Meet our first member in Zambia

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By Julia Kurnia

Twenty-five-year-old Richard Chitalu is a pioneer in more ways than one.  The youngest in a family of twelve, he grew up in one of Africa’s mining centers, the Copperbelt province of northern Zambia.  “I like learning new languages, interacting with different types of people. I’m a faster learner who is eager to adapt different business environments,” he wrote in his profile.

Mr. Chitalu is an avid squash player and a passionate teacher and mentor.  He has crafted a unique profession from these hobbies, by offering squash coaching services to various clients in Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia.

Mr. Chitalu intends to invest his first Zidisha loan in squash equipment – balls, rackets, headgear and shoes – for his students to use and purchase.  The earnings will go toward his long-term goal of attending business school overseas.

Mr. Chitalu is our first member in Zambia, an anglophone country in southeastern Africa that is home to Victoria Falls, an exuberant cosmopolitan culture and hundreds of traditional festivals.

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Our lending program in Zambia was facilitated by John Fay, a Zidisha trustee and pioneer of environmentally sustainable development in Africa.  John resides in Lusaka, Zambia, where he founded the social enterprise Shared Value Africa, which specializes in market-driven solutions to human welfare needs.

You may view Mr. Chitalu’s profile page here: https://www.zidisha.org/microfinance/loan/RICHARDCHITALU88/5345.html

Zidisha launches at Y Combinator

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By Julia Kurnia

We have some exciting news for the Zidisha community: Zidisha has been selected for participation in the prestigious startup incubator Y Combinator.

Y Combinator is considered the world’s top funding and growth program for game-changing online startups.  Such well-known companies as AirBNB, Dropbox, Scribd and reddit got their start with Y Combinator.

Up until recently, Y Combinator funded only for-profit companies.  Zidisha is only the second nonprofit to launch at Y Combinator.  (The first was Watsi, a world-changing platform for crowdfunding medical treatments in developing countries.)

The Y Combinator program will take place from January until March this year.  I have relocated to Mountain View, California, for these three months in order to participate.  During this time, the Y Combinator advisors will work intensively with Zidisha, to help us acquire the expertise and resources we need in order to scale up our lending platform.

Y Combinator is highly competitive, and accepts only a tiny percentage of organizations that apply.  Zidisha made the cut because we are doing something that nobody else is doing, and something that has the potential to change the world.

We are building a person-to-person lending community that transcends hitherto impregnable geographic barriers – barriers that have acted as hitherto insurmountable handicaps for people who happen to have been born in the world’s poorest places.  Now that we have the ability to bridge geography using the internet, geographic handicaps can be overcome.  That is the world we are making.

Such audacious innovation is not an easy thing to be a part of.  Forging new paths means there is no roadmap to follow, only a continuous process of learning and improvement.  Joining such an unconventional endeavor – as a borrower, lender, supporter or volunteer – is not an easy choice.  It feels much safer to stick with tried-and-true avenues of philanthropy.  Supporting Zidisha before we had much external recognition required a lot of boldness, vision and faith.

That is why we have you to thank – our borrowers, lenders, volunteers, and everyone else who has accompanied us this far.  Zidisha is a community of faith – not in the religious sense – but rather faith in the basic goodness of other people, and faith that we will overcome the geographic handicap that has held back too much of humanity for too long.

Thanks to each of you for keeping that faith alive.

You may read the official Y Combinator launch announcement at TechCrunch here:  http://techcrunch.com/2014/01/23/zidisha-launches-a-kickstarter-style-micro-lending-platform-for-low-income-entrepreneurs-in-developing-countries/

“I want to leave a legacy in the world”

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By Julia Kurnia

Paul Kamande is an Electrical Engineering student in Kenya and quite a remarkable person.  At age twenty-three, he designed an automated irrigation system adapted to the unique climate of his home village in central Kenya.

Two years into his university career, Mr. Kamande found himself in the circumstance that prevents so many in his country from completing higher education: funding for tuition ran out, and as he was an only child, the livelihood of his parents relied on his earnings.

Mr. Kamande is not the type to give up easily.  With $125 in savings, he purchased some spinach, watermelon and potato seeds to plant on his parents’ two-acre farm.  The resulting produce when harvested and sold yielded $187 – just enough to acquire a dairy calf, which is one of the most lucrative investments available in rural Kenya.  Thanks to earnings from milk sales combined with part-time work, Mr. Kamande managed to support his family while completing his second year of university.

He then discovered Zidisha, and began to leverage Zidisha loans to add a rabbit raising facility to his family farm.  Since joining us early last year, Mr. Kamande has become one of our most active volunteers, assisting dozens of others in his community to raise loans and engaging in regular dialogue with lenders via our forum and website.

With his parents taken care of, Mr. Kamande returned his focus to his university studies.  Last month, he encountered a more serious setback: the old laptop he had been using for schoolwork and to earn extra money as an online writer broke down.  With that source of earning stopped, he was unable to pay his university tuition of $478 – a fortune in a country where most residents earn less than $1000 per year.  The university administration warned that he would not be allowed to sit for the upcoming final exams until the bill was paid.

It seemed as though there was no way out.  Opportunities to earn such a substantial amount in a short time simply did not exist locally, even for as smart and determined a person as Mr. Kamande.  He could not take out another loan from Zidisha, as he had recently invested a currently outstanding loan in his parents’ farm.

Then he hit on an idea: he would launch an crowdfunding campaign at Indiegogo to raise the necessary amount.  He borrowed a computer to create a campaign page, complete with photos, a video of his project, and an appeal to raise $800 to cover his past due tuition and purchase a new laptop.

Within a few short weeks, the necessary amount was raised: an astounding success, as the majority of crowdfunding appeals fail.  How was Mr. Kamande able to raise so much so quickly?

A look at Mr. Kamande’s Zidisha profile page hints at the reason: the comment forum is full of posts by Mr. Kamande consistently providing generous answers to lender questions and requests – interspersed with messages of thanks from the many fellow members in Kenya whose lives Mr. Kamande has changed by connecting them with the chance to raise Zidisha loans.  Mr. Kamande has helped so many people in the past that the assistance was there for the taking now, when he most needed it.

“I want to leave a legacy in the world,” wrote Mr. Kamande in his Indiegogo campaign page. “Not just in Africa as a continent that truly with tapped potential of a child, he or she can achieve what many never though he or she could. I am fortunate to have gone to school and pursued engineering in such a reputable school in our country despite coming from a humble background and the promise I made to myself and God is after I complete my education and get a good job, I will also help children who come from less fortunate backgrounds and make their dreams come true just like you are about to make mine come true also.”

Mr. Kamande has already built a great legacy.  I look forward to seeing more to come.

You may view Mr. Kamande’s Zidisha profile here: https://www.zidisha.org/microfinance/loan/PaulGitau/3540.html

Mr. Kamande’s Indiegogo campaign page is here: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/university-education-aid-to-complete-course

A YouTube video depicting Mr. Kamande’s automated irrigation device is here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLsKLFNfJ1k&feature=youtu.be

About to send a donation? Think twice.

The handout approach to development assistance is back in fashion.

The rationale behind the handout approach seems straightforward enough: the most efficient way to help people living in poverty must be to give them money. That is why the earliest large-scale international development assistance efforts, in the 1950s and 1960s, were largely handout-based.

The results, though, were mostly awful: the international development handouts led to massive waste and corruption – and they imbued relations between wealthy countries and poor ones with a paternalistic, dependency-ridden flavor from which we have yet to recover.

That is one reason “capacity building” approaches, which aim to help people in developing countries via training and education, became popular. These had the advantage of not creating dependency on monetary handouts. Unfortunately, they didn’t do much else either.Research showed that simple cash transfers to low-income individuals generate more benefit than spending the same amounts on providing them with business training.

In my experience, giving handouts to impoverished households creates a perverse incentive… [Read the full article at the Huffington Post]

 

Introducing our new universal comment feed

If you go to https://www.zidisha.org/microfinance/testimonials.html, you’ll see something new: a continuous feed of the 100 most recent comments posted on all 4,458 loan profile pages in our website.

If you see an interesting comment, you can link through to the loan profile page, to read the entrepreneur’s full story and track how their activities have progressed.  You can even publish especially worthy comments in the featured “Member Updates” area of our homepage – just click the “Feature On Homepage” link next to the comment in the loan profile page.  The new comment feed can also be accessed from our homepage, just below the “Member Updates” section.

This comment feed includes all comments posted by all Zidisha members worldwide, without any filtering or editing.  What emerges is a startlingly broad array of voices – and some surprising similarities despite the vast distances of geography, culture and circumstance.

I hope you enjoy exploring the diverse perspectives of Zidisha members around the world, and add your own voice to the conversation.

A record number of new loans posted at Zidisha

Dear Zidisha members,

Soni Baidowi is a twenty-six-old social entrepreneur, driven by the dream of bringing world-class educational opportunities to his remote village in East Java, Indonesia.  
 
Thanks to you, the lack of local financing opportunities no longer prevent Soni from making his dream a reality.  Zidisha loans delivered over the internet are providing the capital he needs to grow his after-school tutoring center for disadvantaged teens.
 
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We now have a record number of fundraising loans from remarkable entrepreneurs like Soni.  Many are due to expire for lack of as little as $20.  We need your help to extend the same opportunity to them.
 
Here’s how to help:  
 
  • Short on cash? Invite a friend to join – and watch your impact grow as their loans create new possibilities in the world’s most disadvantaged places.
 
It’s 2014.  For the first time in history, we have the technological tools to make geographic handicaps irrelevant.  Join our entrepreneurs in making this dream a reality now.
 
I’ll see you there.
 
Julia Kurnia
 
Director