By Julia Kurnia, Director
Rodrigo joined Zidisha as an engineer over a year ago, and became Chief Technical Officer in January. It’s already hard to imagine Zidisha without him.
The role of CTO is central at Zidisha, because we are a technology organization. By automating tasks hitherto done manually, our technological infrastructure makes it possible to offer microloans at far lower cost to borrowers than traditional microlending institutions. And technology is what enables the direct connections between lenders and borrowers that make the Zidisha community one of a kind.
As CTO, Rodrigo has the incredibly important job of overseeing the technological infrastructure on which our platform depends: our website code, database, website server, Android app, data science and metric tracking platforms, and more. Zidisha members produce tens of thousands of communications and transactions each day. It’s thanks to Rodrigo that these connections take place accurately and seamlessly.
Rodrigo is not only a talented engineer and skilled communicator, but also shares our community’s passion for social justice and bringing people together to improve lives. I am inspired daily by his dedication to excellence in the service of a higher purpose.
I finally managed to catch up with the busy Rodrigo this month, and he generously took some time off from his many responsibilities to participate in this interview.
How did you hear about Zidisha?
Late one night, I was reading Hacker News while also looking for some interesting project to collaborate with. That’s when I saw Zidisha’s ad and it struck a chord for me: it was a microcredit project, they were helping real people with real problems and I had previously worked for another NGO around the same area!!! Besides, they were looking for a developer to help them improve their platform and that was exactly what I had been doing for the last ten years for different startups around the world!!!
So, I spent some time making sure Zidisha was a real NGO and the more I read about it, the more enthusiastic I felt. So, I sent my resume as fast as I could and prayed someone would notice it. And indeed, Julia wrote me back some time later and I was given the opportunity to start collaborating with Zidisha.
Why do you choose to spend time working with Zidisha?
I’ve been involved in social work one way or another since I was in high school. By the time I got out of university, my career looked to me more and more unrelated to my social vocation: a software developer working for social justice was not a very common thing indeed, but that was what I wanted to do!!! Probably out of this disconnection, once I got my degree, I started to look for an opportunity like this. Part of me thought it was not really going to happen ever, but even though it took some time, here I am!!! So, Zidisha’s opportunity to combine my profession and my social vocation feels like the fulfillment of a longstanding wish to me.
What does your work with Zidisha involve?
Currently, I am Zidisha’s CTO and I am responsible for our software platform and the decisions related to its maintenance and evolution. I am actively involved in both creating new features and improving the ones we already have. Lots of coding and research, both of which I love. 🙂
Do you have a favorite Zidisha entrepreneur story?
Yes. It is called “The stuff heroes are made of” and it’s about Sammy Kanja, a founding member of Zidisha’s community in Kenya. He is a volunteer mentor that in October 2013 lost contact with one of the members he had helped, Mr. Francis Kiiru. After several unsuccessful attempts to call, Mr. Kanja went to visit Mr. Kiiru’s home and discovered that Mr. Kiiru had been injured during the Westgate Mall shootings in Nairobi and had been hospitalized. His condition was serious and he had no money to pay for his medical bills.
At this point Mr. Kanja could have gone home quietly, telling himself that there was nothing he could do to help. Instead, he traded his business assets, the source of his family’s livelihood and hope for a better financial future, to procure life-saving medical care for Mr Kiiru!!!
Ultimately, Mr. Kanja’s story was known and lenders touched by it raised enough to cover the cost of a new high-yielding dairy cow for Mr. Kanja’s family. Mr. Kanja tells us that the new cow is extraordinarily productive, yielding as much as 20 liters of milk per day. He keeps two liters for his family and sells the rest each day, generating a comfortable flow of cash for school fees and other family expenses.
When I read this story, I was humbled by this man’s and his family’s generosity!!! Stories like that bring back to me a song’s verse in Spanish that goes something like “¿Quién dice que todo está perdido? Yo vengo a ofrecer mi corazón” (“Who says that all hope is lost? Here I am, offering my heart”).
What do you like to do in your free time?
Traveling with my family, reading, programming, social work, watching movies and practicing Yoga. 🙂
Rodrigo, thank you so much for sharing this interview, and for giving so generously of your time, energy and talents.