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!

Emerging trends in microfinance

Financial inclusion continues to be one of the key challenges in the microfinance sector today that would play an integral role in shaping its performance in the future. At the Mexico G20 summit last summer, 17 countries led by the Presidents of Chile, Indonesia, and Mexico publicly committed to advance financial inclusion. Although the term microfinance has been associated with the working methodologies of Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank and with organizations such as Opportunity International, Accion and ASA, its employment as a tool to fight against poverty has always been debated, since its usage still lacks a necessary component to creating successful entrepreneurship values.
The concentration of MFIs have been growing in the regions of Africa, Latin America and Asia over the years, and this trend is attributable to the increasing below-poverty line population in those regions alongside the proliferation of the urban poor. Primary sources of funds for early MFIs were generated from savings of clientele and venture capitalist funding. However, the scenario has been changing rapidly. Nowadays, Central Banks across the globe have been taking initiatives to allocate financial services to the poorest of the poor; this in turn, has enabled hundreds of MFIs around the globe to become profitable in the long run. Commercial banks have begun to acknowledge the profits they can achieve from the low end of the retail market and mobile phone operators continue to discover innovative methods of allowing the poor to access mobile-based banking services.
Over the past year, there have been various trends that have emerged in the microfinance sector as businesses and individuals continue to realize the benefits of microfinance. Some innovative trends that have been adopted by microfinance institutions as they try to make their solutions more sustainable are listed below-
   Specialized Microfinance Institutions: Microfinance institutions are focusing on customer specific demands, which vary across a wide range of customers and according to the location. Last year saw an increasing progress in translating the needs of the poor into improved context-specific product offerings and policy approaches. A set of providers across the globe accelerated experimentation with innovative products that better match people’s savings needs and behaviors. For example, Jipange KuSave in Kenya tested the provision of interest-free loans with a third of the amount held back as savings. Opportunity Bank in Malawi has a commitment savings product for farmers that allow them to lock away their post-harvest payouts and distribute it over the year to smooth cash flows.
   Diversification of Microfinance Institutions: Microfinance institutions believe in offering broad range of products and services under an umbrella of microfinance that previously started with small loans, now offers money transfer, insurance and savings services as well.
    New channels: Branchless banking and franchisee-based services have become extremely effective and prevalent these days to approach potential clients who live in rural areas. One of the top developments in Kenya’s branchless banking industry was the launching of M-Shwari in Kenya, which provided access to savings and loans to M-Pesa customers. Through a partnership between Vodafone, Safaricom and the Commercial Bank of Africa, M-Pesa customers can now apply to CBA for a mini-loan and sign up for an interest bearing savings account, directly from their phones. Since its launch in November, M-Shwari now has 1million users.
   Turnkey Solutions: Most of the microfinance institutions have started offering services to their clients that differ from traditional services like savings, insurance and loans. Some MFIs offer services such as supply chain management or assisting with marketing infrastructure to grow micro-businesses.

Falling down yesterday, standing up today

A man of great perseverance, Mr. Francis Kiiru was unable to finish his primary education due to financial difficulties. However, the lack of a higher education did not prevent him from accomplishing great feats, especially in supporting his wife and eight children. Below is a recent update on Mr. Kiiru from our Client Relationship Manager, Traci:

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

Francis in his shop
It is said that a person’s true character is revealed when confronted with challenge and controversy. Week after week, I speak with those who have encountered many adversities in life, misfortunes and hardships that test the strongest of minds. And week after week, as I sit and chat with Zidisha borrowers across Kenya, I am never met with self-pity or deprecation, but rather an unwavering determination to succeed. Last week, I was greeted in Dandora, a slum in eastern Nairobi, by a charismatic mzee (respected elder), beaming from ear to ear. This man was Francis Kiiru.

Francis grew up in the Rift Valley, situated approximately three hours from Nairobi. In the year 2000, without notice or pay, Francis was let go of his job with the Ministry of Lands. Being the sole provider of his family of nine, he decided to move to Dandora and start a general shop. Due to the high costs of living in Nairobi and lack of security in Dandora, Francis’s eight children and wife remain in Nakuru. Dandora being prone to rampant crime and Francis having experienced theft in the past, it is not often that he can leave his shop to visit his family. But despite the distance, Francis manages to take care of his loved ones, sending money to his wife through M-PESA everyday.


Francis and fellow Zidisha borrower
Although they have a small farm in Nakuru, the produce is not plentiful enough to generate any income or put food on the table. Francis also bought his wife a sewing machine to begin her own tailoring business, but due to their location, it did not take off. His general store being his family’s only source of income, Francis is able to pay for six of his children to attend school, along with all their basic necessities, such as food and housing. With the help of Zidisha and his lenders, Francis used his loan to buy stock, such as sugar, flour, salt, toilet paper, and soap. Although his first priority is providing for his family, Francis would like to rent a bigger space for his shop, hoping that future Zidisha loans can assist in this endeavor.

Despite the sacrifices Francis has had to make, his attitude remains resilient. The smile you see in my photos is not for the camera’s sake, but a true representation of a man that believes he has and will continue to succeed. Being only one of two Zidisha borrowers in Dandora, Francis would like to see his friends benefit from the organization as he has. I have a strong feeling, and I must admit, a bit of hope, that I will be back soon. Thank you for a nice visit Francis and good luck with your business over the holidays! 

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 http://topmansafaris.com.

Crowdfunding Transforms The Charity Landscape

While charity organizations have been around for decades to assist those in need, the rise of the internet and crowdsourcing websites has transformed how charity is handled today. Microfinancing sites play an especially huge role in this as they allow donators to get their money directly to those who need it. Instead of donators placing their money in the hands of a charity that may never end up diverting the funds to where it is intended, donators can feel safe and confident in knowing that their money is directly handled by recipients in need.


Helping Businesses with Microfinance
Besides helping individuals gain access to things like education or an increased amount of savings, microfinancing also does a fantastic job at helping many businesses to grow. Around the world and in many poorer areas, many individuals who run their own businesses may be running into problems because of factors such as broken equipment or lack of resources and, therefore, cannot afford fixed price recruitment in order to hire others to help run their business. For most business owners in these rural areas, microfinancing is the only source of income for both them and their family.
If they have to end up shutting down their business, problems can soon occur. Microfinancing helps these owners with things like a new vehicle for their business, new fabric for a clothing company, or even money to produce additional food for a restaurant.
By helping these businesses, you aren’t only helping the owners and their families, but also the local economy. After all, one of the best ways to help a city’s economy to grow is to support the local businesses in the area. If a local business ends up having to close, this leaves a huge economic void for the area. Money spent at these local places will typically go straight back to the economy as much as two or three times over.

Microfinancing Helps Increase Savings of the Poor
As this article by AllAfrica.com says, microfinancing has helped to destroy the myth that the poor do not save their money and is instead showing that most are credit worthy and do intend on saving. Microfinancing loan institutions are an essential part in helping those in rural communities to gain access to the financing they need. The only challenge right now seems to be that many citizens have trouble accessing these forms of credit. However, many microfinancing services around the country are working hard to implement this infrastructure and bring it into the hands of more people so that they can be helped. According to AllAfrica.com, a World Bank report has said that the number of people living on less than $1.25 per day is over 1.4 billion. With unfortunate statistics like these, it becomes apparent how important infrastructure like microfinancing is along with access to things like fresh food and water.

Microfinancing May Help To Solve Academic Issues
Thanks to budget cuts within education sectors throughout the world, research projects are getting cut, and tuition continues to rise. In many parts of the world, education is not even an option and many people can only work without ever having the chance to get a higher education. Microfinancing sites are increasing the ability for many throughout the world to be able to get an education.
Since many children have to work for their families each day, many are not able to go to school because they must help their families. Along with this, education is often expensive and is not free in all cases. Regardless, extra money that families receive can help to keep children in school and help them get an education. 

Why Is Microfinancing Better Than A Traditional Charity?
While it is true that there are plenty of fantastic charities out there, many of them are major for-profit corporations, and only a fraction of the money you end up donating will actually go to where it needs to go.
While not all microfinancing institutions are like this, a majority of them are non-profit, and their main goal is simply to get the donated money from you directly to the person that needs it. The existence of a company that handles your donation and distributes it when they feel it is necessary is eliminated by p2p microfinancing; it allows you to help many individuals around the world in a major effort to get out of poverty and improve the lives of both themselves and those around them.


Guest post by Eve Jamieson