The Fruits of His Labor

7c2664249ecb99ae09ca3966ff83dd93By Rebecca Wolfe

As a child growing up in the Kenyan farming region of Meru, Godfrey Mugo realized something: farmers had produce, but no market.

As an adult, Godfrey decided to change that.

Leaving Maru as a young man, Godfrey moved to Nairobi to look for work. Though he took every odd job he could find, he struggled to make ends meet, barely covering the cost of his food and his share of the rent for the single room he and several others called home. After a few years in the capitol, Godfrey returned to the land of his childhood and managed to find a job as an accounting clerk nearby. He was paid relatively well for his time, and so managed to save up a few thousand KSE (around $30).

During this time, Godfrey married his wife of eleven years, an early childhood teacher name Carol, and he and his wife welcomed into the world their daughter, Anselim, now ten years old. Godfrey was making enough to scrape by as a clerk, but wanted the best for his wife and daughter. Working everyday with the farmers in the community, Godfrey “saw the need to venture a market for their produce,” and so “decided to start a banana business.” Having learned the ropes of retail at some of his previous odd jobs, Godfrey took it upon himself to create a path to retail for the farmers of Meru. He went farm to farm, field to field, purchasing boxes of bananas until he had enough to take to market in Nairobi. “I sold for a week… managed a small profit… then made it back… and bought more produce.”

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Godfrey managed his business well but, due to a lack of initial financing and business infrastructure, struggled to keep it going. After a while, he was forced to put his entrepreneurial dreams on hold. Prioritizing the wellbeing of his family, Godfrey worked construction jobs to put food on the table, hoping all along to save enough to reopen his fruit business and generate market access for local farmers.

In July of 2015 this hope came to fruition. Godfrey heard about Zidisha, and quickly applied for an initial loan of $100. With funds in his pocket, Godfrey returned to the fields, and from the fields went to market. A few months later, in August of 2015, Godfrey posted to his discussion page. “I am grateful to Zidisha. Having received funding, I was able to increase my stock. Now I can hire a pickup to collect my produce and take them to market.” No longer did Godfrey have to walk from farm to farm, nor load, unload, and reload fruit as he had done before. With a hired pickup, he could create a supply chain that was directly farm-to-market.

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As the months went on, Godfrey’s business took off. In November of 2015 he shared on his discussion page that not only was his business up and running smoothly, but he had been able to hire two local people to assist him with deliveries, as well as field hands to help select and harvest fruit. A month later Godfrey noted that he was now able to package his fruit, adding value to the product at market. In December he received his second loan, this for $193. The first loan, he noted, had “transformed [him],” and he had been able to repay it with ease. His second loan, he hoped, would allow him to boost his inventory, settle his accounts, and promote his goods, which is precisely what it did. “I take the Zidisha group as a dream changer,” Godfrey said in February. “You have transformed my life. This has helped me to help farmers increase their produce and the quality of their produce. Through the funding, we now have gone far.”

In June of 2016, Godfrey applied for this third loan. He was in the process of putting up a permanent storefront for his produce sales and sought aid for completing the project, “painting, fixing… shelves, buying metal.” In his new store, Godfrey said, he hoped to have new stock and hire an attendant. When the $390 loan came through, reality exceeded dreams. “I opened a new outlet,” he posted, joyfully, in July. “I also introduced new products… improved my packaging, and renovated my work premises.” As this business success continues, the growing profits have enabled Godfrey to build a permanent, sturdy home for his family, replacing their former makeshift residence.

As the business stands today, Godfrey has two full-time employees and an ever-expanding impact in his community. His shop attendant, Morris, has been able to purchase a motorcycle with his earnings and is currently building a house for his family. David, Godfrey’s sourcing employee, is able to provide for his wife and three children, as well as pay all three’s tuition fees. “I have great farmers,” Godfrey says, and they all get along well, “so supportive.” As Godfrey purchases produce from these farmers, they have been able to employ more staff as pickers and packers, as well as afford fertilizer and new agricultural technology.

The entrepreneurial journey is never an easy one, but it is most certainly worthwhile. For Godfrey, entrepreneurship has been the path toward sustainability and success for both himself and his community. “Zidisha loans have really helped me shape my life. Through their funding I have created employment, improved my lifestyle, and that of my employees. And I have also have found a market for farmers’ produce. Since his business has become sustainable, Godfrey has set his sights on even loftier goals. “I am coming up with a strategy to make supply to schools, supermarkets, hotels, and institutions… to touch as many people as possible by providing good, quality…  fruits of all kinds.”

If you would like to help another entrepreneur transform their local community, head on over to our loans page and put your funds towards a brighter future.

Eggs and Education

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By Rebecca Wolfe

Benard Onyango is a farmer, accounting assistant, and, above all, a caring and supportive guardian for four boys, all of whom came into his life about six years ago. Benard’s wife at the time had a sibling who died and left behind two sons. At Benard’s insistence, he and his wife brought the oldest of the two, Samuel, into their home. Samuel’s younger brother, Godfrey, proved difficult to track down. He had dropped out of school and joined a group of street children in Eldoret. Samuel, Benard says, was “really devastated but… could do nothing.” Not long after Samuel came to live with them, Benard lost his own older brother and sister-in-law in a motor accident. This couple also left behind two boys – Paul, age eight, and Silmax, age seven. After the burial the two boys, having nowhere else to go, joined their cousin Samuel in their uncle’s house. “With 3 boys now,” Benard says, “life had to change completely.” Benard’s wife did not wish to stay with the family and moved away. All of a sudden, Benard was tasked with raising and providing for three growing young men. Soon enough, that three turned into four. After his wife left, Benard  went in search of Godfrey, finding him on the streets of Eldoret. Convincing him to come back home with him, Benard reunited Samuel with his younger brother, and introduced him to the cousins who had, in effect, become his siblings. This trip to Eldoret, Benard says, “was one of the trying moments,” but he “had faith that [Godfrey] was an innocent boy who was pushed to the wall.” All four of his boys, Benard says, “are very bright and willing to fulfill their dreams in life.”

Benard himself “grew up in a very challenging situation” under his stepmother’s care, with his parents having divorced when he was three. He is familiar with the struggles of a painful childhood. Benard cites this as one of the primary reasons he has been so eager to take in his nephews. “I really understand what they go through,” he says. For six years now Benard has been caring for his boys, and in March of 2016 this care brought Benard to Zidisha. “I was stuck with Samuel’s final exams fees,” he says, “and went to request my long term friend to bail me out. He then told me about Zidisha.” This friend was a new member with Zidisha and, after their talk, sent Benard an invitation to the platform. Within a week of applying, Benard received his first loan. The $150 provided by Zidisha lenders allowed Benard to pay for Samuel’s final exam fees which, in turn, allowed him to graduate. Samuel walked across the stage, receiving his diploma and First Class Honours from Muranga University. With his degree in accounting, he can pursue employment in the financial sector. In Kenya, an accountant makes around $5500 USD per year – more than four times the national average of around $1250 USD. Thanks to the determination of a loving guardian, and the help of Zidisha lenders, Samuel can look forward to a life of greater prosperity. In the future, he hopes to enroll in a CPA course, furthering his ability to provide for his brother and cousins, as well as any children he might have himself one day.

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Benard repaid this loan out of his wages. Since 2008, just a few years before the boys came into his life, Benard has been working for the Institute for Security Studies. Having begun his tenure as a driver, he is now assisting in accounting and administration, as well as operating as the “authorized agent in the Institute Accounts.” Recently, however, the organization has “been experiencing funding difficulties,” forcing them to lay off twenty-five staff members. Benard was among the few who remained on payroll. The office is now running with a skeleton staff, and will likely be closing down in December. “We are still holding on to faith that… the institute will get funding to continue with their activities,” Benard says, but the very real possibility of his job disappearing, and school fees for Godfrey, Paul, and Silmax on the horizon, has led him to pursue entrepreneurship. With a crowded job market, Benard decided that he would create his own source of income, starting up a small poultry farm in the village where he grew up. “It’s still in its early stages,” he says, “but I have high hopes it will grow rapidly with the help of Zidisha.”

Around the same time as Samuel’s graduation in June, Benard applied for his second Zidisha loan. He had already purchased chickens and wire mesh, but required financial assistance to fund a fencing project. With unenclosed land, Benard’s chickens were vulnerable to theft, disease, and simply getting lost. Benard’s loan was quickly funded, and he immediately took to constructing the fence, keeping his chickens from harm and allowing him to better support his boys. This poultry business alone, Benard says, will pay for Godfrey’s school fees.

It was not very long ago that Godfrey, the second eldest of Benard’s boys, had joined a group of street boys in Eldoret after dropping out of school. “He had already given up in life,” Benard said, “because he had nowhere to turn to.” Benard gave him a place to turn, and this year, “to prove the world wrong,” Godfrey was his school’s top student on the KCPE exams. The next step for Godfrey is high school, but with further education comes further financial strain. Benard put out a large number of scholarship applications, but came up empty handed as the school year approached. In the end, he was forced to use a small part of his second loan to directly finance Godfrey’s enrollment. This, however, is really what the money was intended for all along – an education and a chance at a more prosperous future, a chance that Benard is doing everything to provide for his boys.

In early September Benard posted photos to his discussion page, sharing the progress of his farm. Fencing was up, and chickens were roaming. With three more boys to put through school, Benard hopes that his chickens continue to thrive. He is making plans to expand his farm to include dairy cows, as well considering starting a taxi business. Such endeavors require significant effort but Benard says he believes “that a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step, and that is the step I have already taken.” With Zidisha lenders walking Benard’s road with him, the path ahead looks a bit smoother, the climb a bit less steep. There are many steps to come on this journey that has already begun, and together, with Benard, his boys, and the Zidisha community, these steps will lead to great places.

If you would like to journey with a member of your global community, head on over to our loans page and help fund an entrepreneur’s dreams.

 

Seeing the Light

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by Rebecca Wolfe

The soft fibers of the wick flicker, crumble, and flame, feeding off the kerosene that seeps into its weave. A fuzzy hum something like the noise of far off crickets fills the cinderblock home. A dim, orange light casts long shadows along the empty floor. A student takes his papers over to the small table and sits, squinting as he scratches out the solutions to the problem sets he was assigned. He coughs, blinks, and coughs again.

“Growing up in the village… raised by my great grandmother, kerosene lamps were the only affordable source of lighting.” These are the words of Francis Mbewe, a shop owner, clean energy advocate, and Zidisha borrower. Using kerosene lamps to study for his grade seven and grade nine exams, Francis wound up with a cough that forced him to miss school for two weeks. While Francis did face hardship throughout his education, he made it all the way through to university, where he began his journey as an entrepreneur. Struggling to find the funds to purchase his textbooks, he got creative. By taking on several part-time and weekend jobs Francis was able to gather enough capital to purchase a set of refurbished phones, which he resold to fellow students for a small profit. It was a successful venture. Francis was not only able to buy his textbooks but also to expand his business, developing the small sales production into the shop he owns and operates today. Francis’ business, Royal Towers Zambia offers a plethora of technologically oriented services, from music downloads to phone charging, software installation to printing. Francis says that he chose to enter into this technology based business because “there was no one providing these services under one roof.” He knew that he could bring it all together in one place, creating a one-stop-technology-shop for his community.

While Francis’ business was doing fairly well, he did not have the capital that he needed to expand his services and create more opportunities for his family – his “lovely and caring” wife of four years, Thelma, their three-year-old daughter Nadalisika, and their second child who is on the way. Francis was looking for opportunities to increase his capital, and that is how he came to find Zidisha. “I did not take it very seriously the first time because it was too good to be true,” he says, speaking of his first encounter with peer-to-peer lending via a Facebook post about a year ago. A while later, however, Francis was visiting a friend who told him about Zidisha and how it could be a good fit for his business. So, Francis decided to give it a shot.

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Francis received his first Zidisha loan in March of 2016. His application, for a sum of $200, requested funding to purchase a toner printer, which would make large printing orders less expensive and more reliable. Zidisha lenders made this switch to a toner printer possible, increasing the shop’s printing profits by 60% in the first two months. In an update to his lenders Francis said that the increase in income helped him to better the nutrition of himself and his family, as well as pay his daughter’s school fees. It also enabled him to repay his loan and lay the groundwork for expanding his business into a new venture: providing solar lamps for those not connected to electricity.

This venture is Francis’ work of passion. Having spent many nights doing school work by the dim flame of a harmful kerosene lamp, he knew that wanted to help his community become free from the toxic light source. “Looking back,” he says, “I feel bad when I see any household in my village still using kerosene to light their homes or even to study. That’s why I launched my social business to distribute solar lamps to every household in my community. No student should be allowed to go through the challenges I went through! All students should have a chance to own a solar lamp and study for as many hours as they want.”

Following after this passion, Francis posted his second loan application in June of 2016. This loan, for a sum of $321, was to serve as the start-up capital for his goal of providing solar lamps to his entire community. “Energy poverty is pervasive in rural and slum communities of Chipata,” Francis said in his discussion page. “Over 70% of the population is not connected to electricity and still uses traditional sources of energy. Many rely on kerosene lamps for lighting. Each kerosene lamp releases a ton of carbon dioxide smoke every year, contributing to global warming and creating risks of burns, pneumonia, bronchitis, and lung cancer. The [kerosene] lamps are too dim for good reading and kerosene purchases eat up family income.” The average household, he said, spent $85 per year on kerosene for light and cooking. His business, Royal Towers Zambia, he said, was working toward a new goal of “distributing solar lamps to students and families so that we replace kerosene use with clean solar lamps that are affordable and lights 10x more than a kerosene lamp.” With solar lamps costing just $15, and coming with a one-year warranty, the replacement of kerosene with this product has the possibility of saving a family up to $70, “which they can use to improve their nutrition intake or invest in their children’s education.” One of Francis’ lenders praised his effort and Francis replied with thanks. “It’s a Social Business,” he said. “Helping people while making money to support my family.”

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With his second loan fully funded Francis was able to purchase 30 solar lamps, which he distributed to students and families, “the most vulnerable people and communities who constantly continue using unreliable sources of energy for lighting and cooking.” Adding solar lamps to his business also increased Francis’ income by 60%, allowing him to raise his family’s standard of living as well as contribute to the greater health of his community. “Thank you so so very much for this great opportunity I have been given to grow my business from all of you my lenders.”

In mid-July Francis posted to his discussion page. “To all my lenders, I want you to meet Rachel Zulu, our very first client of the solar lamps we are selling.” Rachel, a young mother in Francis’ community, lives in a home without electricity. Her typical light sources were candles and kerosene, which were expensive and unreliable, affecting her daughters’ ability to study at home as well as her family’s health. Rachel’s purchase of a solar lamp, Francis said, would save her $310 over the course of 5 years. Another ten days after that, Francis introduced James Mwanza, another solar lamp client. A husband and father of 3, he and his family lived in a community without electricity and used kerosene as their main source of light. “Every year,” Francis said, “James spends $200 to light his house so that the children can study and also to light his small shop that brings income for the family.” The purchase of a solar lamp, Francis said, would save James’ family “over $1,000 in the next 5 years!” James had said that his children had “problems with the smoke that used to come from the kerosene lamps and their health was at risk.” With a solar lamp, this was no longer a risk. “James has no access to the internet,” Francis said, “And can’t access the loans here on Zidisha, but indirectly you are helping James save more and live a life that is worth living!”

In September, Francis shared the story of Doreen Bwalya, a “good friend and neighbor” to Rachel, his first solar customer. A mother of five, Doreen and her family live in an area of Chipata where “89% of the population still lives on less than $1.5 a day.” At night, Doreen had been lighting her home with candles. To ensure that the candles would last as long as possible, she and her family only lit them for a few minutes in order to prepare for bed. “This broke my heart,” Francis said, “because when I go home every day, I have electricity… it’s a privilege that sometimes I have taken for granted in the past.” Doreen saw a bright light coming from her neighbor Rachel’s house and went to ask her what it was. Rachel told her about the solar lamp, and the next day when Francis arrived to open his shop, Doreen was waiting there for him. After crunching the numbers, Doreen bought a lamp, delighted at the impact it would make for her children’s studies and her family’s ability to light their home.

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Francis is passionate about his business and the impact that it is making for people in his community. Excited by the possibilities of solar technology, he is working toward a clean energy future for his friends and neighbors. With the increase in profits from Royal Towers Zambia, Francis has been able to begin construction on a home for his family, which should be finished by June of 2017. This building, he says, “will be powered 100% by solar energy… every single day am working on moving from grid electricity to clean energy lighting.”

An astute businessman and passionate community member, Francis is making his community a safer, healthier, and more productive place. “Thank you again all my lenders,” Francis says at the end of his updates. “Always know that not only are you improving my life and that of my family, but you also impacting lives of many families in my community!”

Francis’ business is still going strong. With three sales people and a security guard now in his employ, Francis is seeing his dream grow. The Royal Towers Zambia team has a goal for 2017—to distribute 1000 lamps to the people of Chipata. “With Zidisha and all the lenders supporting our cause,” Francis says, “the goal is achievable!”

To keep up with Francis’ and his journey, follow him here. If you would like to make a life-changing difference in another community, invest in an entrepreneur over on our loans page.

 

Weaving Promise

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by Rebecca Wolfe

Promise Badu loves his work and loves to share it. Operator of Dogbeda Vormawu Kente Training Center in the Volta region of Ghana, the twenty-seven-year-old has a passion for teaching others.

“The aspect I do enjoy most about my work is telling people (tourists) the history of the art/fabric, and teaching it.” Giving a portion of his tour speech, Promise elaborated. “Kente weaving is an ancient indigenous method in which thread (any colour) is set on a loom and woven into strips that are later sewn together into larger tapestries. These cloths are used for ceremonial events in Ghana. It can also be used as wall hangings, table cloths and the like. This ancient art has gained international recognition and tourists come from around the world to see how it’s made.”

Promise has, in some ways, followed in the family footsteps. Raised in a single parent household, he lived with and learned from his father, a master kente weaver and founder of the kente center that Promise now operates. All throughout his formal education, Promise was also receiving instruction in kente weaving. “As a kid,” he says, “I use to stay with [my father] and watch him do it, and helped him after school and on vacations.” His father had little taste for academics and so struck a bargain with his son: he would pay for his school fees until he came of age if Promise worked with him in the kente center on school vacations. Even with assistance from his father, Promise sometimes found it difficult to gather the funds to pay for his fees and textbooks, and often went to school without money for lunch. Promise fought to finish his education, and succeeded, graduating from Agortime Senior High School.

Soon after graduation Promise was hired by the president of Trinity Yard School, a fee-free vocational-secondary school on the west coast of Ghana. Working as the school’s kente instructor four years, Promise “learnt from the kids (students) and also made friends with visiting groups and volunteers from the US and other parts of the globe.” While there, Promise trained a young man named James Awotwe Niffio. Promise described him as “a smart, hardworking guy,” who struggled in formal lessons, but thrived in kente class. A 2012 graduate of Trinity Yard School, James has recently stepped into Promise’s shoes as the school’s official kente instructor. Furthering his own kente education, James is also “undergoing an intensive internship training at the center.”

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Graduation at Trinity Yard School

In the course of his time at Trinity Yard School, Promise came to strongly identify with the school’s mission to “educate and empower the youth… to honor the potential of young Ghanaians.” This is a vision which Promise now applies to his own community in the east of Ghana. “My dream is to raise the less privileged in my community with the help of my business,” he says. “Creating a business avenue to help them get a vocation on their own.” Most of the young people in his community, he says, “have limited access to formal education due to high levels of penury.” This is a struggle which Promise understands. “I have also gone through the same plight,” he says with great empathy. “I know the zeal embedded in these youths, but due to limited resources, they can’t realize their potential.” Lack of opportunities and resources is a condition which Promise hopes to change. He wants to provide “jobs to the jobless, training and educating the youths.” He praises Trinity Yard School, and its founder Rory Jackson, as a “LIGHT in the lives of many.” His time there, he says, “has motivated me to replicate his ideas… turning the center into a light in my community as well, because kids here need same thing.”

Promise long held a dream to empower the youth of his community, but without access to capital, struggled to see how it might come to fruition. After finishing up his time at Trinity Yard School and passing the baton of kente instruction on to his former pupil James, Promise returned to his hometown and began to develop a plan for growing the family kente center to accommodate such an effort. In April of 2015, Promise applied for his first Zidisha loan, one of the first major steps in his new and ambitious project.

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Strips of Kente Cloth

This first loan, for the small sum of $46.75, allowed Promise to repair several broken looms. Faithfully and efficiently repaying this loan, Promise established financial credibility with lenders. With his second loan, $93.50 funded in June of 2015 by three Zidisha lenders, Promise purchased colorful skeins of yarn. These first two loans helped Promise put “stuff in place” in the kente shop, developing capital and resources, building toward Promise’s long term goal of youth empowerment. Six months after this second loan, having repaid his lenders and spent the summer and fall building infrastructure and laying groundwork for a youth engagement and occupational training program, Promise again applied to Zidisha. This loan, a credit of $262 disbursed in January 2016, covered the start-up cost of employing three young members of Promise’s Ghanaian community.

In the ten months since this second loan was received, Promise has fully repaid his lenders and his training program has grown considerably. An August 2016 loan of $348, the most recent sum to date, enabled the purchase of yarns, shuttles, bobbins, and other materials for weaving, as well as supplied the funds to hire two additional young employees. “These loans helped greatly in laying the foundation of the dream,” Promise says.

At this time, the Dogbeda Vormawu Kente Training Center employs nine people. Three work on a full-time basis, two are in training, and four operate on contract. “Work normally starts at 7 AM,” Promise says, describing a typical day at Dogbeda. “You have everyone busy in their various looms, except those training may be assigned to other things.” Weavers take breaks as needed throughout the day, closing up shop around 5 PM, though sometimes special projects will keep them there until 8.

As Promise’s business grows, so do his dreams. “I have been using the funds I get from the sales of these beautiful kente clothes as a source of income to enlarge, renew, and purchase more working materials for my center.” He is delighted at the success of the program, grateful for the opportunity to employ young people in his community. Ultimately, he wants to see the center expand to locations all across Africa. “I want to be a source of motivation and inspiration,” he says. “I always count myself fortunate to have gotten to this level of my business in which I can give a helping hand to few people in my community. My dream is to see more of them not only inspired and motivated but make available resources and jobs for them.”

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Promise’s Training Center

“I would like to say a big thank you to the Zidisha team, lenders, and to all that are making this program work effectively to help young entrepreneurs raise and expand their business,” he said on his loan profile. “I believe with the help of this platform and the support of the best lenders, together we can achieve the targeted goals, that is making a difference by providing jobs and positioning the youths for the future in my community.”

With a name like Promise it is likely that this young man knows better than most the potential for ingenuity, for bright and productive futures, that young Ghanaians hold. He himself is an example of this promise; promise coming to fruition. Thanks to Promise’s effort and dreams, and financial support from Zidisha lenders, more young people will have the opportunity to fulfill their promise and see their communities grow and thrive.

If you would like to assist another entrepreneur of promise, head over to our loans page and contribute to one of the loan applications posted there. Help a community thrive and a business grow.