Look Good to Feel Good

Here is a great update from Traci in Kenya!

Traci and Judy


December 19, 2012


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

Look good to feel good, a universal approach to life amongst women everywhere in the world, Kenya being no different. Salons and boutiques ubiquitously line the streets of every town, big or small. Heaps of secondhand clothing can be found on the busy downtown sidewalks of Nairobi, women picking through the piles to find that special piece to add to their wardrobe. And formal dress is not only set aside for Sunday’s best, but every day men and women, the rich and poor, can be seen sporting the latest fashion trends. With clothes being an easy, affordable, and high-demand commodity, many women, including Zidisha borrower Judy Mburu, decide to venture into the clothing business. 

After leaving her job with EPZ, Judy began her new career as a hawker, selling shoes around the town of Githunguri. Proving to be a success, she soon earned enough money to rent a space constructed out of iron sheets along the side of the main road, neighboring produce stands and similar boutiques (see profile picture). Progressing even further, Judy introduced secondhand clothes, called mitumba, to her stock. For two years her business grew, allowing Judy to put food on the table for her family (two young boys), pay rent, employ a woman to upkeep her home during her long 13-hour workdays, and chip in for a security guard to watch over the shops in the evening. 



Always looking to expand, Judy became a Zidisha member in November, receiving her loan shortly after. Thanks to Judy’s astute business skills and the help of Zidisha, she no longer has an iron sheet shop, but now rents a permanent room. Furthermore, with her Zidisha loan, Judy was able to become an M-PESA agent, dedicating half of her shop to M-PESA matters. A similar approach to strategically placing knick-knacks along checkout counters, Judy’s M-PESA customers will inevitably browse her clothing shop. No longer selling mitumba, due to an increase in import taxes, she now offers new clothes for all ages. Obviously not a one trick pony, Judy also sells popcorn outside her shop, though due to the day’s downpour, her machine could not be set up. Wanting to pay back her loan earlier than expected, Judy would like to use her second loan to buy more clothes and add hair accessories. She would also like to move to a larger space, preferably back to the main road, which draws a lot of foot traffic. 

After only two years, it is hard to imagine that this all started with a portable shoe business. But after meeting Judy and witnessing her conviction to succeed, it all makes perfect sense. Being in Githunguri often, I look forward to greeting Judy at her future shop along the main road. Asante sana Judy, kwa tembelea mzuri! 

View more pictures of my visit with Judy at www.talkingstory.posterous.com/pages/snapshots 

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. 

Family Portraits in Salgaa

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.

Today I visited Melchzedeck at his business in the town of Salgaa, 30 kilometers west of Nakuru. Three years ago Melchzedeck was working on one of the many flower farms around Salgaa. He grew unsatisfied with his job at the time and its future prospects. Melchzedeck always had an interest in photography, so, in 2009, he retired from the flower farm and purchased a camera for 4,500 Kenyan Schillings. He had decided to go into business for himself.
Three years later, he now owns his own shop selling photographs as well as cell phones, phone cases, phone chargers and other accessories. The shop has a small studio in the back of the shop where Melchzedeck is able to take portraits and family photos. He also operates a kinyozi (barbershop) within his shop in case anyone wants to have a last minute haircut before being photographed. 
In addition to photographing individuals and families who come into his shop, Melchzedeck also travels to weddings, graduations, birthday parties, and various other gatherings to document the memories as he says. He is one of only two photographers in the village of Salgaa so his services are in high demand. 
With his next loan, Melchzedeck plans to buy printing machine. Currently, he has to travel to Nakuru to print out the photographs that he takes. Though traveling to Nakuru takes a little over an hour round trip, it is an unnecessary burden as Melchzedeck wants to be able to photograph his customers and instantly present them the photograph. Melchzedeck is optimistic about the future of his business; he rightly views the growth of the population in Salgaa as an opportunity for more weddings, graduations, and every other celebration to be photographed. 

The Young at Heart



Margaret, who is on her second Zidisha loan, was visted by one of our Kenyan Client Relationship Managers this past week. You can read about Dan’s meeting with Margaret below:

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.“I am here! I am here! I am here!” Margaret proclaimed as she deftly hopped over a small ditch on the side of the road. After a warm greeting Margaret began quickly leading to me her shop in Bahati Center, an agricultural town north of the city of Nakuru. She jumped over puddles and potholes the whole way before hopping on top of the step at the entrance to her shop. Margaret is 65 years old. Her shop is part of a building that Margaret owns. The shop sells some basic supplies and contains a storage room that she will soon fill with bags of maize from her farm to be sold through the shop. The shop also contains a soon to be operational MPESA stand. Locals use the MPESA service to send and receive money electronically. Margaret had used her first loan to purchase a sheep and has used her current loan to open the MPESA stand. Margaret’s shop only occupies a small portion of the large L-shaped building that she owns. She has created six hotel rooms with the remaining space and built one additional free standing room. She currently is renting out rooms at the rate of 600 Kenyan Schillings for a single and 1,500 Kenyan Schillings for a double. Since the new constitution was passed in 2010, the town of Bahati has become a district capital. Margaret expects to continue to enjoy full occupancy as her hotel is located adjacent to the new government office. After explaining these various business ventures, Margaret announced, “Now I will take you to my home business.” With boundless energy, she led me three kilometers down the road to her farm, where she lives with her husband. They cultivate mainly maize and tomatoes but also have sheep, goats, and a few chickens remaining after they recently sold 2,000 chicks. Margaret explained that the land they used to live on was ten acres but it was lost during the post-election violence. Since relocating to Bahati, they now only have two acres but she seemed to lament more the fact that each of her five children are now adults and working in different parts of the country. In addition to Margaret’s “town business” and “home business” she also found time to become the chairwoman of the Happy Mothers Group. This started out as a collection of five women and has now grown to seven who are all Zidisha borrowers. As Margaret escorted me the three kilometers back to town, she excitedly told me about how her family will all be returning next month for Christmas, a happy mother indeed. 

"The Popcorn Lady"

Hi Lenders,

Here is a brand new update from one of our client relationship interns in Kenya! Be sure to check out the borrower’s profile for more information and leave any questions that you may have in the comments below!

Hello, my name is Andrew Weber and I am currently a Client Relationship Manager visiting Zidisha borrowers all over Kenya. It is quite common in Kenya to see people selling small bags of popcorn or peanuts. These ubiquitous little treats are sold by everyone from shop owners to wandering food merchants tapping on your window as you wait for your bus to depart. While the roaming vendors hawking various products are often ignored by weary Kenyans as they wait at the bus station, I’ve seen locals perk up many times to purchase a snack from a popcorn and peanut seller. Irene understands Kenyans’ craving for salty snacks, and has in turn made herself into the Popcorn Lady of Naivasha

Irene’s popcorn and peanut empire covers more than 100 vendors and shops in the region. She has the largest network of customers in the area. Rather than join the hordes of snack retailers in the area, Irene opted to enter the distribution business in 2003. She procures large sacs of popcorn and peanuts directly from a food wholesaler in Nairobi. The massive bulk of her individual purchases speak to the volume of snacks she pushes through the area: 90 kg (200lbs.) sacs of peanuts and multiple 10kg (22lbs.) sacs of popcorn. She then cooks the products herself before having them bagged and then selling them near and far. Customers include traders who come to her to bring snacks back to their more rural villages, and also shops all over the region. “Shops buy from me because I know how to cook”, says Irene. She cooks the peanuts in salt and water with no oil. 
With her loan Irene has increased her supply greatly, and moving the greater bulk has not been a problem at all for her. Wedding season is coming up so she hopes to continue moving an increased supply. The increased profits help support her six children, a couple of which are studying at universities. She is also still hoping to use part of the loan to buy a large popcorn machine, which will enable more quickly churn out her product so she can continue to grow her business. The machines are quite pricey though, so that purchase might have to wait until Zidisha loan number two. Once she has a large popcorn machine, her snack empire may begin to reach all corners of the nation. 

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.

Technology Sets No Boundaries

Here is a great update from Traci in Kenya! She had the opportunity to meet with Duncan Chege earlier this month. Mr. Chege is a great example of the type of individual who is striving to make a real difference in his community. I hope you enjoy Traci’s update! If you have any questions for Traci leave a comment below and I’ll relay the message to her.

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

Minds alike, Duncan Chege and Zidisha both envision a world where technology sets no boundaries, where opportunity is no longer stifled due to economic standings, and where geography plays no role in one’s level of success. Although late in the game, the technology industry in Kenya is growing at an overwhelming rate of 20% each year. With rapid growth comes rapid change, and a shortage in skills is a challenge that Kenya is currently facing. 


Seeing the way of the world and a need for technology education, Duncan Chege moved from his rural town of Rongai to Nairobi, the heart beat of Silicon Savannah. In 2009, with only one computer to furnish his shop, it was here that Duncan opened Vision Computers. Within its three years of operation, one computer quickly multiplied to eight, and upon receiving his first Zidisha loan in June, eight grew to ten. With more computers, students are now able to work independently without the fuss of sharing a screen or fighting over who gets to use the mouse. Duncan wishes to pay back his loan quickly, in hopes of being able to take out a larger loan, which would allow him to rent a bigger space. 


Providing internet services is only a fraction of what is offered at Vision Computers, for Duncan’s main objective is community development. Seeing technology as a tool for empowerment, he offers computer-training courses to youths. Many students coming from the surrounding areas, including a nearby slum, Duncan’s rates are much more reasonable than his competitors. In addition to training courses, he has also partnered with a local primary school. In small groups, children come to Vision Computers to receive informal lessons to acquire basic computer skills. As I speak with Duncan, eight children work together on a paint program, directing each other on what to draw and what colors to use. As I peek around the cubicle, I see a lime green house in the making. Children being sponges of knowledge, Duncan expresses the importance of exposing them to technology early on, in hopes of better serving their future. 


Before my visit with Duncan ends, he takes me to his partner school. Not having electricity, running water, and limited space due to other live-in tenants, I see how fortunate they are to have the resources that Duncan is providing. Wanting to spread the word about Zidisha, Duncan introduces me to the director of the school, hoping to extend his services in more ways than one. 


To view more pictures of Duncan and watch a short video of him and his students, visit talkingstory.posterous.com