The Key to Success

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By Julia Kurnia, director Zidisha

We funded our first loan in Ghana this week.  

This milestone marks the beginning of an exciting new business growth opportunity for Cornelius Nartey and countless other highly motivated Ghanaian entrepreneurs.  It is also the culmination of many months of dedicated preparation by our Ghana Country Expansion Coordinator, Roberta Zenere.

Roberta began volunteering with us early this year from her hometown in Padua, Italy.  She quickly became a pillar of our Kenya lending program, single-handedly fielding SMS inquiries for thousands of members and serving as the leader of our M-PESA loan disbursement team.  

This summer Roberta took a trip to Ghana, where she had previously spent time conducting research on the provision of financial services through the traditional Susu collection system.  This time, her aim was to help extend Zidisha lending services to the entrepreneurs she had met there.

The obstacles to offering loans in Ghana seemed insurmountable.  We need to open local currency accounts in order to lend cost-effectively in a new country, but we were told this was not possible in Ghana unless we established a brick-and-mortar office in the country – something our small nonprofit cannot afford.  Everywhere Roberta turned, she was met with indifference, delay and bureaucratic red tape.  She spent weeks meeting with banks and mobile payment service providers, but in the end none of our leads came through.  Soon her time in Ghana ended and she had to return to Italy.

Even the most dedicated pioneer might be expected to give up at this point, but Roberta persisted.  She continued the campaign to extend Zidisha’s lending platform to Ghana from Italy.  This time, she had an ally: Mr Cornelius Nartey, the founder and president of the Association of African Entrepreneurs, a pan-African NGO based in Ghana, with a similar vision of overcoming barriers of location via internet technology.  

This fall, Roberta returned to Ghana and continued to the effort to open a local currency account for Zidisha.  Over the course of many meetings, discussions and trips back and forth to the capital, Roberta and Mr. Nartey forged a partnership between the Association of African Entrepreneurs, the MTN mobile phone payment platform and Zidisha to bring peer-to-peer microlending services to Ghana.

The popular conception of innovation being all about having unique ideas is wrong.  Successful innovation is mostly a result of perseverance in the face of obstacles that seem insurmountable to everyone else.  The payoff of innovation is huge – we are literally changing the world.  But we would never get there without the persistence of people like Roberta, making things happen long after most ordinary people have given up.

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