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.

 

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!

Change through safety

Coming from a humble background, Anthony Gitambe made a conscious decision to bring about change within his locality in Bahati, which was infused with problems of poverty and drug addiction. He did this through creating a chicken broiler project, which in turn, would generate employment for the youth population of that area. In order to bring about this transformation, Mr. Gitambe came to Zidisha for a loan to start up his business. Below is a recent account of the progress of his business:


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.
Zidisha borrower Anthony Gatembe resides in Maili Kumi, a small town 18 kilometers north of Nakuru. It is at his new home here where he is starting his next business venture. His previous endeavor, a poultry farm ran into a harrowing obstacle when 80% of his chickens contracted Newcastle disease. Fortunately, due to Anthony’s earnings at his second job as a driver between Nairobi and Nakuru in addition to the funds he saved from his Zidisha backed poultry business, Anthony was able to purchase a piece of land in Maili Kumi. He plans to repay his current loan in the following week and refocus his efforts.
Anthony has been practicing farming and agriculture since he was a child. On his new property, he is currently growing maize and other assorted vegetables to be sold to the rapidly expanding customer base in Nakuru. His long term goal is even more ambitious. By November, he plans to purchase a cow and begin a dairy farm on his new property. In addition to Anthony’s lifelong knowledge of rearing livestock, he has researched the local market and is well versed on what he can expect to receive in return for his investment.
He calculates that a cow could produce 40 liters of milk each day. With the local price hovering between 30-40 Kenyan Schillings per liter, Anthony expects to make between 800-1,000 Kenyan Schillings after production costs. In addition to strictly selling milk, Anthony also plans to take courses to learn how to produce yogurt and cheese from the milk, both of these products would increase his profit margin.
Losing 80% of his chickens could have been debilitating financially to Anthony, but because of his ambitious and ingenious use of his Zidisha loan, he is now embarking on a business venture that he believes will be both more safe and profitable.

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.

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)

Achintya

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,
Thanks.
Vitalis Opondo



The Next Bill Gates

Aissatou TraoreAissatou Traore is a borrower living in Dakar, Senegal. Madame Traore is a widowed mother  who works to support her son and mother. Mme. Traore is a partner with the American company Forever Living, based in Arizona. Forever Living sells its aloe vera, and various other health products, through a network of independent distributors across the globe. Madame Traore sells the Forever Living products in her surrounding area to a number of customers.

Mme. Traore used her Zidisha loan to purchase $780 worth of inventory from Forever Living in order to boost her income. Tragically, thieves broke into  her home and stole all of the inventory she’d purchased. This did not stop the resolute Mme. Traore.

Read more about Madame Traore from Zidisha’s own Director Julia Kurnia, who recently wrote about their meeting in Senegal.

Dear all,

I was fortunate to have the occasion to meet with Madame Traore at the Senegal headquarters of Forever Living, a direct selling company that produces aloe vera and other natural health products. Forever Living is based in Arizona, but markets its products through a worldwide network of tens of thousands of independent distributors, including Mme Traore.

Mme Traore is the sole breadwinner for her elderly mother and fourteen-year-old son, who she hopes will have the chance to go to university in Europe or the US someday. She has a genius for marketing, and our conversation soon turned to the benefits of her products. She gave a riveting presentation, skillfully weaving international statistics, personal experience and client success stories into a mesmerizing narrative that left me thoroughly convinced that aloe vera toothpaste is, after all, a must-have staple of good oral health. 

Mme Traore used her Zidisha loan of $780 to purchase a large inventory of Forever Living products, which ought to have boosted her earnings substantially. Unfortunately, most of the inventory was lost to a thief who broke into her home and stole her stock before she had the chance to sell it. Completely out of money to buy new stock but undeterred, Mme Traore contacted her best clients one by one and offered a deal: she would give them a special discount if they would agree to pay in advance for the products, rather than upon delivery. She used the advances to restart selling, at a profit margin that was razor thin due to the discounts. She makes up for the narrow profits with volume: her notebook contains the names of several hundred clients, many of whom are located in rural villages a day’s journey from Dakar city. On the days she “goes into the bush” to deliver her products to the villages, Mme Traore wakes up at four in the morning to prepare the day’s meals for her fourteen-year-old son, and returns home as late as one o’clock the following night. This strategy has enabled Mme Traore to slowly reconstitute her working capital, while also making regular repayment installments on her Zidisha loan, which is now 78% repaid.

She seemed completely undeterred by all of these obstacles. By way of explanation, Mme Traore cited the example of Bill Gates: he started on a small scale as well, and she is simply doing the same. She is a voracious reader. On the day we met, she was reading a French translation of “The Leader in You” by Dale Carnegie. Mme Traore said she was inspired by Mr Carnegie’s idea that there is a “mine of gold” inside each one of us, and that the best way to fully realize our potential is to develop our own business. She values her freedom, and says that nothing can stop her from reaching her ambitions.

Best,

Julia Kurnia
Director, Zidisha Inc.