Zidisha had helped to turn the tides of business in his favor. In February, Francis became a volunteer mentor for other Zidisha members, sharing his business expertise.

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As his income increased, Francis was able to realize one of his dreams: opening a computer college. Now, in addition internet access, he was also able to offer classes in computer skills and digital literacy. By April of 2015, Francis’ college already had fifteen students enrolled, and a growing list of prospective learners who wanted to enroll but, due to limited space, could not be accommodated. Francis, then, was confronted with one of the best problems an entrepreneur can have: too much business. So, with his previous loan fully repaid, Francis came again to Zidisha lenders with a request. His second loan proposal, at a total of $427, was quickly funded, and, combined with the $450 Francis had already managed to save, he was able to purchase new computers and furniture for his students. He was even able to hire an employee to teach classes and look after the shop when he is gone.

In September of 2015 Francis was able to purchase a cooler to stock drinks for his customers, allowing them to enjoy a cold drink while they used the computers. The resultant boost in income from drink sales allowed Francis to increase his loan repayments. “I am doing good in business,” he said on his discussion page, “and thus would like to pay higher installments for others to benefit too.” He did this several times over the next few months, increasing his loan repayments when business boomed, allowing lenders to relend the funds that he repaid, increasing the impact of their investment.

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At the beginning of 2016 a new partnership with a nearby secondary school was flooding Francis’ shop with students eager to learn basic computer skills and gain digital literacy for the workplace. Francis’ Global Computer College was taking off.  Along with a rise in popularity of online sports betting in Kenya making the cyber cafe a popular place, Francis again found himself facing the best kind of problem: too much business. Even after extending the hours of his shop, often staying open until 10 PM, Francis was unable to keep up with the needs of his customers. He began to seek out ways to increase the capacity of his cafe. He came up with plenty of ideas, but all of the necessary upgrades required large amounts of starting capital that he did not have. Francis, though, was not alone in his business ventures. He had a family of lenders and advisors on his team.

In February Francis reached out to Zidisha, requesting a loan of $765 to purchase more computers. With an upgrade in his offerings, he was sure that he would see business take off even more. “I am really happy as I see my dreams being converted to realities,” he said. Business did boom, taking off enormously over the next seven months. Between February and September, Francis was able to open an mpesa (mobile money transfer) shop, an Aritel money agency, and purchase a larger refrigerator for a greater selection of beverages for his customers. “I am so grateful to Zidisha for the light, hope, and success it has brought in my business since joining it. I dearly appreciate the community,” Francis posted to his discussion page, along with photos of his new ventures.  A month later, at the beginning of October, Francis brought forward a new proposal. He wanted to expand his Global Computer College’s class offerings to include photography and videography, in which he had long been a practicing professional himself.

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With a new venture in mind, Francis came to Zidisha with a well organized plan. His loan proposal spoke of diversifying his portfolio, upgrading to professional cameras, both still and video.  “This will enable me to employ more people and take advantage of the changing lifestyle of Kenyans,” he said. With professional-grade equipment, he could cover events such as weddings and birthday parties, as well as teach and train others in the art. It was not long before this loan, too, was funded. The $1290 funded by Zidisha lenders, combined with the $800 Francis had managed to save, allowed him to purchase two professional cameras and a tripod. Francis has now added video and photo classes to his college’s repertoire, and is able to cover events as a photographer and videographer himself.

Francis has demonstrated an incredible mind for business and entrepreneurship, as well as a huge desire to help his community through training and employment. Currently, Francis is a volunteer mentor for almost fifty borrowers in his community, many of whom come to his cyber cafe to access their Zidisha accounts. The future, for Francis, is a bright one and digital one, and Zidisha will be with him in it, helping him make a difference for his neighbors and his family back home.

If you would like to help another entrepreneur reach their goals and impact their community, head on over to our loans page and contribute to a loan proposal.

A Woman of the Land

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by Rebecca Wolfe

Miriam Marani is a woman of the land. Raised in a rural Kenyan community, she has long been friends with the soil and the plants. The oldest daughter of two school teachers, she made her way through high school and college and then into a clerical position at a community organization. This work, however, did not provide enough for her family and operated on a contract basis, with ever-possible termination looming overhead. Following her lifelong passion for farming, and her deep familiarity with the fruits, herbs, and vegetables of her rural Kenyan region, Miriam decided to start an agricultural business to supplement her family’s income.

Miriam specializes in horticulture, farming tomatoes, onions, capsicums, passion fruits, watermelons, and arrowroots. Supporting her two young children, she relies on her crops to provide for her family’s daily needs. “The crops I plant are marketable and in demand in all seasons,” she says of her strategic harvests. Her main challenges are pests and viruses that attack the crops, along with the perennial farmer’s challenge of unfavorable weather conditions.

Since starting her farm, Miriam has been able to pay her children’s school fees and medical bills, as well as provide food and clothing. Her profits have even enabled her to build a permanent, proper house for her family, giving her children a reliable place to come home to at night.

In the spring of 2016, Miriam set out to take on the dry season with a drip system, but found that her funds were insufficient to cover the initial investment. Knowing that this improvement in infrastructure would greatly benefit her agricultural endeavors, she set out to find another way to bring this improvement to her farm. Zidisha was that way. A March 2016 loan application for $150 was quickly funded, and Miriam was able to install drip lines in over an acre of her land, nourishing her plants even as the rain clouds dissipated. This increase in produce, particularly in the dry season during which there is less market saturation, provided her with a greater profit margin. This increase in profit allowed her to invest in seedlings for a new crop and increase infrastructure for her greenhouse plants.

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In May of 2016 Miriam again applied for and received a loan of $150. She had planted passion fruit seedlings that February, and they were growing very quickly. While this rapid growth was a positive thing, it was not something that Miriam’s infrastructure was prepared for. Passion fruit, when left on the ground, is prone to infection. Miriam’s second loan enabled her to purchase trellises for her 500 passion fruit seedlings, supporting the plants and helping them to avoid infection and spoil. Posting a photo of her plants that June, Miriam thanked her lenders for their support and spoke of her excitement about the harvest set to come in August.

Before that harvest came, however, a small disaster struck Miriam’s farm — the plastic covering of her greenhouse was torn, rendering the space unlivable by those plants which required very specific environments. She hoped to use the space to grow capsicums, better known as bell peppers in the United States and many European countries. With a hopeful heart, Miriam came to Zidisha with a request for $460. “This is my torn greenhouse,” she said alongside a photograph of the damage. “I wish to repair it so that I can start using it… The proceeds will help me improve livelihood of my family by paying for their basic needs comfortably.” By the middle of the month, just a few days after the loan was posted, Miriam’s funds were in her account and the necessary polythene paper and drip lines were on their way. The Zidisha community had come together to support her in her journey. In August, Miriam’s harvests came. She was selling capsicums weekly, and her passion fruits were bright and healthy.

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“I am thanking Zidisha lenders so much for their great help in my Agri business venture,” she said in a post at the beginning of November. “Through Zidisha I have been able to stand on my own two feet and improve my family’s livelihood.” Miriam’s crops are growing, as is her community. Her family now lives in a sturdy home, and her most recent loan of $766, funded on November 7th, will enable her to build a new greenhouse on her property. “I am so happy, excited, thankful and humbled for this honor,” she said when the funds came through. “I have no words to express this. I wish I could mention each one of you by names.”

With a greenhouse specifically dedicated to tomatoes, which sell hand in hand with capsicums in the local cuisine, Miriam will be able to pay her children’s school fees, as well as “provide them with nutritious food, cloth and shelter.” She also plans to use her proceeds to help young farmers in her area, teaching them all that she knows about agriculture so that they too might find the success that she has found. Miriam has been “nominated by an Agricultural Extension officer in [her] area to help mentor other upcoming farmers on Capscicum farming.” In addition to this, she is also a volunteer mentor with Zidisha, serving fifty other members through sharing her expertise and her friendship.

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The impact of Miriam’s loans go beyond her own livelihood. They extend to her community, those she mentors, those who are able to have fresh produce at dinner because of her and her efforts. Like the plants that she so carefully cultivates, Miriam’s impact grows.

If you would like to see more communities thrive, head on over to our loans page and fund a loan for another inspiring entrepreneur.

Serving Up Swedru

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By Rebecca Wolfe

The light flickers on, a fluorescent hum filling the kitchen, the beams reflecting off of the metal oven and neat stacks of pots and pans. The world outside the little window is dark, dawn not having yet arrived in Swedru. Antoinette sets down her bag, lifts the string of her red apron over her head, and sets to work, singing as she goes.

Antoinette Agyare is a chef, as well as creator, bookkeeper, and manager for her restaurant and catering business in the Central Region of Ghana.  She began the business in 2011, working out of her home to support her two adopted children, an older boy and younger girl. Having studied accounting at Accra Polytechnic University, she knew her way around business finance, and chose her endeavor wisely.

Aside from the sagacity of the investment, it was a lifelong love for cooking that led the then-thirty-one-year-old into the food business. Entering the field with a strong repertoire of recipes and techniques, she was able to create an expansive menu from the get-go, offering a variety of local and continental dishes.

It was not too long after starting her business that Antoinette was able to raise the fund to construct a separate, commercial kitchen space. This new space allowed her to expand her company, taking on larger catering orders. As her business has grown, she has been able to enlarge her workforce to include several other local women. Six years after her first order, Antoinette’s team consists of herself, two other permanent staff members, and three contract workers for special events.

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This last year, Antoinette’s equipment began to grow old, and her ability to fill special orders became limited. In order to keep her business growing and expanding as it had been, she needed a financial boost to purchase new kitchen gear. She heard about Zidisha from a man named Fredrick, another Swedru entrepreneur and Zidisha borrower, and wanted to give it a shot. Fredrick invited her to the platform and she put up her loan application. With her loan quickly and fully funded, Antoinette had $300 to invest in her kitchen.

With the purchase of new pastry equipment, Antoinette’s business grew. She was able to meet higher demand for wedding and birthday orders, and more and more of these orders came in. Antoinette’s loan was paid back with ease, the funding having supported her business so well. “The first loan,” she says, “was very helpful to my business. It enabled me to acquire more equipment and food stuffs to be able to meet higher demands. This has made me more productive in my business and also helped me meet customers satisfaction all the time.”

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In September, Antoinette sought to expand her growing business even more and applied for her second Zidisha loan. The response from lenders was quick and amazing, with twenty-five different people coming together to finance the $440 loan. “Antoinette,” a woman named Elena wrote on the discussion page, “Good luck to you in getting your loan fully funded! It’s amazing to see that you care for adopted children, employ other women, and are learning so much about running a successful business. It’s very courageous to pursue so many things.” With her second loan fully funded, Antoinette says she was able to “improve on the services I render to my clients and community,” helping “improve on the standard of living for myself and my two adopted kids.”

Antoinette’s fourteen-hour work day is a long one, spent standing over a hot stove, planning menus, and organizing deliveries and preparation for large events. The life of an entrepreneur is one that requires fortitude and, as a wise lender mentioned, courage. Antoinette has plenty of both. She is an amazing mother, chef, and businesswoman, driving change in her community as she serves up delicious food, gainful employment, and a better life for her children.

If you would like to help boost the business of another entrepreneur, head over to our loans page and help fund a businessperson’s dream.