Weaving Promise

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by Rebecca Wolfe

Promise Badu loves his work and loves to share it. Operator of Dogbeda Vormawu Kente Training Center in the Volta region of Ghana, the twenty-seven-year-old has a passion for teaching others.

“The aspect I do enjoy most about my work is telling people (tourists) the history of the art/fabric, and teaching it.” Giving a portion of his tour speech, Promise elaborated. “Kente weaving is an ancient indigenous method in which thread (any colour) is set on a loom and woven into strips that are later sewn together into larger tapestries. These cloths are used for ceremonial events in Ghana. It can also be used as wall hangings, table cloths and the like. This ancient art has gained international recognition and tourists come from around the world to see how it’s made.”

Promise has, in some ways, followed in the family footsteps. Raised in a single parent household, he lived with and learned from his father, a master kente weaver and founder of the kente center that Promise now operates. All throughout his formal education, Promise was also receiving instruction in kente weaving. “As a kid,” he says, “I use to stay with [my father] and watch him do it, and helped him after school and on vacations.” His father had little taste for academics and so struck a bargain with his son: he would pay for his school fees until he came of age if Promise worked with him in the kente center on school vacations. Even with assistance from his father, Promise sometimes found it difficult to gather the funds to pay for his fees and textbooks, and often went to school without money for lunch. Promise fought to finish his education, and succeeded, graduating from Agortime Senior High School.

Soon after graduation Promise was hired by the president of Trinity Yard School, a fee-free vocational-secondary school on the west coast of Ghana. Working as the school’s kente instructor four years, Promise “learnt from the kids (students) and also made friends with visiting groups and volunteers from the US and other parts of the globe.” While there, Promise trained a young man named James Awotwe Niffio. Promise described him as “a smart, hardworking guy,” who struggled in formal lessons, but thrived in kente class. A 2012 graduate of Trinity Yard School, James has recently stepped into Promise’s shoes as the school’s official kente instructor. Furthering his own kente education, James is also “undergoing an intensive internship training at the center.”

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Graduation at Trinity Yard School

In the course of his time at Trinity Yard School, Promise came to strongly identify with the school’s mission to “educate and empower the youth… to honor the potential of young Ghanaians.” This is a vision which Promise now applies to his own community in the east of Ghana. “My dream is to raise the less privileged in my community with the help of my business,” he says. “Creating a business avenue to help them get a vocation on their own.” Most of the young people in his community, he says, “have limited access to formal education due to high levels of penury.” This is a struggle which Promise understands. “I have also gone through the same plight,” he says with great empathy. “I know the zeal embedded in these youths, but due to limited resources, they can’t realize their potential.” Lack of opportunities and resources is a condition which Promise hopes to change. He wants to provide “jobs to the jobless, training and educating the youths.” He praises Trinity Yard School, and its founder Rory Jackson, as a “LIGHT in the lives of many.” His time there, he says, “has motivated me to replicate his ideas… turning the center into a light in my community as well, because kids here need same thing.”

Promise long held a dream to empower the youth of his community, but without access to capital, struggled to see how it might come to fruition. After finishing up his time at Trinity Yard School and passing the baton of kente instruction on to his former pupil James, Promise returned to his hometown and began to develop a plan for growing the family kente center to accommodate such an effort. In April of 2015, Promise applied for his first Zidisha loan, one of the first major steps in his new and ambitious project.

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Strips of Kente Cloth

This first loan, for the small sum of $46.75, allowed Promise to repair several broken looms. Faithfully and efficiently repaying this loan, Promise established financial credibility with lenders. With his second loan, $93.50 funded in June of 2015 by three Zidisha lenders, Promise purchased colorful skeins of yarn. These first two loans helped Promise put “stuff in place” in the kente shop, developing capital and resources, building toward Promise’s long term goal of youth empowerment. Six months after this second loan, having repaid his lenders and spent the summer and fall building infrastructure and laying groundwork for a youth engagement and occupational training program, Promise again applied to Zidisha. This loan, a credit of $262 disbursed in January 2016, covered the start-up cost of employing three young members of Promise’s Ghanaian community.

In the ten months since this second loan was received, Promise has fully repaid his lenders and his training program has grown considerably. An August 2016 loan of $348, the most recent sum to date, enabled the purchase of yarns, shuttles, bobbins, and other materials for weaving, as well as supplied the funds to hire two additional young employees. “These loans helped greatly in laying the foundation of the dream,” Promise says.

At this time, the Dogbeda Vormawu Kente Training Center employs nine people. Three work on a full-time basis, two are in training, and four operate on contract. “Work normally starts at 7 AM,” Promise says, describing a typical day at Dogbeda. “You have everyone busy in their various looms, except those training may be assigned to other things.” Weavers take breaks as needed throughout the day, closing up shop around 5 PM, though sometimes special projects will keep them there until 8.

As Promise’s business grows, so do his dreams. “I have been using the funds I get from the sales of these beautiful kente clothes as a source of income to enlarge, renew, and purchase more working materials for my center.” He is delighted at the success of the program, grateful for the opportunity to employ young people in his community. Ultimately, he wants to see the center expand to locations all across Africa. “I want to be a source of motivation and inspiration,” he says. “I always count myself fortunate to have gotten to this level of my business in which I can give a helping hand to few people in my community. My dream is to see more of them not only inspired and motivated but make available resources and jobs for them.”

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Promise’s Training Center

“I would like to say a big thank you to the Zidisha team, lenders, and to all that are making this program work effectively to help young entrepreneurs raise and expand their business,” he said on his loan profile. “I believe with the help of this platform and the support of the best lenders, together we can achieve the targeted goals, that is making a difference by providing jobs and positioning the youths for the future in my community.”

With a name like Promise it is likely that this young man knows better than most the potential for ingenuity, for bright and productive futures, that young Ghanaians hold. He himself is an example of this promise; promise coming to fruition. Thanks to Promise’s effort and dreams, and financial support from Zidisha lenders, more young people will have the opportunity to fulfill their promise and see their communities grow and thrive.

If you would like to assist another entrepreneur of promise, head over to our loans page and contribute to one of the loan applications posted there. Help a community thrive and a business grow.

 

Needle and Thread

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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.

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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.

 

 

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.

 

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. 

Juhudi, plain and simple.


Juhudi means “encouraging” or “working hard” in Swahili. It’s no surprise, then, that Julius Mburu–a self-made craftsman and Zidisha borrower–chose this word for a venture he launched in 1995. Juhudi Welders furnishes gates, doors, and roof repair services for a loyal customer base cultivated in Rongai village, 35km outside of Nakuru, Kenya.  For this nimble, high-quality operation, Mr. Mburu’s foothold in the local economy is a rightful reward. Looking to expand, he tapped into Zidisha two years ago to fund a critical capital investment. While the new machinery represents a step forward for Juhadi Welders, Mr. Mburu shows no signs of stopping.

In the past, Julius depended on battery-charged machinery to sidestep a faulty power grid. Today, electricity flows through his neighborhood with more regularity. To some, fewer disruptions spelled greater comfort. To Julius, however, a door had just opened: with reliable power, he could invest in a battery charger to serve surrounding businesses, including cars and motorbikes. In March, our Client Relationship Manager caught up with Julius to talk business.  Ever conscious of shifting circumstances, Mr. Mrubu will leverage improved infrastructure to “generate extra income” to support his wife and five children, notes Achintya Rai. As I write, Julius has repaid 64% of his first loan and continues to soar. Assuming the upward trend persists, he will return to Zidisha for his next endeavor.

Juhadi Welders paints a picture of tenacity and innovation coupled with time-honed talent. Julius’ knack for welding, along with the commercial success that’s followed, is typical of what countless Zidisha borrowers have already accomplished. Each day, hundreds of bustling business owners invest time and energy into an undertaking that bears their name. Proud ownership breeds a bona fide sense of responsibility, but this shouldn’t be news to anyone: When we have a stake in our goals, we commit to excellence and chase it relentlessly. Zidisha aims to act on this truth by linking individuals driven to create value with the means to transform ambition into prosperity. In my view, our generous lending community instills optimism about the potential yet to be unlocked in far away places.

From Ouagadougou to Nairobi, stories like Julius’ restore confidence in an economic arrangement that transcends national borders–one that cuts across income levels and resource constraints–to craft a decent society. In short, an arrangement that rewards hard work and a good heart.

Read more about opportunities to empower small business owners here.

Fueling the Fire!

Mr. Wambugu with his gasoline pump.

Benedict Wambugu is a Zidisha borrower from Kiptangwanyi, Kenya. He runs a business where he sells kerosene, diesel, and now gasoline (thanks to his Zidisha loan!). Mr. Wambugu has a great location for his business because many of his customers do not have electricity, so they require fuel for cooking and lighting.

Read what our Client Relationship Manager Achintya had to say about their recent encounter:

Hello Lenders,

My name is Achintya Rai.

I visited Kiptangwanyi on Thursday (2nd Feb 2012) and had the chance to meet Benedict Wambugu at his business premises. Benedict has a small store from where he sells Petrol, Kerosene and Diesel to people here. Before taking his Zidisha loan, he used to sell only Diesel and Kerosene, but with the loan money he started selling Petrol as well. He buys petrol for 112 shillings a liter and sells it for 130 shillings. He sells about 10 liters of petrol in a day. Most of his sale is of kerosene, which people use for lighting lamps. 

He has a mechanical, hand operated pump that he uses to fill kerosene. This pump is connected to an underground tank, which the company truck comes and fills up. Benedict seemed very proud of his pump and volunteered to demonstrate to the camera how it operated. Even though I told him not to because I was taking still pictures, he insisted. I hope some of his energy spilled over in the images.

With the next loan, Benedict wants to buy a motorbike. He now uses a bicycle and this limits his reach greatly.

Benedict is 23. He is married.

Achintya
Mugaa Village, Kenya

4th Feb 2012

Meeting a Visionary


Wanjira Ngure is a Zidisha borrower from Kianjoya, Kenya. Wanjira is married to a teacher, together they have one child, Gladys. Mrs. Ngure used to work for a HIV/AIDS group were she analyzed data. Since 2010, Wanjira has been running a small show near a shopping center.

Mrs. Ngure used her Zidisha loan to purchase an irrigation system to help her grow produce on her family’s 2.5 acres of land to put up for sale at her shop. Mrs. Ngure recognized the need for fresh produce as a good business opportunity because most of the areas produce are shipped in from far away, and not usually fresh by the time of arrival!

Our in-country Client Relationship Manager Achintya Rai recently met with Mrs. Ngure and her family. Read about his visit below:

Hello lenders,

My name is Achintya Rai and I am Zidisha’s new Kenya Client Relationship Manager.
This Sunday (5th Feb 2012), I went to the village of Kianjoya to visit Rahab Wanjira. Rahab’s husband James Ngure is a teacher in Mugaa Secondary School, where I am putting up. When I visited their home I met James in his work clothes, tending to his farm. He was the one who explained the business and its functioning to me.

If I were to use one word to describe James, I’d call him no less than a ‘visionary’. There are certain people who have that spark that employment advertisements profess to look for. I feel very strongly that James has that spark of brilliance. The things he is doing with the resources he has at this remote location are remarkable.

James has been working in the school for around 8 years. 4 years ago he decided to settle near here and bought this piece of land in Kianjoya. He did not know what else to do with the land so he and Rahab farmed it like everyone else to grow crops typical to here. Rahab also bought a shop in Mitimingi, which she used to take care of. They took their first Zidisha loan to stock this shop.

A year ago, James and Rahab attended a seminar in Naivasha. That is where they got the idea of constructing a green house and using drip farming to irrigate the crops. A green house kit being sold at the seminar cost around 210,000 Kenyan Shillings. James investigated further after returning and was able to construct his first green house (15m x 8m) in around 50,000 shillings. They sold their shop in Mitimingi to arrange for this money. 

The returns from the first green house were so tremendous (James claims that a tomato crop inside the green house gives FIFTY TIMES more returns than a tomato crop the same size outside the green house) that they have now decided to gradually bring their whole farm under a green house. They used their second Zidisha loan to increase the acreage under greenhouse and to buy a drip irrigation kit. Now they have three green houses, all using drip irrigation and all made from local materials (polythene/plastic sheeting and local wood logs).

James has dug two tanks in the farm to collect rainwater. He directs water flowing on the road into his farm to collect it into these tanks, which he uses to drip-irrigate his crops for the whole year.

His future plans include lining his tanks with ‘dam liner’, which is a plastic sheet that prevents water from being absorbed by the soil.

When one is in the presence of wisdom, one tends to test his own (perhaps not everyone, just men)- so I asked him that why didn’t he try keeping fish in his tanks to supplement his income. He nodded solemnly and said it was a good idea (I am sure he was smiling in his heart, but is too big a man to smile on my face). 

I also met Rahab and James’ little daughter Gladys, who didn’t smile at me till the very end, when I pulled her cheeks.

Achintya
Mugaa Village, Kenya
7th Feb 2012