The Global Computer College

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By Nikhil Srivastava, Kenya Ambassador Volunteer

Today I had the pleasure of meeting an inspiring entrepreneur who has used Zidisha to dramatically expand his business, who single-handedly supports his mother and brother, and who has ambitious plans to start another venture in the near future.

Would you believe that Francis Maweu is only 24 years old?

Francis owns an internet cafe called Global Computer College in South B, a district of Nairobi three kilometers south of downtown. Just a few blocks away from the Mukuru slums, the storefront sits on a busy thoroughfare lined with stores that serve local residents as well as students and staff of the nearby Railway Training Institute. Francis moved his store here in March 2014 after identifying this location as one in desperate need of computer services.

Global Computer College provides internet access on computers equipped with productivity software for word processing and accounting, meeting the needs of students and professionals in the area. In addition, the venue has a walk-in service center for photocopies, passport photos, and driving licenses.

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Francis is currently on his second Zidisha loan and has maintained a 100% repayment rate throughout. His loans have enabled him to dramatically expand his business over the last 3 months: he bought an additional 4 computers (he now has 10), started a program of computer training classes, and hired a new employee to teach classes and manage the store while he is away.  Francis himself works hard, keeping his store open as late as 10 PM.

Francis is especially enthusiastic about the computer classes, which not only provide supplemental income to his business but also enable him to help those in his community looking for employment.  While an unskilled laborer might earn just $30 – $50 per month, becoming proficient in computers and standard software can qualify the same person for an office job with a steady salary of $300 – $500 per month.  Not surprisingly, the demand for affordable IT courses is strong, and the number of computers is the limiting factor on how many students Francis is able to serve.

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New computers purchased with Zidisha loans have almost doubled the capacity of Francis’ computer training center.

Francis hails from a small village in eastern Kenya and is a member of the Kamba tribe, a group prevalent in the semi-arid regions immediately east of Nairobi. His father passed away when he was in 10th grade, leaving him to support his mother and brother who both still live in the village. Francis smiles as he thinks of them: his brother, 19, always wanting to follow in his footsteps; his mother, proud of his accomplishments but wishing he were closer to home. Francis tells me he is planning a trip back to the village this weekend in what seems to be a regular journey of financial and emotional support.

Francis’s decision to relocate and expand his cyber cafe appears to have paid off – the store was busy with patrons during my visit, and according to Francis its income is trending higher each month. Francis is confident about the store’s future. In fact, he is already planning ahead to his next venture – a photo and video production service – currently a part-time hobby that he wants to develop into a professional operation. It is clear Francis has a head for business; he recites from memory the expected expenses and revenues from video production, and he even gives me advice on how to make Zidisha more efficient!

Francis speaks highly of Zidisha. He likes the certainty and speed of loan disbursement, a process that can take up to 2 months when working with a bank. He also appreciates flexibility in his repayment schedule and cost substantially lower than other financing sources that range from 20-30% interest. More personally, he has a distaste for the regulations and headaches that bank creditors put him through – they don’t trust me, he asks, so why would I give them any business?

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Francis’ business registration certificate. He wrote, “I chose the name because the success and development of the college is not mine doing, rather by support I have got globally from Zidisha community, and that’s why I cannot fail to recognize you in my project.”

What does the future hold for Francis? He has already demonstrated a knack for entrepreneurship, and more compellingly the desire to help those in the communities around him. Francis is a Volunteer Mentor with over 50 borrowers, many of whom he signed up and trained in his very own internet cafe. While he is committed to his business in the near future, Francis speaks passionately about the shortcomings in the Nairobi political scene and sees himself joining it one day.

Francis, thank you for hosting me this afternoon and for teaching me about your business. I’m inspired by your story, and I wish you the very best in what will certainly be a bright future!

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Zidisha is hiring a remote engineer

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UPDATE: This position has now been filled.

We’re looking for a remote engineer to help us:

  • Build out our nonprofit P2P microlending platform using the latest PHP Laravel framework
  • Bring opportunity to some of the world’s poorest places by connecting them to a marketplace that’s independent of geography
  • Develop the world’s first direct P2P microlending community – a model that is revolutionizing the traditional microfinance paradigm

Our technology stack: PHP, Laravel Framework, Elasticsearch, Ansible, Vagrant, Composer, Git, Github, PHPUnitTest, Twitter Bootstrap, Rackspace Cloud, Nginx, jQuery, many third-party APIs (Facebook, Google, Stripe, Paypal, Telerivet, SendWithUs, SiftScience, Geoip2, Phpexcel, Supremenewmedia, guzzelhttp, laravel-phone).

What You’ll Do

As our sole engineering hire (for now), here are some things you might do:

  • Upgrade our Laravel 4 framework to Laravel 5
  • Continuously add and update unit tests, refactor the codebase and keep it up to date with current technologies
  • Help build lots of user experience improvements: smarter loan project search results, customizable email digests for lenders, loan balance queries via SMS for borrowers, etc.
  • Use Google Translation API to automatically translate non-English project profiles and comments
  • Build stats dashboard to help us more precisely predict loan capital supply and demand
  • Work with data scientists to integrate credit risk prediction algorithm updates (Python)
  • Review and deploy front-end pull requests
  • Interact with our borrowers and lenders via email for technical questions
  • Help with other activities as necessary in a startup

About Us

Zidisha is a Y Combinator nonprofit and first direct peer-to-peer lending service to bridge the international wealth divide, allowing individuals in the US and internationally to lend to and communicate with borrowers in developing countries without local intermediaries. We’ve been featured in numerous press and media for our groundbreaking work in using internet and mobile phone technologies to connect entrepreneurs in some of the world’s most isolated and impoverished places with the international peer-to-peer lending market.

Our mostly-volunteer team is distributed worldwide.  You’ll work with founder and front-end developer Julia Kurnia, and with our volunteers and interns via Skype, email and our team forum. Opportunities for greater responsibility / leadership will continue to open up as we grow.

About You

You’re not satisfied with a conventional job: you’re compelled to use your time and energy to make an important impact on the world.

You believe the international wealth divide is the major injustice of our time, and have dedicated your life to solving it.  You have a substantial track record of paid or volunteer work on some aspect of this issue.

You’re happy working remotely.  You prefer structuring your own work days and being alone to focus on a project.  You’ve figured out the work-life balance that’s right for you, and your social life is independent of the workplace.

You’re upbeat and consistently exude positive energy.  You think independently, take responsibility for the overall success of the organization, and have the maturity to speak your mind in a constructive way.  You communicate clearly in English.

You’re extraordinarily disciplined with time management.  You comfortably prioritize competing projects, making obvious, substantial progress on the most important goals each working day.  You pace yourself reasonably to avoid burnout.

You’re excited about pioneering something that’s never before been done.  You’re comfortable with ambiguity and lots of unknowns.  You understand that innovation requires constant experimentation and change.  You expect to modify and replace much of what you build as our lending model evolves.

If you aren’t an expert at our technology stack already, you can become one quickly.  You’re comfortable with being the only full-time engineer on the team and being in charge of the quality of our codebase.

You’re a fast, independent learner. You have a network of people and resources you can tap for advice.  You keep yourself up to date on the latest technology and security best practices, and take responsibility for applying them as appropriate.

About This Job

This opportunity is open to people of any nationality.  You can live and work from anywhere in the world with an internet connection.

This is a full-time responsibility with flexible hours.  You can work any time of the day or night.  Your productivity should speak for itself, rather than number of hours spent.

We have an open vacation policy: take whatever is reasonable and right for you (we recommend minimum two weeks per year).

We’re committed to fair compensation that is competitive with comparable nonprofit positions in your location.

Most likely, we’ll start with a trial period of one to three months.  If the fit is right for everyone, we’ll move to a long-term relationship.

How To Apply

Send an email with your resume to julia@zidisha.org.  Answer these questions:

  • Tell us about yourself.
  • How are you spending your time today?  Describe what you personally are building, either for a larger organization or your own project(s).
  • Describe any previous experience working with a team remotely.
  • Include a link to your GitHub page and a sample of code you’ve written.
  • Out of all the worthwhile things you could do with your time, why do you want to invest it in Zidisha?
  • If you had just five years left to live, how would you spend your time?

A Wonderful Life

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By Tracy Yoshiyama and Kerry Tiedeman, Kenya Ambassador Volunteers

Thousands of non-profit organizations make their way to developing countries and the many you do see are founded by foreigners, often times not shedding light on the good work being done by the people of that country. Without a doubt, they are there, strong-willed and determined to do what it takes to make a difference. One such individual is David Karanja, father, husband, pastor, founder and CEO of Tumaini Fund for Economic Development International, and now a member of Zidisha.

Pastor Karanja, or Dave as he likes to be called, has come a long way from the life he used to live. He grew up in western Kenya and during his younger years he made ends meet by conning people. Dave actually wound up in jail three times. He turned it all around though when he met his now wife in 2002. His is a story of redemption and transformation.

I met Dave at the church where he now works and also where he married his wife back in 2002. There he volunteers as the leader of a nonprofit organization he founded, called Tumaini.  Dave began Tumaini after working various jobs years after first moving to Nairobi.

When Dave married he was a house husband for some time, cleaning and washing. He then met a man who offered him a job to deliver gas for a promised 180KES per day, roughly 2 dollars per day. He worked for six months expecting to be paid, and in the end his boss only gave him a canister of gas. After this disappointment, he began working for a microfinance bank taking care of the customers. This appeared to be working out fine, until his boss at the company was taken away to jail for stealing the clients’ money. Dave felt he couldn’t catch a break.

At the time he was teaching Bible study at the church, when the accountant at the theological institution where his wife works approached him to begin a nonprofit, because he saw Dave’s ability to mobilize people. Thus Tumaini (Swahili for “hope”) began, with a group of five women and a revolving fund. David provided business training, counseling, and marketing opportunities to support their businesses. Since then, five hundred members, spanning across Kenya, have joined the Tumaini family, bringing David’s vision to life.

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Tumaini offers training along with savings and loan services, in which members compile their resources and then receive loans when they meet weekly.  Tumaini also focuses on assisting HIV-positive clients, with many of their loan recipients being such people. Dave says this has been especially great to see, as being trusted with a loan is such a strong sign to these clients that HIV/AIDS is not an immediate death sentence and contributes to reducing some of the stigma HIV-positive people face in Kenya.

Dave loves this volunteer work and he is there five days week.  In order to earn a living, he used Zidisha loan funds to purchase a car and hired a man to provide taxi services with the car. Thus it was thanks to the Zidisha lenders Dave was able to afford his source of income while volunteering the bulk of his time.

Dave’s only child, Paul, recently celebrated his ninth birthday.  He is studying hard in Standard 3 and wants to go to university one day and become a pilot.  Dave would like to use future Zidisha loans to purchase another taxi car to further help him support his work with Tumaini and generate additional savings for Paul’s high school and university education.

Besides his work at Tumaini, Dave is a volunteer preacher at a nearby slum, where he often offers the local kids and community free meals and assistance.  He also has a permit to preach in Kenyan prisons and makes prison visits in various parts of the country several times per year.  Meeting Dave and spending some time with him, it is obvious he is very generous. This is a man who has turned his life around and made himself indispensable and loved by those around him.

To learn more about Tumaini, visit http://www.tumainifund.org/.

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Zidisha selected as finalist at Women Who Tech!

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By Julia Kurnia, Director

We’re incredibly honored to have been chosen as a finalist in the Women Startup Challenge, a prestigious crowdfunding competition featuring some of the most innovative women-led ventures.

This wouldn’t have happened without the generosity of our lenders, dozens of whom took the time to donate to our crowdfunding campaign.  Thanks to them, we raised $6,192 in new loan funds – enough to put us in the top 25 of the crowdfunding competition!

Of those top 25 fundraisers, a panel of judges, comprising investors and technology experts, chose Zidisha along with eleven other finalists to compete for the grand prize of $50,000.  The winner will be decided at a pitch competition on June 30.

This recognition is the achievement of everyone whose lending, borrowing, service, and support has carried us to this milestone.  Thanks to each of you for being a part of it – and congratulations!

A Labor of Love

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By Taylor Hanna, Ghana Ambassador Volunteer

I met Love Tosu recently at her home near Tema, a coastal city just east of Accra. She heard about Zidisha from her brother Benjamin last year and has been using loans to scale up her work with beaded jewelry.

Love’s designs incorporate a variety of influences – putting a modern and cosmopolitan twist on traditional African designs. She sources her beads and materials from as far as Nigeria, the Czech Republic, and China, but makes sure to feature traditional Ghanaian beads (like the ones on the bracelets, pictured) in every piece.

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She says her customers want to wear jewelry that feels modern and at home in the city but that recalls their heritage and, to stay ahead of trends, she gets inspiration online. Her most recent work involves twisting wire from China around African beads in intricate patterns (see images of necklaces).

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Love has overcome significant challenges since her husband passed away nine years ago. Suddenly she needed to find a way to support three children as a single mother. So although she had a degree in fashion and worked as a seamstress, she branched out to incorporate and then focus on beadwork.

Now the whole, artistically talented family gets involved. Her older children, 23 and 20, have started beadwork themselves. And her youngest daughter, 11-year-old Jasmine, often draws designs that they then create. (You can see some of her other drawings below.)

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Zidisha has afforded Love the opportunity to purchase stocks of materials for her designs. Most of her work is made to order and often purchased on credit, with customers paying at the end of the month when they receive their salary. Before joining Zidisha, Love was often forced to stop producing jewelry while she was waiting for payments from her customers to accumulate enough capital to buy new beads and other materials.  Now, having the ability to buy extra materials in advance has allowed Love to stay consistently busy, multiplying her production and revenue as she is putting her youngest child through school.

I know Love is incredibly thankful for the support she has received from her lenders and looks forward to growing her business further. I recently returned to Tema and was excited to get to visit Love again and purchase some jewelry for myself and family. I also have to credit “Mama Love’s” house as the first place I tried sobolo – a sweet and refreshing drink made with bissap leaves, water, and ginger.

Anyway, Love, thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me! It was a pleasure to meet you and Jasmine.

Terrian Academy

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By Traci Yoshiyama and Kerry Tiedeman, Kenya Ambassador Volunteers

The laughter of children is the first sound I hear as I enter the grounds of Terrian Academy. A smile is brought to my face as I see a group of forty students singing songs and playing games with their teacher on the open field in front of their classroom. The walls of each class are decorated with brightly colored homemade posters and pictures, while the desks are filled with children deep in concentration as their teacher passionately provides instruction. After months of renovation, Terrian Academy is now in session!

Skeptics of microfinance claim there is no evidence of poverty alleviation beyond that of anecdotal, and although individual lives may benefit, alleviation on a larger scale is left to be proven. Founder, principal, and teacher of Terrian Academy, Theresia Kabiti, provides a sound counter-argument, for through Zidisha loans, she has been able to provide educational opportunities to an entire community. The long-term effects of such access are endless, as education is one of the most powerful tools for economic growth. Offering lower costs and comparable education to that of private schools in Kenya, Theresia provides a learning environment for those with otherwise little means.

I visited Theresia over a month ago as her school was still being constructed. Due to heavy rains in Githunguri, the classrooms of Terrian Academy flooded and students were moved to a nearby, vacated building. With Theresia’s Zidisha loan, she was able to renovate the school to avoid future flooding.

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I was very excited to see her school. It can be especially fun, because being a visiting foreigner, the kids are usually very excited to see you and have a story to tell, since it’s not every day they see a “Mzungu.” This day did not disappoint. I met Theresia and I introduced myself to each classroom. There were many giggles from the 205 students ranging from ages of 3 to 12.

Theresia has been a teacher since 1998 after moving to Nairobi from Kisumu County in western Kenya. She worked at a private school for a couple years and then received her ECDE (Early Child Development Education) while working at the same time. Then in 2011 she continued her education and received her college diploma.

Theresia founded Terrian Academy in 2001 with savings from her private teaching job. She saw the need for a school in the community she lived that was more affordable for the local families, many of whom did not send their children to school at all because they could not afford the fees. Her school is private, but the fees are 800KES/month, which is a little less than $10 – versus the going rate of about 2000KES/month ($25) for other schools in the area. Public schools in Kenya are few and far between so Theresia has provided a great option for the members of her community.

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She began the school with one employee and five children. One of the five students has done so well that she was awarded a scholarship for a prestigious national school from Equity Bank, a company which will sponsor her all the way through University. Theresia feels extremely proud of her former student and has been slowly adding grades since those five preschoolers. This is in large part due to the help of Zidisha lenders. She has used her loans to increase the number of classrooms and accomodate more children and now employs 10 teachers. She hopes with furthur loans she will be able to build a second story and add more classrooms. The school is growing with the kids.

Theresia has taken a piece of land and created a community. It is easy to see how she is capable of doing this. She is warm and caring. We visited her house which is next door to the school. She offered me one of her chickens (I said I had nowhere to keep it), and while I was there some of the school children came over and she gave them cups for water. I left during recess, and all the children were outside playing on the giant field next to the classrooms. They looked very happy.

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