The Clack of Keyboards

by Rebecca Wolfe, Entrepreneur Story Writing Intern

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The clack of keyboards is a constant sound in Elijah Mwenja’s life. The sounds of a computer mouse sliding across a mousepad and a customer’s laughter as she jokes with her friend seated at the computer station next to her are likely also very common occurrences in his busy cybercafé in Githuri, an area of Narobi, Kenya.

Elijah is an amazing example of a self-starter. Entering the workforce in the construction industry, he saved what he could and eventually stored up enough to start his own poultry business in 2008. Entering the realm of entrepreneurship through this endeavor, Elijah grew his business to a capital of more than ten times the funds that he began with. Three years down the road, he was ready for a change. Having a long-standing interest in computers and networking, Elijah, his wife, and his son, started up the cybercafé in 2012. The café is a gift to local residents, enabling them to access information, communicate with distant friends and family, and type up and print their personal, business, and academic documents.

In January of 2015 the booming business began to take its toll on Elijah’s supplies. His café’s printer had worn-out nozzles and was no longer printing as it should. Around that same time Francis Kamau – a neighbor, friend, Zidisha microloan recipient, and owner of a Nairobi hair salon – invited Elijah to join Zidisha. With a small, $100 loan funded by nineteen different lenders from Europe and North America, Elijah was able to buy replacement parts and have the printer professionally repaired. The printer was soon up and running again, shooting jets of black ink onto smooth white pages. Six months later, having faithfully and efficiently repaid his previous loan, Elijah posted another proposal to Zidisha. This loan of $187, funded in June 2015 by a single lender, allowed Elijah to expand his cybercafé business to include a new computer, reducing customer wait time and increasing profit. In later updates, Elijah stated that this new unit was “one of the computers that [his] clients prefer using.”

As Elijah and his family continued to prosper, Elijah’s wife began to see her long-held dream of continuing her formal education as a financial possibility. Possessing a “gift and passion for business,” and boasting a strong track record of successful business development, Elijah’s wife hoped to pursue a degree in business. In December 2015, that hope came to fruition. Elijah applied for a Zidisha loan of $366, a sum which covered the cost of the first installment of tuition fees at Kenya’s Zetech University. Elijah’s wife enrolled in the program, and is now beginning the first semester of her second year, becoming one of an increasing number of women in higher education in Kenya. Making swift use of her education, Elijah’s wife has taken over the management of the family’s cybercafé business.

With his wife managing the cybercafé, Elijah has begun work as a local business consultant. Inspired by his community and other entrepreneurs in his area, Elijah wishes to “utilize [his] professional skills to help other businesses.” He now shares his expertise in business, bookkeeping, and credit management, and his work has helped neighboring business to keep better track of their fiscal performance. Currently, with the help of a $564 Zidisha microloan, Elijah is entering into a master’s degree program. He says that “most businesses in Kenya are struggling with strategy management and practitioners in this sector are few.” With the knowledge he will gain through his master’s, Elijah will be better equipped to handle “complex assignments in strategy management” and “be of benefit to the community at large because they would no longer be entering into businesses without a projected growth plan.”

Elijah and his family have been able to repay all loans which they have taken out, in full and on time. They have grown their business and improved their standard of living. Throughout the loan process, Elijah has provided regular updates to his lenders, expressing profound gratitude, sharing his joy about his thriving businesses.

The clack of a keyboard is, for Elijah Mwenja, quite likely the sound of hope, education, and a successful entrepreneurial endeavor. It is a sound that has been made possible in Elijah’s life through the loans of Zidisha lenders. Now, by sharing his business expertise, Elijah is able to help other entrepreneurs thrive. Just as he and his family are now sharing their success with their community, many other people in Kenya will soon be able to do the same. One thriving business fosters another. One generous neighbor creates another.

If you’d like to be a generous neighbor, clack out a number and contribute to the success of one the other self-starters profiled on our loans page.

 

Establishing Connections


Greetings lenders! My name is Neil DiMuccio, and I am a Client Relationship Manager with Zidisha in Kenya. I am currently visiting borrowers to learn more about them and support them with their Zidisha loans. It is my hope that this work will build bridges to better connection and understanding, and that Zidisha and its borrowers will increasingly grow, communicate, and support each other.

I recently had the opportunity to meet and work extensively with Robert Ndungu, who also goes by Robert Njoroge. To be perfectly honest, I was thrilled to meet this man, because he was the first person I had lent to using the Zidisha platform last year! I decided to lend to Robert because he was offering a high interest rate (at the time), because he had numerous sources of income, and because he seemed to be something of a pillar in his community. My visits to Karunga have affirmed these thoughts – Robert is a well-known, hard-working, and productive member of his community!

I made several visits to Karunga, a small agricultural community some 12 kilometers North and East of Nakuru near Bahati. This town is a hotspot for Zidisha borrowers, with some 30-40 persons having Zidisha loans in the area, due in part to the work of gentlemen such as Robert, who is a Zidisha Community Organizer for Karunga. Luckily, the ride to Karunga is gorgeous. Imagine this: getting on back of a motorbike, and zipping along a bumpy and rutted dirt road, seeing fields of wheat, corn, and sunflower underneath a canopy of trees. All this while cows and goats graze idyllically, and locals smile and wave to you. Living and working in Kenya may not always be easy or comfortable, but it certainly has its pleasures!

Anyway, Robert was kind enough to let me photograph him in his shop, and was selfless in giving of his time to walk me around and introduce me to many Zidisha borrowers, translating to Kikuyu, Swahili and English as needed. We also had lunch together at one point, with other Community Organizers of Karunga, where we talked, laughed, and discussed Zidisha’s impact on the community. It was agreed that Zidisha’s low-interest loans were very helpful, but that further services would be of benefit, such as medium-scale agriculture and engineering projects, to do things like aiding farmers in irrigation (I believe the region is currently mostly without irrigation).
Please join me in thanking Robert for setting a great example with his use of Zidisha, as well as his tireless service of helping those around him in his community. Thank you, Robert! Best wishes and God Bless.

Secondhand clothing- a route out of poverty

Here is a great update from Dan in Kenya!
Hello, my name is Dan Cembrola, one of Zidishas Kenya Client Relationship Managers. I am currently visiting Zidisha borrowers in Nakuru and its outskirts.
Today I visited with Keziah at her store in the center of Nakuru. This store is one of her two businesses. In Nakuru, you will find many stalls lining the streets selling secondhand clothing. There are a few upscale stores that sell clothes for formal occasions and many local tailors who make custom made clothing, mostly for women and children. Outside of these two clothing options, most people purchase clothing from the street vendors. Keziah supplies these vendors.
Keziah, or her business partner and hopefully future Zidisha borrower Elizabeth, regularly travel to Nairobi to purchase bales of clothing. These bales are about three and a half feet wide and two feet in height, tightly packed with clothing. Keziah is not able to open the bales and inspect the clothing, they are sold as is. Similarly, after Keziah transports the bales back to Nakuru she sells them to the local vendors as is. Each bale costs about $75-$100 for Keziah to buy in Nairobi and she is able to resell them for $175-$220 in Nakuru. It only costs $2 to transport a bale from Nairobi to Nakuru, so Keziah is able to make a tidy profit on each one.
When walking the streets of Nakuru, it is not uncommon to see people walking around wearing American football jerseys from the 1990’s, tee shirts promoting small town American restaurants, and obscure US politicians. Obviously, these items of clothing were donated to various NGOs in America by people intending for their donations to be given free of charge to people in the developing world. In actuality, these items of clothing are shipped to Mombasa, they are then purchased by wholesalers in Nairobi, sold to people like Keziah in the clothing business, who then sells them to local vendors, finally the local vendors sell them to the townspeople who were initially intended to receive them for free.
The secondhand clothing business in Kenya is immense. Prior to my meeting with Keziah, she was completely unaware that the clothing she was selling was actually intended to be donated to people in need. The vast majority of clothing vendors are equally unaware. Regardless of the fact that these clothes were intended to be donated, it is probably best that this secondhand clothing business exists. It provides an income for tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people.
In addition to her clothing business, Keziah’s second business, which she describes as her main focus and passion, is cosmetics. For the past three years, Keziah has been selling cosmetic items, including every type of make up imaginable as well as weaves and human hair wigs. All of these items are very popular among women in the urban center of Nakuru. Because of this, it is difficult to find a street that does not have a salon or cosmetics store.
Due to the high level of competition in Nakuru, Keziah travels to the surrounding villages to sell her wares. She has developed a loyal customer base in the areas surrounding Nakuru. With her first loan, Keziah increased her supply of cosmetics and human hair wigs, which is a highly profitable item. Keziah is also adept at applying make up, weaves, and wigs.
In the future, she envisions using her next loan and the profits of her two businesses to purchase a cosmetics store in Nakuru. Though competition is high in town, Keziah has many loyal customers from the surrounding villages and towns. Currently, her customers outside of Nakuru are only able to purchase her products when she is visiting their village. Since Keziah is often traveling, she wishes to have a permanent store in Nakuru where she would employ someone full time. Keziah believes, correctly, that this will allow her to travel and continue to expand her customer base while allowing her current customers to purchase cosmetics at their lesiure from her store.
Keziah is a very motivated young woman and has a sharp mind for business and her future is bright.

Achieving Literacy Through Technology in Africa

An update from one of our interns on the ground in Kenya:

Hello, my name is Dan Cembrola, one of Zidisha’s Kenya Client Relationship Managers. I am currently visiting Zidisha borrowers in Nakuru and its outskirts.

The town of Salgaa, located 30 kilometers west of Nakuru, would not be described as a technological hub. In fact, many of the homes here do not have access to electricity. Considering this, it is not hard to imagine that many residents of Salgaa are not overly familiar with the use of computers. Boaz aims to change this. 

Boaz opened his current store in July of this year but has been teaching computer literacy classes since 2010. He was previously conducting classes in his home. However, the genesis of Boaz’s passion and appreciation for computers dates back to 2008. Boaz was in the town center of Nakuru four years ago where he saw a young Kenyan student being instructed on how to use a computer by an older Indian gentleman. Boaz remembers thinking, “If this young boy can use a computer, why can’t I?” He promptly enrolled in a two month computer training course. 

Currently, Boaz has 20 students who attend his daily 2 hour classes. The students are taught to use Microsoft Office and various other computer programs. Upon completion of the course, each student receives a certificate verifying that they have a competent computer literacy. This certificate is now mandatory for many government jobs. Boaz says the course he offers would cost students 5,000 Kenyan Schillings in an urban center like Nakuru or Nairobi, but he is offering his course at 2,500 Kenyan Schillings to entice the technology wary citizens of Salgaa. 

With his first Zidisha loan, Boaz plans to buy a printer, scanner, and photocopier. In the longer term, he plans on expanding his current business which currently includes six computers. He envisions starting Salgaa’s first cyber café. He also wants to start working with some of the local schools to incorporate computer science into their curriculum. Boaz is passionate about helping members of his community enhance their level of computer literacy as he believes it is of the utmost importance when trying to secure a job in today’s economy. With the help of his loan from Zidisha, Boaz is spearheading the movement to educate his community. 

Family Portraits in Salgaa

Hello, my name is Dan Cembrola, one of Zidisha’s Kenya Client Relationship Managers. I am currently visiting Zidisha borrowers in Nakuru and its outskirts.

Today I visited Melchzedeck at his business in the town of Salgaa, 30 kilometers west of Nakuru. Three years ago Melchzedeck was working on one of the many flower farms around Salgaa. He grew unsatisfied with his job at the time and its future prospects. Melchzedeck always had an interest in photography, so, in 2009, he retired from the flower farm and purchased a camera for 4,500 Kenyan Schillings. He had decided to go into business for himself.
Three years later, he now owns his own shop selling photographs as well as cell phones, phone cases, phone chargers and other accessories. The shop has a small studio in the back of the shop where Melchzedeck is able to take portraits and family photos. He also operates a kinyozi (barbershop) within his shop in case anyone wants to have a last minute haircut before being photographed. 
In addition to photographing individuals and families who come into his shop, Melchzedeck also travels to weddings, graduations, birthday parties, and various other gatherings to document the memories as he says. He is one of only two photographers in the village of Salgaa so his services are in high demand. 
With his next loan, Melchzedeck plans to buy printing machine. Currently, he has to travel to Nakuru to print out the photographs that he takes. Though traveling to Nakuru takes a little over an hour round trip, it is an unnecessary burden as Melchzedeck wants to be able to photograph his customers and instantly present them the photograph. Melchzedeck is optimistic about the future of his business; he rightly views the growth of the population in Salgaa as an opportunity for more weddings, graduations, and every other celebration to be photographed. 

The Young at Heart



Margaret, who is on her second Zidisha loan, was visted by one of our Kenyan Client Relationship Managers this past week. You can read about Dan’s meeting with Margaret below:

Hello, my name is Dan Cembrola, one of Zidisha’s Kenya Client Relationship Managers. I am currently visiting Zidisha borrowers in Nakuru and its outskirts.“I am here! I am here! I am here!” Margaret proclaimed as she deftly hopped over a small ditch on the side of the road. After a warm greeting Margaret began quickly leading to me her shop in Bahati Center, an agricultural town north of the city of Nakuru. She jumped over puddles and potholes the whole way before hopping on top of the step at the entrance to her shop. Margaret is 65 years old. Her shop is part of a building that Margaret owns. The shop sells some basic supplies and contains a storage room that she will soon fill with bags of maize from her farm to be sold through the shop. The shop also contains a soon to be operational MPESA stand. Locals use the MPESA service to send and receive money electronically. Margaret had used her first loan to purchase a sheep and has used her current loan to open the MPESA stand. Margaret’s shop only occupies a small portion of the large L-shaped building that she owns. She has created six hotel rooms with the remaining space and built one additional free standing room. She currently is renting out rooms at the rate of 600 Kenyan Schillings for a single and 1,500 Kenyan Schillings for a double. Since the new constitution was passed in 2010, the town of Bahati has become a district capital. Margaret expects to continue to enjoy full occupancy as her hotel is located adjacent to the new government office. After explaining these various business ventures, Margaret announced, “Now I will take you to my home business.” With boundless energy, she led me three kilometers down the road to her farm, where she lives with her husband. They cultivate mainly maize and tomatoes but also have sheep, goats, and a few chickens remaining after they recently sold 2,000 chicks. Margaret explained that the land they used to live on was ten acres but it was lost during the post-election violence. Since relocating to Bahati, they now only have two acres but she seemed to lament more the fact that each of her five children are now adults and working in different parts of the country. In addition to Margaret’s “town business” and “home business” she also found time to become the chairwoman of the Happy Mothers Group. This started out as a collection of five women and has now grown to seven who are all Zidisha borrowers. As Margaret escorted me the three kilometers back to town, she excitedly told me about how her family will all be returning next month for Christmas, a happy mother indeed. 

"The Popcorn Lady"

Hi Lenders,

Here is a brand new update from one of our client relationship interns in Kenya! Be sure to check out the borrower’s profile for more information and leave any questions that you may have in the comments below!

Hello, my name is Andrew Weber and I am currently a Client Relationship Manager visiting Zidisha borrowers all over Kenya. It is quite common in Kenya to see people selling small bags of popcorn or peanuts. These ubiquitous little treats are sold by everyone from shop owners to wandering food merchants tapping on your window as you wait for your bus to depart. While the roaming vendors hawking various products are often ignored by weary Kenyans as they wait at the bus station, I’ve seen locals perk up many times to purchase a snack from a popcorn and peanut seller. Irene understands Kenyans’ craving for salty snacks, and has in turn made herself into the Popcorn Lady of Naivasha

Irene’s popcorn and peanut empire covers more than 100 vendors and shops in the region. She has the largest network of customers in the area. Rather than join the hordes of snack retailers in the area, Irene opted to enter the distribution business in 2003. She procures large sacs of popcorn and peanuts directly from a food wholesaler in Nairobi. The massive bulk of her individual purchases speak to the volume of snacks she pushes through the area: 90 kg (200lbs.) sacs of peanuts and multiple 10kg (22lbs.) sacs of popcorn. She then cooks the products herself before having them bagged and then selling them near and far. Customers include traders who come to her to bring snacks back to their more rural villages, and also shops all over the region. “Shops buy from me because I know how to cook”, says Irene. She cooks the peanuts in salt and water with no oil. 
With her loan Irene has increased her supply greatly, and moving the greater bulk has not been a problem at all for her. Wedding season is coming up so she hopes to continue moving an increased supply. The increased profits help support her six children, a couple of which are studying at universities. She is also still hoping to use part of the loan to buy a large popcorn machine, which will enable more quickly churn out her product so she can continue to grow her business. The machines are quite pricey though, so that purchase might have to wait until Zidisha loan number two. Once she has a large popcorn machine, her snack empire may begin to reach all corners of the nation.