Needle and Thread

atik

by Rebecca Wolfe, Entrepreneur Story Writing Intern

The whirr of a sewing machine fills the little room, the gentle noise softening the edges of the day. Aat Atikah sits at her table, using both hands to guide a strip of fabric beneath the needle as it bobs. She settles into the familiar, soothing rhythm of sewing. She blinks, her eyes keeping up with flash of thread through a pattern of flowers. This is going to be a beautiful dress.

Aat Atikah, called Atik by her friends, family, and lenders, is a wife, mother, and designer in Bogor, Indonesia. Age 38, Atik has three children. The oldest, a son, is 21 years old and lives elsewhere in their island nation. The two younger daughters, ages 15 and 1, live at home with their mother and father. Since the birth of her first child, Atik has been a stay-at-home mother, leaving her eight-year job as a tailor in a garment factory upon confirmation of her pregnancy.

As a young woman, Atik says, “I had a lot of dreams that I wanted to achieve.” She had big plans to build a clothing empire. “I wanted to be a woman entrepreneur who has a large industrial garment factory,” she said. She wanted to “Provide jobs for the needy… Help my beloved family’s economic welfare.” When Atik became a mother, however, she put that dream on hold.

Spending her days in the role of what Atik terms a “normal housewife,” Atik has provided for the needs of her family physically, emotionally, and mentally. As her children grew older, Atik began to have some free time. With her entrepreneurial spirit firmly intact, she took up sewing for neighbors and relatives. As word of her excellent tailoring work spread, Atik began to receive requests from people she did not even know. Atik had, inadvertently, launched a small tailoring service. This business grew, and allowed her to provide a supplemental income to increase her family’s economic welfare.

Presently, Atik is able to accept and fill one order a day. She alters pants, makes shirts, and designs dresses. You name it, she sews it. With customers paying an average of $2 to $10, depending on the complexity of the order, Atik brings in $14 to $70 per week. As her husband is the family’s primary breadwinner, Atik is able to contribute to the family’s funds while also putting some money away for future investments. Currently, Atik says, “I have only one dream. I just want to be happy with my lovely family.” Familial happiness and entrepreneurship need not be mutually exclusive, though, and this is something she well knows.

With her skills and expertise lying in the realm of fashion, Atik is well prepared for a venture into clothing and textiles. The dreams of her youth are coming back to life, coming off hold. “I really want to have a bigger, industrial clothing production and employ many employees,” she said in her January 2016 application for a $50 loan. “But I know it cannot be achieved easily, cannot be instant. There must be a process that I go through to achieve success. Therefore, at this time, I would like to start from zero.” Her zero is what she calls her “little tailor shop,” the table in her home where she slides her seams beneath the whirring needle of the sewing machine. With her first loan, Atik purchased a stock of fabric, and that fabric turned into profit.

atik-2

Atik is working, “slowly but surely,” toward her long term goal of a clothing empire. Six months after her first loan, she returned to Zidisha. “I am very happy I know this site and all of you,” she said. “This program has much helped my business grow up.” With her second loan, a larger sum of $200, Atik plans to buy a new sewing machine. “Yipiiee hehe,” she exclaimed in a discussion post. “I will buy a machine to make my production better. Hope all lenders… know and trust me and can help me again.”

As Atik has said, there is much hard work ahead of her. With help, however, from Zidisha lenders, she has come several steps closer to reaching her goals. Hard work and determination can take a person far, and with a little help from friends around the world, anything is possible.

If you would like to make something possible for an entrepreneur, head over to our loans page and contribute to the project of another self-starter like Atik.

 

 

Education building through poverty mitigation

Despite having had an education halted at eighth grade, Annah Njeri grew up with the sole belief that education correlates to responsibility and empowerment. She initially started her stationary business for the purpose of having her children’s needs met and to accumulate money for herself and her family. She has pursued a strategic business model since 1997 and has achieved considerable successes in her ventures. Below is a recent update from our Client Relationship Manager in Kenya:
Hello, my name is Traci Yoshiyama, Zidisha’s Kenya Client Relationship Manager. I am currently visiting Zidisha borrowers in and around Nairobi.
An assortment of bright colors sweep the main street of Ongata Rongai, as stalls displaying neatly piled fruits and vegetables overtake the Soko Mjinga market. Mjinga, meaning fool in English, began with only ten stalls and constant ridicule and doubt from the community. But as profits were made, ten quickly grew to hundreds, and although the name stuck, many prosperous entrepreneurs can be found here. As I walk through the narrow pathways, ripe tomatoes, juicy watermelons, pungent onions, produce galore overwhelm the senses. But if you look close enough, you’ll notice something out of the ordinary; a table enveloped in school supplies and random knick-knacks. Welcome to Annah Njeri’s shop.
Five years ago, Annah decided to start her own business, a business that promoted education. Having two children herself, she understood the importance of having educational tools readily available to all. Although pens and notebooks are the most frequent sellers, Annah is not short on textbooks, newly wrapped in plastic and in pristine condition. Calculators, rulers, even nail clippers, combs, and mirrors can also be found at her shop. Cleverly placed amongst the produce section, Annah has little competition and can reap the benefits of the heavy foot traffic brought on by the fruits and vegetables.
I met Annah before she joined Zidisha, glad to visit her again, this time a borrower and having recently received a loan. The elation on Annah’s face is obvious, as the loan came at the exact moment she needed it. School just starting this week, parents carrying handwritten school supply lists shop for their children. Throughout my visit, I often waited happily on the side as Annah assisted her many customers. Immediately upon my arrival, she showed me two big boxes, all filled with textbooks, just purchased with her Zidisha loan. Eager to pay back early, Annah wants to take out a second loan, hoping to expand her shop beyond Soko Mjinga market. Also worth mentioning is Annah’s dedication to Zidisha, as she is now learning how to use a computer (many thanks to Zidisha borrower, Josephine Nyang’au), which will allow her to deal with Zidisha matters on her own.
Hard workers are an easy find in Kenya, Annah proudly being amongst the thousands. Due to the high interest in Zidisha at Soko Mjinga market, I know I will be seeing Annah again. Annah, it was a pleasure to visit and thank you for welcoming me back. I am so happy that the Zidisha loan has helped!

Building up for a better future

Supporting a wife and three children is not an easy matter when one’s occupation consists of being a small-scale farmer. But RichardMwathi was one step ahead and had decided to diversify his business by starting a barbershop in 2005. This move was made in order to help give his family a better life. Below is a recent update from our Kenya Client Relationship Manager on his whereabouts and the occupations he has been involved in:

Hello, my name is Traci Yoshiyama, Zidisha’s Kenya Client Relationship Manager. I am currently visiting Zidisha borrowers in and around Nairobi.
Knowledge is power. As the leading mantra here in Kenya, it comes as no surprise that the enrollment rate for primary education stands above eighty percent; literacy among youths a whooping ninety-three percent! Parents making meager wages will sacrifice almost anything to ensure their children have an education that they themselves did not get. As my visits to Zidisha borrowers grow, a trend in loan impact reveals itself, for although microfinance was initiated to provide services to uplift small businesses, many see it as a way to empower their children through education.

Richard Mwathi, former owner of a kinyozi (barbershop) in Lanet, Nakuru is the proud father of three teenage boys. With one in Form 4, another in Standard 8, and the eldest enrolled in Egerton University studying natural environment, paying for school fees is no easy feat. Richard’s Zidisha loan was used to pay for tuition, and although he intended to pay back his loan with the revenue acquired through his kinyozi, sales dropped and he decided to close his business.

Seeing better opportunities in Nairobi, Richard is currently living with his sister and nephew in Utawala, while his children continue to attend school in Nakuru. Hoping to accrue enough money to pay back his loan, Richard is working odd jobs at the many construction sites in Utawala. Construction work being on a need only basis and one of the only options for many without additional employment, Richard waits eagerly to be called upon. With elections so close at hand, many construction sites are also at a standstill, lying in wait to see what the new government will bring.
Richard’s struggles are apparent on his face, but his optimism for the future is also unyielding. Making repayments more manageable, Richard has decided to make small weekly installments starting in October. He will continue to stay in Nairobi until the end of the year, seeking opportunities in the growing town of Utawala. My visit with Richard ends on a light-hearted note while we take photos outside and I get a grand tour of a new house his sister is in the process of building. Thank you Richard and family for inviting me to your home, and I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

Business in Kenya: the basics

Greetings from Nairobi! While I’m officially here for research, what better opportunity to engage with Zidisha on the ground? East Africa is home to countless Zidisha entrepreneurs and a handful of client relationship staff that I’m eager to meet during my two-month stay.
To convey the climate in which small businesses are operating, I will attempt to convey some of my first impressions. From the capital city’s central business district to packed thoroughfares bordering the Mathare slum, streets teem with commercial activity. Massive foreign direct investment pours into Kenya via multinational firms like Goodyear, General Motors, Toyota, and Coca Cola. But homegrown industry abounds, too. Public busses buzz from stop to stop amid vendors and suit-clad commuters. Flashy smart phone displays adorn Kenyatta Avenue, often alongside high-end retailers and alluring eateries. Cell phone and Internet service centers are ubiquitous, feeding a keen taste for the latest digital gadgets and gizmos.
Now, let’s take a ride outside Nairobi—home to nine of ten Kenyans. Beyond the Great Rift Valley and sweeping central highlands lies a bona fide agrarian gem. In Western province, verdant swathes unfold around each bend, unveiling the backbone of Kenya’s key export industries: coffee, tea, and sugar. The East African nation also exports more roses than any other country on earth. Toward Tanzania, cornfields pepper the corridors linking one village to the next. Major routes spanning hundreds kilometers ensure punctual, unabated trans-national delivery of goods to the Indian Ocean and other regional trading partners.
Community after community brims with welders, carpenters, and shopkeepers. Spectacular craftsmanship is a guarantee at every turn. Bumping down a road tucked into the countryside, I noticed an elderly woman seated on a rock. Before we drove out of sight, a glimpse at her right hand confirmed another conspicuous mainstay of Kenyan society: cell phones. Without a paved road in sight, a portable banking device rested at her fingertips. M-PESA (the same technology that facilitates business transactions for hundreds of Zidisha clients) is Kenya’s mobile money transfer service. M-PESA represents a paradigm shift. It leverages recent advances in telecommunications to lubricate Kenya’s economic machine, so whether you’re in Bongo, Kakamega, Nairobi, or Nakuru, one of Kenya’s 23,000 unmistakable green M-PESA agent booths is never more than a stone’s throw away. Even the most basic phones allow users to transfer, receive, deposit, and withdraw cash from anywhere in the country.

Plus, successive years of robust economic growth point to a business climate increasingly conducive to job creation. Kenya’s unemployment rate has fallen 10% since over ten years. Last week, the nationally circulated Business Daily honed in on Kenya’s bid to reach middle-income status by 2016.
Cutting-edge digital infrastructure, coupled with promising macroeconomic data, bodes well for Zidisha entrepreneurs like Julius Mburu. It puts control over financial management into the hands of business owners unsatisfied with or unable to access the traditional banking sector. That’s how microcredit empowers. It expands that portion of the population equipped to seize the reins of their own pursuits and in turn, their future. It contributes to a mindset that restores dignity and breeds self-reliance. In the coming weeks, I will undertake to see for myself the human connection that flows through every Zidisha loan.
Until then, try focusing on those aspects of life in which your action makes a difference. To the extent we are able to pinpoint and expand upon these activities, the future looks bright for all of us. 

An education that paid off

Studying clothing production for four long years has surely led to fruitful results for young businesswoman, Oureye Faye, who started a sewing business after receiving her diploma. Personal and economic hardships such as her father passing away and her household ceiling breaking did not deter her willpower to thrive financially, especially in her efforts to support her four children and the families of her brothers and sisters. It is imperative that she gets back to her sewing space as soon as possible to generate income for her family. She is using her Zidisha loan to achieve this objective, along with investing in fabrics and expanding her workshop. One of our Client Relationship Interns, Sam Gant was able to interview the ambitious Mrs. Faye about her business plans, the details of which are provided below:
My name is Sam Gant and I’m currently one of the Client Relationship Managers active in Senegal. On Thursday June 14th I stopped by Mme Faye’s atelier in Parcelles 12, a small workshop attached to her family’s house with bookshelves full of brightly colored fabric and a very fat rabbit dozing under the footpedal of her sewing machine. Mme Faye is garrulous and savvy, and explained to me that she had divided her Zidisha loan into three parts so as not to use it all to quickly. Due to the fact that many clients buy BouBous on credit, she needs to have a significant stock of capital to buy fabric to make new clothes while waiting to be paid for completed products. She sells between four and six boubous per month for between 10,000 and 15,000 CFA depending on the complexity of the order and her relationship with the client. She is able to finish elaborate garments in a matter of days, a cabability born of experience (she explained that she has been making traditional clothes since the age of 15, 15 years of experience by now.)
Although she supports a large family and the profit margins of couture are thin, Mme Faye’s Zidisha loan allows her to dramatically expand her client base and receive income more regularly. I hope to post a few photos I took of her and her family over the next few days. If you comment she is also planning to put up a post sometime next week and I’m sure she would be happy to answer specific questions.

Grace and her Donkey

Grace Wanjiru

Meet Grace Wanjiru, one of our borrowers from Nairobi, Kenya. Grace is a mother of three children, and one grandchild. After the death of her husband, Grace was forced to leave her home by her in-laws. Because Grace still needed to pay for her youngest son’s education, she decided to start her own business! Grace ran a shop where she sold various household items and foodstuffs. Grace applied to Zidisha so she could purchase more items to sell in her shop, and increase her profit. However, because of high rent and low profit margins, Grace sold her business and started a new endeavor!

Our Client Relationship Manager met with Grace recently. Read about his meeting with Grace and her new business:

Grace with Joyce and her cart.

Dear lenders,

My name is Achintya Rai and I am Zidisha’a current Kenya Client Relationship Intern. On 10th March I paid a visit to Grace Wanjiru in Utawala area of Nairobi.

Grace took the loan from Zidisha to increase the stock of her shop. But the rent she was paying for her shop was quite high and the returns were not enough. So she sold that business and used the money to buy a donkey and a cart. She uses this to transport water to construction sites.

The day I visited Grace it was quite hot. She told me she transports about 20 drums of water in each trip and she is able to make 7 to 8 trips in a day. This is hard labor, especially in that temperature. But Grace seemed happy with her new business and was quite thankful to Zidisha.

Grace has three children, two of whom have finished their education. Her youngest son stays 
with his maternal grandmother in Naivasha where he is studying (Grace pays the school fee). He recently cleared the form-1 exams well and Grace was very hopeful about his future.

On my way to meet Grace, I saw a man at a bore-well (place where donkey cart owners like Grace buy water from) beating his donkey. My first impulse was to shout at him, but I resisted, being in a foreign land. He stopped when he saw me looking but it was an upsetting site. To be fair though this is very rare in Kenya. In fact this was the first time I saw someone mistreating an animal. I was very pleasantly surprised when I found that Grace was extremely nice and kind to her donkey Joyce. She patted Joyce affectionately many times and unconsciously caressed her neck while talking to me. Joyce contently closed her eyes. When I asked Grace she told me that’s how Joyce caught on her sleep between breaks.

With her next loan Grace wants to buy a knitting machine to knit pullovers. These are in high demand as part of school uniforms and with many new schools coming up in the area, Grace sees this as a good opportunity.

As a last note I must inform the lenders that Joyce is pregnant and will be expecting a baby donkey in Jan next year. I hope Grace posts pictures.

Achintya

Nairobi
9th April 2012 


Joyce the Donkey