Homeless Single Mother Uses Microloan to Launch Yogurt Business


By Andrew Weber

My name is Andrew Weber and I recently served as a Zidisha Client Relationship Manger in Kenya. There I paid a visit to Catherine at her business in a town on the outskirts of Nairobi.

In a short period of time, Catherine has gone from sleeping on the streets to operating a successful yogurt business out of her home thanks to the support of a Zidisha loan. “Zidisha helped me so much, I had nothing before”, beams Catherine. “I am so happy with Zidisha”. 

Catherine is a single mom currently living in a small rented room on the outskirts of Nairobi with her five-year-old son. This room also doubles as a storage unit for her business, distributing yogurt and milk products to shops in the area. The yogurt business has been doing quite well over the last few months and things are looking up for her, but this was not always the case. Rewind one year and Catherine was spending nights sleeping outside because she was unable to afford rent. Without her own business, she had been making ends meet through working as a house cleaner. She was only making about $30 per month at this job and the work opportunities were inconsistent. She was living in a state of constant worry over how she would be able to support her small child.

She decided to try to increase her income through starting a business supplying yogurt and milk to shops in the area. But the initial returns were meager. She wasn’t able to afford a large enough supply to make the business viable. She explored the possibility of a bank microloan but was denied because she did not own her own plot and had few assets. That’s where Zidisha came in. 

“If not for Zidisha, I would remain poor”, says Catherine. Once she received her Zidisha loan, Catherine’s life and business began changing for the better. She was able to start buying trays of yogurt packages at discounted bulk rates so she could meet the local demand that she always knew existed. Her home now contains stacks of yogurt and milk packets (no refrigeration required) from the floor to the ceiling. She sells about 30 trays of yogurt per day now, pulling in about $200 per month in profit which enables her to afford rent and school fees. And she is quick to point out that her business is just getting started. With her next Zidisha loan she wants to buy a motorbike so she can deliver her products in a more cost-effective manner. Ultimately, she hopes to open her own shop to sell her goods. Armed with a strong entrepreneurial spirit and direct access to capital now, Catherine seems destined to achieve that goal. 

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

Zidisha Lender and Borrower Meet in Burkina Faso

By Mien De Graeve, West Africa Client Relationship Manager

Zidisha lenders and Zidisha borrowers are communicating with each other every day, thanks to the wonderful World Wide Web. Real-life meetings between lenders and borrowers are rare though, and probably what happened last week in Ouagadougou was unique! Sigmund Elias Holm, a resident of Norway, booked a ten-day trip to the capital of Burkina Faso to attend FESPACO, the biennial pan-African Film Festival, together with a friend. He had been lending through various microcredit sites before and only recently discovered Zidisha. He also found out that Zidisha has a lending program in Burkina Faso and he decided that this would be a perfect opportunity to learn more!

No sooner said than done. He wrote an email to Zidisha and quickly got in touch with me. As you may know I am Client Relationship Manager in Burkina Faso since last September. We met last week in the beautiful garden of a guesthouse in Ouagadougou and I did my best answering many questions about Zidisha and about what makes Zidisha so very different from other microfinance initiatives. Nothing is more convincing though than seeing something with your own eyes. That is why we visited one of the active borrowers in Ouagadougou, Mrs. Safiatou Dao (check out her borrower profile at https://www.zidisha.org/microfinance/loan/DAOSafiatou/1298.html). Mrs. Dao runs a small restaurant, where she serves breakfast in the morning, lunch at noon, and fresh drinks (including delicious bissap, made from hibiscus flowers and mint) all day. Thanks to her first Zidisha loan Mrs. Dao was able to build an extra shed next to her “kiosque,” buy extra tables and chairs, and some new plates and cutlery. Since the enlargement of her restaurant Mrs. Dao saw her clientele growing steadily. Many employees from the offices around and students from the schools nearby appreciate that they now have a place to sit down quietly to enjoy a simple but delicious homemade meal. That was exactly what we did as well, while chatting with Mrs. Dao. She felt really honoured with the visit, and I bet Zidisha has two more loyal lenders!


Zidisha lender Sigmund Elias Holm in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

The View From Kenya: Part III

Kenya emerged from last week’s poll with a new president-elect and a sense of relief that there was no repeat of the 2007 election’s massive violence.  The country is slowly returning to business as usual, and several of our members have returned to the cybercafes to share their perspectives with lenders:

“Hello everyone, i trust you are well. Myself and family are well and thank God. Its been a tricky and tight month for business due to elections and i had to close my business earlier for security purposes, but all went well we Kenyans maintained peace as we vowed never to shed blood of our brothers and sisters because of politics. Am looking forward to revamped business as we wait for officiating of our President in a weeks time and fully go back to operations. Looking forward to great success in spite of the hurdles that i choose to use as bridges to the next level. Thank you Zidisha team and all my lenders i wish you well and Gods blessings.” – Milcah Wairimu Wagura, Mombasa, Kenya

“I wanted to send money for repayment of my loan yesterday but was unable. This is due to mainly acess to mpesa agents. There were romours yesterday that the lossers in the just concluded general elections were going to hold a demonstration. Demonstrations here are usually violent, therefore the agents closed shop earlier than usual. However, this was not to be and we are back to normal…” – Jane Wanjira, Kiti Estate, Kenya

“hellow all my lenders, im very greatful to all my lenders. am doing well in my business i have not been transporting my goods to the eastern part of our country for the past few weeks. this has been in the result of the election which was there for some few days back. now elections are over and we have a new president in our republic. i hope to continue working hard untill i will be able to catch the rope…” – Veronica Wangui, Kiptangwanyi, Kenya

“dear lenders the elections in kenya is over and business is coming back slowly i was able to reload my business with more stock and i was able to service my Mitsubishi track. it is now helping me with supplying building materials wherever it is need around my home town and beyond…” – Evanson Gitau, Kiptangwanyi, Kenya

“Dear lenders,am still doing fine and am grateful to God.Last month was a critical month since our country was undergoing elections but God has seen us through and the elections were peaceful and are now over.However business went on as usual apart from the election day on Monday last week since I had to go and cast my vote. This month I have only added cement, jerrycans and traditional mats.I had added enough stock on January so I did not need to stock much.God willing,tommorrow am planning to restock nails ,paints and brushes.thanks” – Violet Karwimbo, Nairobi, Kenya

A Grassroots Social Enterprise

By Andrew Weber

My name is Andrew Weber and I recently served as a Zidisha Client Relationship Manger in Kenya. There I paid a visit to Dorcas at her home in city of Mombasa on the coast. Dorcas is one of the most amazing borrowers that I encountered because of the unique nature of her business – she has unknowingly started what many Westerners would describe as a social enterprise. Dorcas and her husband have lived very successful lives so far. They both had stable jobs for many years, she a secretary and he a journalist. They were able support several children who have now gone on to find good jobs and raise families of their own. Her husband over the years has gained enough respect in the community that he was voted a village elder, which entitles him to settle disputes in the town. Upon their retirement they easily could have decided to relax and live off of the support of their children and whatever savings they accumulated. But Dorcas and her husband saw a problem in their community which they could not ignore. There was no running water in their village. For years, they walked several kilometers every day like the rest of the villagers just to buy water from a polluted pump. If they wanted to buy a large quantity they needed to pay a motorbike a hefty $1 each way to help them transport it. She says to retrieve truly clean water a well must be at least 90 feet deep. Otherwise there will still be salt in the water as they are so close to the ocean. She is pretty certain the well that everyone in the town used to use was far more shallow than this threshold. With newfound free time after their retirement, they decided to do something about the village’s perilous water situation.

Dorcas built two water pumps drawing from a well over 90 feet deep outside of her home with support from a high interest bank loan. The tanks hold 800 and 1,000 liters respectively and they are filled four times a day. Dorcas initially just built the tanks for her family and friends, but her little water project has spiraled into something much larger. As word of the pumps spread, there was no way she could ignore the hordes of people in her community in desperate need of cleaner water. So she began providing water to everyone in the area at a low cost. Today she has over 300 customers per day. My conversation with her was actually interrupted several times as she had to help various people fill up their water containers, but that is the nature of Dorcas’ life now. People typically buy 20 liters of water at a time for about 3 cents – less than the cost of the polluted water people in the village used to drink. Often people come great distances to her home from highly impoverished areas and are unable to afford even the 3 cents, so she often ends of giving water away or allows people to buy water on credit. Her customers include some of the poorest people in the region, and she often provides wagons for those who travel great distances but can’t afford means to carry the water back.

Dorcas understands how much her tanks of improved the lives of those in her community, so she naturally wants to do more now. Her tanks are still relatively small and do not fully meet the vast demand in the area. Dorcas now wants to install a 10,000 liter tank (5 times the size of her current capacity). Unfortunately a quality tank and pipes represents a significant investment, not to mention the increase in her already high utility bills. But when Dorcas speaks about this proposed new tank a fierce determination enters her eyes contrasting with her usually gentle, grandmotherly demeanor. She knows people in her village need this, and providing this service has become her primary mission in life. Her first Zidisha loan has contributed to her payment of the utility bills associated with her current two tanks, but it is not quite enough to install the 10,000 liter tank. She eagerly awaits her second Zidisha loan which should allow her to afford the new tank. Until then Dorcas hopes the stream of water from her pumps can come close to the needs of the stream of people coming to her home every day.

You may view Dorcas’ account of her business and recent comments at her Zidisha Microfinance loan profile page.

Niamey, wallaye!






Niamey, wallaye!



West Africa Client Relationship Manager Mien De Graeve has just returned from a trip to one of our newest countries, Niger.  Check out her most recent blog post for an account of her journey and a sneak preview of our first few Nigerien applicants!

Note:  Mien’s blog is originally written in Dutch.  You may copy and paste the blog URL into Google Translate to view it in your preferred language.

The View From Kenya: Part II

Greetings Zidisha community,

This is Neil, Kenya Client Relationship Manager with Zidisha in Kenya, reporting from Nairobi. I do appreciate your thoughts and concerns, and can echo what Julia has posted above in terms of borrower comments. The linked Economist article is quite good, and worth reading if you want background on these elections.

The general consensus among locals is that Kenyans are very tired of violence, and that the lesson from 2008 has been learned. With a new constitution, and an eye toward tight security at polls and in the slums (where most election-related violence occurs), the institutions are in place to ensure that democracy should prevail.

As Julia mentioned, Zidisha staff in Kenya are well-positioned to avoid any violence during this time, and we are ready to evacuate should it become necessary, something I doubt.

I have met a few borrowers who say that they have felt a business downturn due to the elections. One young man with a promising computer training school near Nakuru said that he went from 20 students a few months ago, to only 8 currently. Others have noted that business is more normalized for their shops, so perhaps it is somewhat dependent on which goods and services are being offered, and in which location.

The results of the election will be broadcast some 48 hours after polls close, which is by Wednesday morning for the US. I anticipate a runoff election between Kenyatta and Odinga, which will take place in early April unless legal challenges push it back even further.

If you are interested in keeping an eye on the elections, I recommend the following resources:

https://uchaguzi.co.ke/ (crowdmap)

I hope this helps, and gives you a better picture of the view on the ground here. If you are a lender, why not take this time to leave a note of support for your borrower?

Best wishes,
Neil in Nairobi

The View From Kenya: Part I

Kenyan voters go to the polls tomorrow in the first general election since 2007, when a disputed vote sparked ethnic violence that killed and displaced thousands.  Many of our members had lost their homes and assets in the 2007 clashes, and used Zidisha loans to rebuild their livelihoods.  We are all hoping that this time, the elections will be peaceful.

Despite the tension and uncertainty in Kenya, many of our members there have taken the time to share updates with lenders.  Here is a selection of recent comments:

“It’s on a time that Kenya our country is getting a new president after having a new constitution and a hard task is a head of the government because of new structures of six elective post… my message to every one reading this may you pray for Kenya to have a peaceful election and not to repeat the post election violence … May the lord also bless you (Zidisha Team & Lenders) for making it work for the Kenyans from the loan that they acquire from you .. we really say thanks and keep it up….. we need more organization like this to help our economy grow.” – James Ngugi, Naivasha, Kenya

“I again thank you again for funding my loan. My business is doing well though with challenges especially now the country is preparing for a general election. People are just being cautious and thus they are not buying much to save money just in case there is a post election violence. However i cant complain and i thank the almighty God for the far He has taken me.” – Judy Mburu, Nairobi, Kenya

“Dear lenders.
Its an election period and in less than two weeks on 4th March. Kenyans will have their democratic right to votes new leaders and new Government for the next five years. Its the firstelection done under new constitution we voted in 2010 which has created a devolved form of Government, a new experience where we shall be having new representation and new mode of leadership. In a country with many tribes during election time in our country there is tension after the experience from previous general elections, where there has been some tribal violence in different parts of the country and we are hoping this time we shall be peaceful elections.” – James Mwangi, Nairobi, Kenya

“Dear lender the business it low because of the forth coming general election in Kenya people are not willing to spend and this has really affected my business of transporting building materials and my dairy business is not good because of dry season. I hope the business will improve soon and our election will be peaceful.” – Francis Mwangi, Mangu Village, Kenya

“The business is fairly doing well , hoping after the peaceful national election on March 2013 it will pick again.On election year customers are afraid of their security leading to low sells.” – John Muturi Chege, Salgaa Rongai, Kenya

“Hello Lenders, My name is David Nyaga and am a beneficiary of zidisha loan which has really contributed to more than 80% of my business success and i owe all thanks to my zidisha lenders.Recently a former member of zidisha staff team (Andrew Weber) paid me a visit at my work place and as we socialized i showed him how much the zidisha loan had helped me earn a extra shilling as well as create employment for others… I also showed him my salon where i have employed Timothy who cuts hair and two ladies who are hair dressers… i hope that during this period that my beloved country is going to the general elections that it will be peaceful so that my business may grow and i may clear my second loan aquire a new loan to expand my business since this area has a very promising business potential and also employ more youths to my business.I hope one day i will fly to Canada for more studies since its my dream to do a masters degree in Canada and maybe graduate from a high school teacher to a lecturer .Finally let me take this opportunity to Give thanks to the Almighty God,my zidisha lenders,zidisha team,Andrew Weber and all those that have supported me in the effort of supporting others.its more blessed to give than to receive…” – David Nyaga, Nairobi, Kenya

“Dear lenders pray for Kenya during this election period which is affecting our business as most people are not willing to spend so that we may have peaceful elections and stable Government thereafter.” – Gladys Kagunda, Nairobi, Kenya

If you would like to learn more, The Economist Magazine has published a good overview of the political situation in Kenya: http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21572821-voters-are-preparing-trouble-during-presidential-polls-are-too-close