The Clack of Keyboards

by Rebecca Wolfe, Entrepreneur Story Writing Intern


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.


Noticed Improvements

Sammy and one of his donkey carts
Our Client Relationship Manager Achintya Rai recently met with two time Zidisha borrower Sammy Kanja in Nakuru, Kenya. Sammy runs a donkey cart transportation business in Kenya. Since receiving his first loan, Achintya has noted that he can see a real difference in Sammy’s quality of life. Check out what he said about meeting Sammy in his own words below:
Hello Lenders,

My name is Achintya RAI. I paid a visit to Sammy Kanja Nganga in Rongai area of Nakuru (Kenya) on the 28th of March 2012.

Sammy has donkeys and donkey carts which people rent from him to transport water and material. Sammy is repaying his second Zidisha loan right now. He used the first loan to buy new tyres for his cart and to repair it. With the second loan he bought another cart and donkeys. Now he has six donkeys and two carts. The names of the donkeys are- Toto, Jimmy, Tony, Kilo, John and Sammy. 
Kilo, John and Sammy are the new ones he bought with his second Zidisha loan. When I asked him if Sammy the donkey’s name was spelled the same as his, he said “like me” and added, “I do love it” as explanation. Sammy has four children (whose names I didn’t ask).

Sammy has a small shamba (farm) as well. His wife looks after it while he takes care of the donkey-cart business. He also now employs two persons to assist him in his business. He said that his life had improved because of Zidisha loans. This is something I have noticed in many cases. Second Zidisha loan onwards you start seeing a very noticeable and perhaps measurable difference in most people’s incomes, spending and lifestyles.

Sammy’s wife has studied till form-4 (secondary school) while Sammy himself has just finished primary school (Standard-8). With his enhanced income, Sammy now aspires to educate himself. He told me that he first wants to finish his form-4 and then go on to do a course in accounting so that he could take better care of finances for his business and possibly get a job in the field.

I met Sammy near the Railway Station of Rongai where he grazes his donkeys and parks his carts. I noticed that there were only three donkeys around. When I asked him he told me that the others must have got free and gone home. Apparently, whenever Sammy’s donkeys get free they go home. They reminded me of Homing Pigeons, only cuter. 

While Sammy’s Sammy was finding his way back on his own, I had to take a ride on Sammy’s bike to find mine. I wish Sammy and his family the best for their future.

14th May 2012 

Computer Services in Kenya

Mr. Chege
Andrew Chege is a Zidisha borrower from Kiptangwanyi, Kenya. Andrew supports his family by running a computer services business. He is able to provide his clients with photocopying, typesetting, printing, lamination, and scanning services. While business is good, Andrew’s area is still plagued by energy rationing (even though the electricity is expensive!). Andrew originally wanted to purchase a new camera and printer with his Zidisha loan. The additional equipment, he hoped, would allow him to keep up with the increasing demand for his services. 
Check out what Client Relationship Manager Achintya Rai had to say about meeting Andrew below: 
Mr. Chege’s work station
Hello lenders,

My name is Achintya Rai

Yesterday I visited the business premises of Andrew Chege Mbugua.
Andrew runs the business of instant pictures. He has a desktop computer, a digital camera, a printer and also a small photocopying machine. Most of his clients come to him to get instant passport sized photographs, which they had to get from Nakuru earlier. Andrew’s printer cannot print beyond small sized photographs and he feels that there is a potential demand in Kiptangwanyi and nearby areas for larger photographs (family photographs for example)

He wants to invest the loan money in either buying a bigger printer, or replacing the old one before it breaks down (last time it broke down, it was three months before he could get a new one). He also wants to buy what he calls a “state of the art” camera. This would cost him 20,000 to 25,000 shillings. Always a businessman, Andrew offered to exchange his camera with mine (which has lesser megapixels than his, but is green and sits in a red cover which perhaps made him think it was better than his). I said “sure, as soon as you get your state of the art camera”. There was general laughter at this (there were many people who had collected to watch the discussion/interview)

Of all the people I have met here, Andrew is the first one who has been to college (even though I must add that the general level of education in rural Kenya is exceptionally good). His wife is a teacher. He wants his kids to study even further than him and do well in their lives. 

As a last note I’d like to add that it is hard to believe that Andrew is 35 and has 2 kids. He doesn’t look a day beyond 25 (when I told him this, he was quite delighted-I guess a little vanity finds us all some time or the other)


Going to the Movies

Meet Peter Kamwaro from Kiptangwanyi, Kenya. Peter supports his family of three children by buying and selling cereals such as corn, beans, wheat, and rice. Because Mr. Kamwaro’s goods are in high demand, they usually sell quickly. However, shoppers especially prefer his cereals because of their freshness and quality.

Mr. Kamwaro recently started a new business venture, thanks to his Zidisha loan. Learn more about his new venture below:

Hello Lenders,

My name is Achintya Rai 

Yesterday I visited Peter Kamwaro at his business premises in Kiptangwanyi. Peter runs a “Video Room” which he opens everyday, including the weekends. He has a beautiful business model- he buys CDs (for 50 shillings each) and DVDs (for 100 shillings each) from Nakuru (the town nearby) and shows them in his video room where he charges 10 shillings per head. He shows 5 (different) movies each day, and more on weekends. And once he has used a CD, he sells it for 60 shillings and he sells his used DVDs for 150 shillings each. So, he makes money from his video room (on week days he get 30-40 viewers per day), and he also makes a small profit out of the CDs/DVDs he purchases. That’s like buying sugarcane and taking out the juice to make sugar to sell, while also selling the remaining husk at price higher than that of sugarcane.

Peter used his first Zidisha loan of 40,000 shillings to buy this plot with a video room where he runs his business. Earlier he used to rent the premises where he ran his business. He paid a rent of 5000 shillings a month, and his installment for the Zidisha loan is around 4300 shillings. Understandably, he is very happy with Zidisha.

Peter has 3 children, 2 of whom are in school. His wife runs a small boutique from the premises. 


The Best Laid Plans….

Mr. Mwathi in his barbershop

Meet John Mwathi from Nairobi, Kenya. John started his transportation business in order to provide for his family. Because of the rough terrain in John’s area, donkey carts are one of the only viable methods of transportation. John accredits his businesses success to his affordable prices, efficiently, and speed. John planned to use his Zidisha loan to purchase a motor bike, with some additional money from his personal savings. This would allow John to offer faster service to his customers. However, the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.

The sausage kiosk

Mr. Mwathi met with our Client Relationship Manager recently. Learn what our own Achintya Rai had to say about meeting Mr. Mwathi below:

Hello lenders,

My name is Achintya Rai and I am Zidisha’s current Kenya Client Relationship Intern. On 24th March I met John Mwathi at his shop in Utawala, Nairobi.

John used to live in Nakuru earlier. He took his loan to purchase a bike, which he intended to use as a taxi (boda-boda). The bike did not give him the returns he expected so he sold it and moved to Nairobi. Now he has a small barbershop. He uses the front of his shop to sell shoes and also has a small kiosk to sell steamed sausages and boiled eggs. 

John is just 23 and he has already experimented with a number of jobs. After finishing school he did a small course in IT. He then did a course in driving a lorry. He started work by buying a donkey and a cart, which he used to supply water. He also did manual labor to supplement his income. Later John bought his bike.

I found John to be a very pleasant person. And even though he seemed a little shy in my presence, he was constantly smiling. He told me the economics of the sausage and eggs business. John’s future plan is to open a snack shop where he can sell hamburgers, cakes, biscuits and chips. 

After hearing John talk about hamburgers and cakes I was obviously hungry so I decided to buy a sausage. John asked his friend, who was manning the cart at that moment, to move and prepared the sausage for me himself by slitting it and filing it with a salsa like preparation called kachumbari and sprinkling it with salt. It was delicious. 

John was having trouble making his Zidisha payments because of shifting to Nairobi and starting a whole new business. I helped him reschedule his loan. Having talked to him I feel sure he will be now able to meet his loan commitments.


1st April 2012 

Looks good!

Borrower Posted Pictures!

Vitalis Opondo is one of our borrowers from Nairobi, Kenya. Mr. Opondo supports his family of four children by working in metal fabrication. He originally requested his loan to buy some materials for a cart and a grinding machine. Check out his comment in his own words, plus some great pictures he uploaded!

I wish to thank my Zidisha sponsors.The loan i got has enhanced my business greatly.Now my hand cart is helping me to transport finished goods at a small fee.The stock i bought with 40,000/= has increased to kshs 60,000/=.
The attached photos are some of the goods we do fabricate at fox farm workshop.
I hope to contact you again in the near future,
Vitalis Opondo

Full House

Our Client Relationship Manager recently met with Eunice Ngetha in Embakasi, Kenya. Eunice runs a detergent business where she sells her products to the public and institutions. They are dangerous chemicals but Eunice is experienced. With three children of her own, and an additional 5 she and her husband adopted, you could say she has a full house!

Check our what Achintya had to say after meeting Eunice:

Dear lenders,

My name is Achintya Rai and I am Zidisha’s current Kenya Client Relationship Intern. On 7th March I met Eunice Ngetha in Embakasi area of Utawala in Nairobi.

Eunice was part of a Self Help Group that taught its members to make detergents and disinfectants. Eunice later started her own business of making these and selling at prices lower than the market. The detergents and disinfectants Eunice makes are used by hospitals and schools to wash floors, clothes, utensils and lavatories. 

The chemicals Eunice uses are dangerous to store so she buys them only after she has received an order. And she receives many of them. She said to me “Even if I go to America I’ll find an order!” I have no doubt she will because Eunice is one of the most confident persons I have met here. 

Eunice told me about an incident which confirmed to me that she is a great marketer. To transport drums of detergents to faraway places, she loads them in public buses and the customer unloads them at his location. She once lost 25,000 Kenyan Shillings worth of detergents when the customer told her he never received it. But she never complained. And now she has very good relations with this customer.

Eunice found Zidisha on her own. Her earlier loans were very costly so when she needed capital for her business she ‘googled’ it and found Zidisha. When I met her she had not yet received the disbursement of her loan but she planned to use it to buy chemicals for this big airport contract she had recently got.

Her husband is the principal of a school in Machakos where Eunice also used to work as a matron. She left that job and shifted to Nairobi when the business picked up.

Eunice has three children, two of whom are studying. She has also adopted five children. Three of these are orphans in her village and the other two are bright students from a school she went to sell her products to. The principal told her that these students couldn’t afford their school fee and Eunice readily decided to sponsor them. This is one trait I have found common in many Kenyans, this incredible desire to share their wealth.

Eunice’s dream is to build a school. She told me that she has already bought 3 acres of land in an area called Embu for this. I expect great things from Eunice. With her energy and her desire to help others, I wish she succeeds in whatever endeavors she undertakes.

9th April 2012