Traveling out of poverty

John Maina hails from a family of four, where his college education was not able to guarantee him a job (similar to an American undergraduate’s journey these days). However, his love for travel and exploring new venues propelled him to start a tourism company, which transports visitors to and from airports, and to events. His business has now reached a stage where international bookings are being generated and this brings into play the very idea of expanding his business and improving the breadth of professionalism within the workplace. Mr. Maina’s ultimate ambition is to penetrate international markets while exploring the tourism industry from a grassroots level. Below is a recent update from one of our client relationship managers:
Hello, my name is Traci Yoshiyama, Zidisha’s Kenya Client Relationship Manager. I am currently visiting Zidisha borrowers in and around Nairobi.
“Life in Kenya is hard.” I hear this statement often, though never as a complaint, but merely said with matter-of-factness. And although this is true for many, it is hardly a deterrence to persevere. But while the entrepreneurial spirit soars in Kenya, this unbridled enthusiasm comes with many challenges. Families struggle due to lack of business know-how and financial management skills and risk of unavoidable circumstances are high. To be a successful entrepreneur anywhere in the world takes not only passion, but also careful planning. Today I met a true entrepreneur in every sense of the word, Zidisha borrower John Maina, who turned a life that presented many obstacles into something of a success story.
Despite being orphaned at the age of three, losing his sponsor during his first year of high school, and having the responsibility of supporting his siblings with wages made from a janitorial position, John became the founder of the rapidly growing tour company, Topman Safaris and Travel. Although only operating for four months, Topman Safaris has already accomplished so much. Through diligent web marketing, John has spread the word about Topman, receiving clients from all over the world, including places like Turkey, Oman, India, and Spain. He has even partnered with several tour companies in Tanzania, Zanzibar, and Seychelles, expanding his tours beyond Kenya. Never tiring of visiting the picturesque sites of Kenya, John has already made over twenty trips to the Maasai Mara. Proven to be a profitable business thus far, John has been able to start a salon for his wife and also purchase a plot of land.
Like any good businessman, John is constantly searching for innovative ways to expand his company. Growing up amongst the exotic flora and fauna of Mount Kenya, he witnessed the destruction of wildlife on a daily basis, at the time not understanding the importance of ecological conservation. It is because of this exposure that John would like to turn Topman Safaris and Travel into an ecotourism operator. Coming December he will do just that. In addition to becoming an eco-friendly company, John became a Zidisha member. With his loan, he would like to continue to renovate his office, making it more aesthetically pleasing and professional for his clients. Currently having to rent a vehicle for safari excursions, John would also like to purchase his own van, allowing him to save thousands of shillings each month. With a bit of savings, he is also planning on attending the ITB Berlin in March, the world’s largest travel and tourism trade fair.
Seeking opportunities every which way, John is an inspiration to those wanting to improve their lives through entrepreneurship. I am happy to see that Zidisha is one mechanism that can assist him with his endeavors. Planning a trip to Kenya? Visit John’s website at

Technology Sets No Boundaries

Here is a great update from Traci in Kenya! She had the opportunity to meet with Duncan Chege earlier this month. Mr. Chege is a great example of the type of individual who is striving to make a real difference in his community. I hope you enjoy Traci’s update! If you have any questions for Traci leave a comment below and I’ll relay the message to her.

Hello, my name is Traci Yoshiyama, Zidisha’s Kenya Client Relationship Manager. I am currently visiting Zidisha borrowers in and around Nairobi.

Minds alike, Duncan Chege and Zidisha both envision a world where technology sets no boundaries, where opportunity is no longer stifled due to economic standings, and where geography plays no role in one’s level of success. Although late in the game, the technology industry in Kenya is growing at an overwhelming rate of 20% each year. With rapid growth comes rapid change, and a shortage in skills is a challenge that Kenya is currently facing. 

Seeing the way of the world and a need for technology education, Duncan Chege moved from his rural town of Rongai to Nairobi, the heart beat of Silicon Savannah. In 2009, with only one computer to furnish his shop, it was here that Duncan opened Vision Computers. Within its three years of operation, one computer quickly multiplied to eight, and upon receiving his first Zidisha loan in June, eight grew to ten. With more computers, students are now able to work independently without the fuss of sharing a screen or fighting over who gets to use the mouse. Duncan wishes to pay back his loan quickly, in hopes of being able to take out a larger loan, which would allow him to rent a bigger space. 

Providing internet services is only a fraction of what is offered at Vision Computers, for Duncan’s main objective is community development. Seeing technology as a tool for empowerment, he offers computer-training courses to youths. Many students coming from the surrounding areas, including a nearby slum, Duncan’s rates are much more reasonable than his competitors. In addition to training courses, he has also partnered with a local primary school. In small groups, children come to Vision Computers to receive informal lessons to acquire basic computer skills. As I speak with Duncan, eight children work together on a paint program, directing each other on what to draw and what colors to use. As I peek around the cubicle, I see a lime green house in the making. Children being sponges of knowledge, Duncan expresses the importance of exposing them to technology early on, in hopes of better serving their future. 

Before my visit with Duncan ends, he takes me to his partner school. Not having electricity, running water, and limited space due to other live-in tenants, I see how fortunate they are to have the resources that Duncan is providing. Wanting to spread the word about Zidisha, Duncan introduces me to the director of the school, hoping to extend his services in more ways than one. 

To view more pictures of Duncan and watch a short video of him and his students, visit 

Fighting Crime in Bahati

Here is a recent update from Dan in Kenya. He met with Joel Mwangi this past week and was able to see what Joel’s Zidisha loan has done for him. Be sure to check out Joel’s profile page if you’re interested in learning more about him.

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 visited Joel at the place of one of his businesses in Bahati. It is evident that Joel is a natural community leader, and a well-respected one at that. His most idealistic long-term goals are eradicating poverty in Bahati. Toward that end, he has used his Zidisha loan to expand his farm and invested in higher quality fertilizer and seeds to ensure that his crops will be healthy and bountiful. Joel strongly advocates the use of high quality seeds and fertilizer to his neighboring farmers. He evidenced his point clearly as he gave me a tour of his village, pointing out which farms were able to afford fertilizer and quality seeds. 

In an effort to advance his community, Joel is selling a portion of his land that he has tilled and prepared for the next growing season to a neighbor. His intent is to give his neighbor an opportunity to begin a small farming business to help support his family. Joel regularly advises members of his community on improving their fertilization and irrigation practices. With the now abundant crops Joel is growing with his loan from Zidisha he has been able to employ laborers in Bahati to assist him and his wife during the harvest season. 

In addition to operating a three and a half acre farm, Joel also serves as chairman of the group of motorbike operators in the region. In the past few years, there has been a rise in the incidence of common thievery in Bahati, many crimes were committed with the aid of motorbike drivers. With the assistance of the local police force and the support of his fellow motorbike drivers, Joel was elected chairman of the group. As chairman, Joel has instituted a policy that mandates that every motorbike driver must have a registered identification card which is displayed to all of their customers. This measure has provided a sense of accountability to the motorbike operators and allows their customers to be confident that each driver is registered and approved by the local government and police department. 

Make a Difference

Growing up in Mombasa, Kenya’s second city and major port, I could always feel the bustling sense of small business activity. When I think of a small business in Kenya, I think of the open air market opposite Nakumatt mall where hawkers sell their clothing goods; I’m thinking of the tuk tuks  (auto rickshaws) roaming around Mombasa old town, always one cell phone call away an, skillfully navigating around the narrow streets of Old Town and Fort Jesus.

Growing up, I always sensed the Kenyan people’s natural entrepreneurial spirit fostered by a jovial and optimistic demeanor.  When I think of entrepreneurship in Kenya, I think about the maid who left our family to enroll in a catering class; I think about our first driver, who always strove to achieve, and who now is part of the transportation team of Kenya’s Vice President. But among these feelings of joviality and optimism, I did also feel Mombasa’s dark side. Poorly maintained roads, the spread of diseases such as malaria, and issues of crime and safety, all combine to put a significant damper of people’s potential. And Kenya has such great potential; its people, its strategic location and natural resources all make it a land of vast opportunity.

This is personal for me. In Mombasa, our family had a maid for more than a decade. We saw her raise a son and work hard to provide him with an education. Isn’t that what anyone would want in a parent; a mother who works hard to give her son a better life? She recently passed away; she was HIV positive though we didn’t come to know until just a few weeks before. She was on medication; apparently that wasn’t enough. I know that people like her deserve better, they deserve a chance to start up their own small business or trade, or to get an education and strive further and do better.

So, there I was, crying after hearing the news of our maid’s passing; feeling that a huge injustice had been done. She had been there when I was growing up; she was part of our family. And she deserved better. So, I decided to do somethingAnything, to give back, in her name. And that’s how I found Zidisha.

Initially, I was skeptical about microfinance. I remember writing a letter to the editor to my college newspaper contending that ‘any credit system requires the creditor to pay back what they owe’. How could poor borrowers with little material possessions repay their microloans if their endeavor does not work out? The financial success of a borrower is not guaranteed. So, to make up for this weakness, commercial microfinance institutions charge high interest rates to compensate for the risk and make a profit. But Zidisha’s model is different.

Zidisha’s non-profit, crowdsourcing microfinance approach allows multiple individuals to contribute to a single small business loan while charging low interests rates on the loan. This crowd-sourced loan allows you, the lender, to diversify your philanthropic lending portfolio over different people, businesses and locations, which helps reduce the risk of losing your entire lending capital. So, loans in the hundreds and thousands of dollars will find funding from many different individual contributing to the loan. Additionally, Zidisha’s network of borrowers and volunteer relationship managers give us Zidisha members insight into how our money benefits that small business in Kenya. Lastly, Zidisha requires that potential borrowers go through at least one credit check, which helps establish some loan repayment capacity. Zidisha allows me to recycle my charitable capital; as my loans get paid back, I will continue lending out money thereby magnifying the effectiveness of my charitable giving. It’s a great model.

And while I may be motivated by the past, by the death of our maid; I look to the future, to her son, and think what else can be done to help. Maybe one day we can crowdsource educational loans and help young children in Kenya get more funding to pursue higher education or help fund the construction of libraries in rural neighborhoods. Maybe we can find a way to support democracy and good governance. Maybe we can make a difference.

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.

Comfort Food in Ongata Rongai

Hi lenders! Here is a great update from Traci in Kenya. She recently had a chance to meet with Jane Njoroge, a resteraunt owner who is looking to expand her business. Read about Traci’s visit below, and don’t forget to check out her blog! 

Hello, my name is Traci Yoshiyama, Zidisha’s Kenya Client Relationship Manager. I am currently visiting Zidisha borrowers in and around Nairobi.

The up-and-coming town of Ongata Rongai, home to many Zidisha borrowers, is a mini Nairobi, with its numerous supermarkets, sprawl of modern flats, and lining every street sit local restaurants and fast food chains. Just around the corner of the city center, away from the hawkers and fast-moving traffic, you’ll come across Liz’s Kitchen. Potted plants hug the exterior of this charming hotel (a hotel in Kenya often times refers to restaurant), while the inside is bathed in sunlight. Several rounded tea tables cover the floor of Liz’s Kitchen, giving off a European café vibe. The minute I step into Jane Njoroge’s hotel, I know I will be a returning customer.
Named after her sister, Jane started Liz’s Kitchen in 2010. Although she does not have formal training in the restaurant business, her prior profession as an educator has well equipped her in culinary arts. When still teaching, Jane took a six-month course specializing in nutrition and food preparation, as the skills acquired were needed at the nursery school. Jane decided to leave her job at the school when she had her youngest child, Wanjiru, who is now three years old. Although Jane is no longer a teacher, her passion for education never left her side, for her dream is to open a school in Ongata Rongai. With the help of her hotel business, she would like to buy land, build a school, and provide transportation for the students. 
Being new to Zidisha, Jane heard about the organization through her son, borrower John Njoroge. With her first loan, Jane would like to employ one more person at Liz’s Kitchen. Adding another employee would help Jane and her staff of two with the arduous task of morning food preparations. With extra hands, the cutting of vegetables; making of snacks such as chapati, samosas, and mandazis; and the labor intensive task of using charcoal will be much more manageable. Jane also hopes to find a reasonably priced machine to make chips (french fries). Being a popular snack for both adults and children alike, Jane finds herself turning away eager customers in want of this delectable treat. With the help of Zidisha, Jane hopes to soon add one more item to her already mouthwatering menu.
Before I could leave and it being time for lunch, I had to try my first meal at Liz’s Kitchen. A little bit of meat, a small serving of vegetables, a light soup on the side, and a whole lot of rice pilaf; the fact that my plate was empty in just a few minutes is a true testament to the quality of Liz’s Kitchen. Making frequent trips to Ongata Rongai and always struggling to find somewhere satisfactory for a quick bite, I know I have now found my haven. Jane, I wish you all the best with your loan and hope to enjoy some chips at Liz’s soon. 

To view more pictures of Jane, go to 

From the Ground Up

Here is a quick update from Traci in Kenya! She had the chance to check in with Rose Karanja the other week and was able to post some great pictures. You can view more of the pictures by going to Traci’s blog, the link is at the bottom of her post.

August 29, 2012

Hello, my name is Traci Yoshiyama, Zidisha’s Kenya Client Relationship Manager. I am currently visiting Zidisha borrowers in and around Nairobi.
A few days ago I had the pleasure of finally meeting the much talked about Rose Karanja. Featured in many Zidisha posts and appearing in various forms of news media worldwide, I felt as if I already knew this truly inspirational individual. The epitome of a woman, Rose exudes a confidence that has surely been the driving force of her success thus far. The pictures highlighted in Alex Villec’s article show the foundation of a house being built. Look at the transformation now! 
To view more pictures of Rose, visit my blog: