Needle and Thread


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.


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.



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!

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.

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.

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