Serving the Poor

Alex with his wife Faith

Alex Kephar is a borrower living in Nairobi, Kenya. Alex runs a retail shop that sells groceries, and produce, to support his family. Alex initially sought a loan form Zidisha to buy more stock for his shop, and increase his profit margin.

Our in country Client Relationship Manager Achintya Rai recently met up with Alex at his shop. Read about their meeting below:

Hello lenders,

My name is Achintya Rai and I am Zidisha’s Kenya Client Relationship Intern. On 16th March I had the chance to visit Alex Kephar at his shop in Githunguri area of Nairobi.

Alex has a general store in the main market area of Githunguri. Apart from items of general use, he also keeps fresh vegetables at his shop. He also has two piki-pikis (motorbikes), which he rents, and a donkey.

It had just been a week since the disbursement of his loan when I met Alex so he had not yet utilized the full amount. Alex told me that he had divided the loan amount into three parts. One, he invested in buying charcoal, which he expects to rise in price as rains come. With the second part he had increased the stock of his shop and the last part he had saved to buy stock in the future.

When I asked him if the loan had helped him, he very honestly replied that he hadn’t utilized the full amount yet so he couldn’t say with surety but he added that he expected to benefit much from the low interest Zidisha loan.

Alex’s parents passed away when he was young and he depended on his uncles. He couldn’t complete his education because of this. He started working immediately after finishing school. Alex is determined to make sure his children (two daughters- Joyce and Grace) don’t lack opportunities and wants them to study further than him. 

Alex’s future plan is to own a wholesale business. He told me that he “hates supermarkets” and won’t have anything to do with them. He feels that supermarkets cater to the rich and they do not serve people who buy in small quantities. He feels it is these people, who buy more frequently but in small quantities, that make better customers. It’s the poor that Alex wants to serve. Talk about life choices that that are motivated by something above self-betterment. People like Alex are surprisingly abundant in Kenya. People who benefit from micro-loans and use their improved position to help others.

I also met Alex’s wife Faith. Alex and Faith seemed obviously in love and after Faith’s many nudges to Alex (which seemed to say- “stop being a kid”), I was able to take a picture of both together.

1st April 2012 

"There’s No Business Like Show Business"

Achintya recently met up with Sidney in Kenya:
I recently met Sidney Lugohe Mungasia at his shop in Ongata Rongai near Nairobi recently. Sidney runs the business of typing, scanning and photocopying and a video/music library from his shop.

I have done an MBA. My class of about 50 had people from 20 nationalities. Sidney’s demeanor reminded me of some of the smartest people in my class. He is confident but not overly extrovert. He put me at my ease the moment I met him (and I thought that was part of MY job). He is positive about future and expresses his ideas with a self-assurance that somehow smells of humility and not cockiness.

Sydney lost both his parents in a car accident when he was in school, yet he finished his school and also went to college where he got a diploma in banking and finance. He also wanted to pursue a course in accounting but couldn’t because of financial constraints. After his diploma he worked for Barkley’s for a while but later left because he felt constricted in a 9 to 5 job and wanted to be independent. When I asked him why he chose this particular business he said, “There is no business like show business”. I guess you end up watching many of the movies you sell. But frankly, that didn’t sound dramatic at all coming from him.
Sydney used his Zidisha loan to upgrade his computer (he added three dvd writers, increased the speed and the RAM and bought a UPS). He also upgraded his printer- the new one has a scanner and a photocopier. He also spent on advertising. When I asked him if he could do all this with the amount he borrowed from Zidisha, he told me that he also invested all his savings. He was able to increase his income due to these improvements and is planning to move to a bigger shop soon. With the next loan Sidney wants to expand his business. His future plan is to have a sort of entertainment hub where people could come to meet friends, eat, play video games or watch movies.

Sidney is 28 and when I asked him if he was married, he smiled shyly and said that perhaps next year. As a gesture of my good wishes in this regard I asked him to pose for a photograph with this big poster of Kate Beckinsale outside his shop and he happily obliged.

A few days later, here is what Sidney posted on his page:

Hi lenders,

Its was with great pleasure that I met Zidisha’s ‘Kenya Client Relationship Manager’, Mr. Achintya Rai, at my shop a short time ago. We discussed at length some of the issues that affected my business including its future prospects and opportunities, which I have envisioned to achieve in the forthcoming future.

Rai has already posted most of the issues we talked about, and am happy to say that I have incorporated in my plans, to implement some of the creative ideas that he suggested to me. As he has said, my vision is to expand into an full-size amusement center, which will be more of a social meeting place for the young generation rather than an entertainment store, which is its current business model.

I’ll be glad to meet more of Zidisha’s representatives and lenders so that I can show them how much their support has helped my business. It’s with sincere gratitude that I would like thank you all, who have had faith in me. I look forward for future engagements.

Sidney M. Lugohe

Donkeys, Goats, & "The Mattress Doctor"

Two more updates from Achintya, our intern in Kenya:

Edward Waithaka
On 8th Feb I went to meet Edward Waithaka at his home and Shamba (farm). Edward works as a watchman in Mugaa Secondary School where I was putting up. With his first Zidisha loan he bought a donkey. I asked him what the donkey’s name was and he said “Geneva”. I said “I’m sorry what?” He replied “Geneva, like the one in Europe”. Edward did not complete his schooling and has studied till form one.

During the 2007-08 post-election violence Edward had to sell most of his flock of sheep and goats at very low prices. He, like most people in the village, sent his wife and children away during the conflict. The Zidisha loan helped him get back on his feet. He uses the donkey to fetch water for his Shamba and his family. He also invested part of the loan to build the roof of his house.

With the second loan he bought a goat, which later gave birth to a little baby goat (called Toto, which means ‘a baby’). Edward has 11 children, 6 of whom stay with him. The youngest is 9 months old. The milk from the goat is just sufficient for his family but he intends to buy a cow with his next loan. He expects that by then he’d have 4 goats and sufficient milk to sell in the market. I learnt from him that goat’s milk is costlier than cow’s in Kenya. I remember reading that Gandhi called goat the “poor man’s cow”. Apparently not so in Kenya.

Edward works as a night watchman in the school and he was utterly fascinated by my torch, which does not need a battery but can be charged by rotating a small lever on its side. He told me that he spends on 4 batteries every month for his torch so I have promised to give him my torch before I left Kenya.

Ironically Geneva, as if realizing I was from Zidisha, was very happy to see me (he overturned like a beetle and gave himself a nice rub in the mud right in front of me) but Edward’s little son was not (he bawled and ran away from me)- pictures of both attached. I found Edward to be a very simple hearted and genuine person, free from any guile. I’d love to see him employ his Zidisha funds in gainful uses and improve his lot.
Read more about Edward here 

James Nuthu Mwangi Yesterday I went to meet James Nuthu Mwangi at his business premises. James runs a cleaning business, specializing in cleaning mattresses. His business is called ‘The Mattress Doctor’. He and his cousin, who is an insurance agent, share the premises to cut down on the rent. James found Zidisha on his own. He went to a bank for a loan but the bank asked for a guarantor, a running business with stable profits and an interest rate of 13% to 15%. He then searched online and found a famous lending organization that referred him to a local micro-finance organization (which the famous lending organization funded). This local organization asked him to open an account with them and other complicated formalities and demanded a MONTHLY interest rate of 2% for their loans. In simple interest terms, that totals to an interest rate of more than 26% per year. With the next loan James wants to buy a bigger vacuum cleaner because the one he has right now is, though good for cleaning mattresses and sofas, not very useful for general cleaning. James persevered in his search still, and he found Zidisha. 

Today James is one of the strongest advocates of Zidisha and volunteers for us. He is also the de-facto coordinator of Zidisha activities in Nairobi. James used his first Zidisha loan to buy a steam machine and to design and print flyers that he used for marketing his business. When I asked him how he learnt to clean, he said “through the internet!” and proceeded to show me a bundle of downloaded literature on cleaning. When one of my professors said that Internet would democratize information (this was in 1999-2000), I did not expect it to manifest like this. After finishing school James did a course in programming and later used these skills to design his business website which I found to be quite interesting, informative and easy to maneuver.

Bright green is a color that Zidisha clients seem to prefer. The bicycle that James uses to commute to nearby areas for his business is the same bright green color as the pickup truck of another client I met recently. His bike is also the first geared bicycle I’ve seen in Kenya (the gears don’t work anymore though).

Check out James’ Zidisha page to learn more

Photographs & Farmers

To keep interest rates low for borrowers, Zidisha eliminates the middleman and relies on hardworking volunteers and interns. To find out about opening positions, click here. Our Client Relationship Interns work diligently to connect with borrowers and bring lenders up-to-date about them. Here are more posts from Achintya in Kenya:

Andrew Mbugua 
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) 

To read more about Andrew, check out his profile page!   

Paul Ngugi   

Two things I observed about Paul- first, Paul is truly ambitious (this seems true for many Zidisha clients). He wants to go places, and looking at his energy (he starts his day at 6 in the morning, working on his piece of land till noon, whereafter he takes care of his shop, while also finding time to graze his animals, visit Miti-Mingi or Nakuru to buy supplies and act as a de facto Zidisha coordinator), I have no doubt he will.

Second- Paul has practical, doable ideas about how he wants to go there. He used his Zidisha loans for his shop and to buy large quantities of grains from farmers, which he sells to traders from the towns. He was also able to buy a piece of land and construct rooms, which he now rents. 

His plan now is to make a cattle-shed where he can provide food to his animals in the enclosure, without the hassle of taking them grazing. He wants to use his next Zidisha loan to buy ‘high quality’ cows. Not speculating and trying to exploit season shifts in grain prices, he appears to have solid plans based on data. For example, he plans to sell the milk to the Milk Cooperatives who pay a better price (around 4 shillings more per liter) and also guarantee purchase.

I was able to meet his three sons, his mother (who is also a Zidisha client), his aunt and his two donkeys (Toto and Kijana). Everyone smiled for the camera (except the two donkeys, who turned their faces away in disdain at human frivolities) 

To read comments from Paul and older reports from interns, head over to his page!