By Julia Kurnia, Director
One of the really special things about Zidisha is that it’s a volunteer-driven community. Almost every aspect of our operations – from new member application review, to sending loan disbursements, registering repayments, accounting, fielding email questions in multiple languages, meeting with entrepreneurs and sharing success stories – is the work of dozens of generous volunteers. Volunteers are the heart of Zidisha, and our work could not happen without them.
Another remarkable thing about Zidisha is that, true to our mission of making geographic barriers irrelevant, we don’t use brick-and-mortar offices. Most of us have never met in person. Instead, we use internet technology to collaborate from our own locations around the world. The Zidisha team has members on every continent except Antarctica!
Since so many of our lenders and borrowers volunteer for our community in such diverse ways, it’s really hard to thank each one individually. But when Paige recently celebrated her two-year anniversary with our team, I couldn’t let the occasion pass without highlighting her contributions.
Paige is at Ohio University at the moment, where she is pursuing a master’s degree in International Development Studies. But she’s equally at home in her “adopted country” of Senegal – she speaks French and Wolof, follows the West African hip-hop scene, and even plays the balafon, a traditional Senegalese musical instrument (pictured above).
Paige has fostered the development of our lending program in Senegal for the past two years, traveling back and forth between the US and Senegal while juggling work and graduate studies. She has personally visited and provided orientations to many of today’s new members and Volunteer Mentors in Senegal, establishing good relationships that have served as a foundation for future growth of the program. Paige also overcame nearly insurmountable bureaucratic barriers to open our first mobile phone payment account in Senegal – something that will allow our lending program to operate at far greater scale in the future.
Paige generously took time from her busy schedule to share her perspective on what volunteering with Zidisha means to her. Here is the interview in full:
How did you hear about Zidisha?
I found out about Zidisha through Idealist.org. At the time I was looking for ways to become involved in development while working full time, and a friend had recommended to me that I look into microfinance. I found the listing and thought the idea of online volunteering was very cool. I have been hooked ever since.
What sort of activities have you done since you started volunteering with us?
I have been involved with all ranges of activities since I began with Zidisha…application reviews, the repayment entering for Senegal, and responding to emails and text messages.
What sort of activities do you do now?
Right now I am mainly involved with entering repayments from Senegal and managing the pending disbursements. I absolutely love watching on a monthly basis who is making repayments on a regular basis. It really manifests daily for me what Zidisha is really about.
What is your favorite Zidisha volunteering activity?
Application reviews are definitely my favorite. I love watching Zidisha grow and seeing new entrepreneurs benefit from loans. Also from my on the ground experience in Senegal, I really love meeting with entrepreneurs to see how Zidisha loans have benefited their lives.
Do you have a favorite Zidisha entrepreneur story?
I have two favorite stories from Senegal. The first is of Ndeye Bineta Sarr. She was the first borrower in Senegal, who came to pick up her first loan check from the SEM Fund, where she ended up finding employment. Now she oversees the production of ecosacs (environmentally friendly cooking devices) at the SEM Fund office while still managing her business at home. Ndeye has been able to support the education of many young family members.
The other is the story of Fatou Amar. Her early loans helped her grow her beauty salon and now she has expanded into selling clothing. She has been very successful and has raised the largest loans in Zidisha’s history. Her family too benefits from her successful businesses because she can support the education of her two children. Stories like these are definitely the heart of Zidisha.
Where do you usually work with Zidisha (desk at home, cafe, park etc)?
Everywhere- I am a very mobile person. That’s what makes Zidisha so unique, you can work from anywhere!
What do you like to do in your free time?
Right now I am a graduate student so my free time is limited, mostly dedicated to school work. I am a musician though. I love following African hip hop and I play a West African xylophone called the balafon.
What are your long-term career goals?
Right now I am pursuing a master’s degree in international development studies. Ultimately I want to end up working in nonprofit development abroad. Working with Zidisha helps advance these goals because it is giving me practical experience while I pursue my degree in development.