Most of our blog posts have showcased borrower stories. This week, we’d like to feature the perspectives of a lender. Evelyn, one of our most active lending members, graciously agreed to share this interview.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I live in the suburbs of a big city in the United States. Although it is considered a “wealthy country” many people work hard and struggle to meet their monthly expenses. I have a full-time job to pay my bills. I have worked in my career as a photographer, editor, writer and graphic designer.
As I child I had an entrepreneurial spirit. When I was six years old, I began helping a relative with watching their sales table at occasional trade shows. I handled the transactions with customers, and offered some of my own crafts for sale. I also helped a neighborhood sales lady with her door-to-door sales; and sold food door to door for fundraisers. Later when I was older, I continued to have jobs and self-employment experiences working in sales and customer service.
In college, I majored in mathematics and fine arts and studied in France on two different travel-abroad programs. I had to borrow money through student loans to pay for my college tuition. One of my on-campus jobs was running a faculty and student computer center to help pay for my expenses.
I love art, music and photography, reading non-fiction books and spending time with family and friends. I especially like to learn about other cultures. It is an amazing experience to arrive in a foreign land and be surrounded by different sites, sounds and languages and to interact with people whose daily lives, experiences and environment are so varied. If I had more money I would travel a lot to other countries. In the meantime, I like that I can use my French language skills to understand borrowers’ profiles on Zidisha and people’s French comments in the forum.
What drew you to Zidisha?
I’m not a big corporation or rich person who can just give away a lot of money. But microfinance allows me to help in a small way. I can add some money to my account sporadically as my monthly budget allows. Unlike just donating to charity I like that I can get money back to reloan to others. When I discovered Zidisha it complemented my lending though other microfinance platforms. I like that Zidisha has an added dimension of being able to interact directly with borrowers and other lenders through borrowers’ profile pages and in the forum.
What keeps you coming back to Zidisha today?
I like reading what the borrowers have to say in their own words about their lives, businesses and towns where they live. I’ve learned from them that these loans are giving people hope and enabling them to realize their dreams. I see Zidisha empowering people in their daily lives and I’m enjoying the conversations with the borrowers.
I also really want to see Zidisha continue to make a difference in people’s lives for a really long time. When I learned that Zidisha was being run by one person out of an apartment in a suburban US city I was really surprised. Even though the website conveyed a sense of greatness, there was no large staff of employees. When I began lending on Zidisha two years ago, founder Julia Kurnia was still answering many of the service emails herself. Through these interactions I realized that she was a very intelligent person, with good ideas and she conveyed an excellent grasp of customer service. I couldn’t believe that someone so young, a person who was still in her 20s, had already founded a non-profit organization. I devote time to Zidisha because I feel doing so can have the greatest impact.
Can you tell us about an especially memorable entrepreneur you have supported?
I can, but I would prefer not to name him. This borrower from Kenya regularly wrote some very insightful comments about his family, his business and his daily life. He successfully repaid several large loans and said that Zidisha had changed his life, had given him and his family hope and enabled him to buy the “cow of his dreams.” All of us have goals and dreams for our lives and it never occurred to me that someone’s dream might be a high quality cow. I was very happy that Zidisha helped him to fulfill a dream. I was sorry to learn more recently that he has faced hardship in the last few months which has resulted in his silence and financial difficulties.
What advice or tips would you like to share with Zidisha borrowers?
I imagine that most of the lenders and Zidisha volunteers are not wealthy, but are hard working people with bills to pay who hope their loans will have a positive impact on you, your families and your communities.
Borrowing money and having debt can be a burden. Chose the interest rate and the amount you borrow wisely.
If you want to increase the chances of having lenders look at your profile and wind up lending to you, use a profile photo that shows you in your business or working. A good photo in your daily working environment gives additional information about you and your business and invites the lender to click into your profile page to learn more.
Even though lenders might live in a “wealthy” country none of us is immune from having bad things happen. If you are experiencing a hardship in repaying your loan, most lenders would rather have an honest update than months of silence. If I lent money to someone and picked them because I found some aspect of their life interesting or I felt proud of them and their achievements, I’d sincerely like to know if they are OK.
What advice or tips would you like to share with other lenders?
Zidisha’s vision is that it is only serving as a marketplace, where you can lend directly to someone in another country. It envisions itself only as a platform to connect the lender and borrower. This is different from many other popular microfinance sites. The businesses are not vetted. It is up to you, the lender to decide if a person is honest, has a good business and is deserving of the loan. Take the time to choose people who you feel good about and would like to see succeed.
Also be patient. Unless the borrower is running a cybercafé they probably have to pay for their Internet time just to post comments on their page. Due to the costs and travel time to get to a place to access the Internet, some might not communicate often.
If you are lucky enough to be lending to a borrower who is trying to engage lenders with meaningful comments, take the time to write back to them and to post comments on their page. I imagine how sad it must feel for a borrower to post updates to “mysterious” lenders in far-away places for weeks or months on end and never have a reply from a single lender. You are missing out on an opportunity to interact with some wonderful people.
Evelyn, thanks so much for sharing your insights, and for all you have done to bring opportunities and encouragement to our members around the world.