Business without borders

fatouBy Miriam Frost, Senegal Client Relationship Volunteer

Fatou Amar owns her own hair salon in Nord Foire, an neighborhood toward the northern end of Dakar, the capital of Senegal. Her salon has become quite successful in the years since she started it and she now trains others to manage it for her while she travels. Fatou said it was very difficult to start a business in a neighborhood with which she wasn’t familiar and where people didn’t know her, but she was passionate and determined to succeed. Now, she has gained the trust of people in the neighborhood.

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At the beauty salon.  Fatou is wearing the flowered shirt.

Fatou’s earnings support her parents, brothers and sisters in addition to her own two children, aged ten and thirteen.  Her loans with Zidisha have allowed her to venture into a lucrative new business, clothing sales – and even to expand her the scope of her activities beyond Senegal’s borders. She has used her recent loans to travel to Mauritania, Mali, and Turkey to purchase clothing and fabric not available in Senegal and then resell them in Dakar. With her last loan, she traveled to Istanbul for six days to buy clothing items that she has been reselling. Fatou showed me a few of them, but they have been selling so quickly she doesn’t have much left!

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Fatou with some of the shop inventory she purchased overseas

Fatou is an extremely business-savvy woman, as evidenced by the way she speaks about business. She understands the importance of buying and selling quality products, instead of trying to dupe clients into paying too much for something cheap. That way, her clients will trust her and keep coming back. Fatou also pays back her loans as soon as she has the money instead of waiting until the date it is due, which has led to her repaying most of her previous loan well in advance. She knows how important it is to repay on time and repays early to avoid any problems.

Thanks to her longevity with Zidisha and excellent repayment record, Fatou has the distinction of raising the largest loan ever funded through our platform: her fourth and most recent loan was for $4,136!  Fatou used the loan to fund a trip to Italy and Austria so that she could purchase new merchandise that she resells, like shoes, bags, and basin, a thick, shimmering fabric with rich patterns woven into the cloth.

The Senegalese are connoisseurs of fine fabric, and this gorgeous basin fabric is especially prized.  It is imported plain, and traditional artisans hand-dye with the vibrant colors and patterns that make traditional Senegalese clothing so distinctive.  The basin fabric is very in demand at the moment because many Senegalese purchase basin to make into a special embroidered dress, called a boubou, to wear for the holiday Korite (known as Eid outside Senegal) which marks the end of Ramadan. With Korite coming up soon, Fatou has already sold all but one of the basins she brought back!

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Basin fabric ready to be dyed and turned into clothing

Fatou also showed us some bags she brought back from Italy. She purchased them for around 13 or 15 euros, about $17-$20, and resells them in Senegal for 19,000 or 20,000 CFA, around $40. She also allows her customers to purchase on credit and pay later for a small fee. Fatou makes a large profit from these sales and she said her merchandise always goes quickly, because she knows she must choose quality products to resell.

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One of Fatou’s imported bags

I asked Fatou if it was difficult to travel to countries where she doesn’t know the language, but she said she gets by easily. She had a Senegalese contact in each country, but getting around and shopping for merchandise she did by herself.

Fatou also said that there are Senegalese people everywhere in Europe – she would often run into Senegalese people on the street and they would help her get where she wanted to go. In Senegal, the concept of “teranga” is very important, and it translates loosely to hospitality, though Senegalese hospitality goes above and beyond, and apparently even crosses international borders. In another example of teranga, even though it is Ramadan and she was fasting, Fatou set out coffee and pastries for us when we arrived.

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

One thought on “Business without borders

  1. Zidisha team spotlight: Paige Klunk, Senegal Country Liaison – Zidisha: P2P Microfinance

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