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.

 

Establishing Connections


Greetings lenders! My name is Neil DiMuccio, and I am a Client Relationship Manager with Zidisha in Kenya. I am currently visiting borrowers to learn more about them and support them with their Zidisha loans. It is my hope that this work will build bridges to better connection and understanding, and that Zidisha and its borrowers will increasingly grow, communicate, and support each other.

I recently had the opportunity to meet and work extensively with Robert Ndungu, who also goes by Robert Njoroge. To be perfectly honest, I was thrilled to meet this man, because he was the first person I had lent to using the Zidisha platform last year! I decided to lend to Robert because he was offering a high interest rate (at the time), because he had numerous sources of income, and because he seemed to be something of a pillar in his community. My visits to Karunga have affirmed these thoughts – Robert is a well-known, hard-working, and productive member of his community!

I made several visits to Karunga, a small agricultural community some 12 kilometers North and East of Nakuru near Bahati. This town is a hotspot for Zidisha borrowers, with some 30-40 persons having Zidisha loans in the area, due in part to the work of gentlemen such as Robert, who is a Zidisha Community Organizer for Karunga. Luckily, the ride to Karunga is gorgeous. Imagine this: getting on back of a motorbike, and zipping along a bumpy and rutted dirt road, seeing fields of wheat, corn, and sunflower underneath a canopy of trees. All this while cows and goats graze idyllically, and locals smile and wave to you. Living and working in Kenya may not always be easy or comfortable, but it certainly has its pleasures!

Anyway, Robert was kind enough to let me photograph him in his shop, and was selfless in giving of his time to walk me around and introduce me to many Zidisha borrowers, translating to Kikuyu, Swahili and English as needed. We also had lunch together at one point, with other Community Organizers of Karunga, where we talked, laughed, and discussed Zidisha’s impact on the community. It was agreed that Zidisha’s low-interest loans were very helpful, but that further services would be of benefit, such as medium-scale agriculture and engineering projects, to do things like aiding farmers in irrigation (I believe the region is currently mostly without irrigation).
Please join me in thanking Robert for setting a great example with his use of Zidisha, as well as his tireless service of helping those around him in his community. Thank you, Robert! Best wishes and God Bless.

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!

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! 

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. 

Social Business Day 2012

Created in 2010, the Social Business day is a unique occasion to connect people all over the world, around innovation, empowerment, social entrepreneurship and other creative topics.It was held on June 28, 2012, which also happens to be Dr. Yunus’ birthday (no coincidence, this was intentionally chosen!). I remember being a part of the prestigious audience last year, which consisted of social business leaders in the globe today. I was only able to attend since I was working at a nonprofit organization in my country, Bangladesh for the summer but frankly, I was amazed at the passion and ardor these folks had in creating sustainable and effective social activities.
First off, it is imperative to digest the true meaning behind running a  ‘social business.’ Dr. Yunus coined the term in his book, ‘Creating a World without Poverty,’ where he explained it as the new kind of capitalism that would serve society’s pressing needs. Such a business is distinct from a non-profit due to its profit generation methods that are mainly used to expand the company’s outreach, improve the product or service in ways that will enhance the social objectives. This groundbreaking theory was essentially conceived by Dr. Yunus who thought that capitalism was narrowly defined and failed to capture human worth within its financial undertakings. Hence, a cause-driven business such as a social business will address these gaping issues where the purpose of the investment would be to achieve one or more social objectives through the operation of the company, since no personal monetary gain should be wanted by the investors.
One of Grameen’s most successful social businesses have come in the form of Grameen Danone, that creates subsidized yoghurt called Shokti Doi. This product basically contains numerous nutritional elements such as protein and calcium and is designed to fulfill the nutritional deficits of children in Bangladesh. Its overarching aim is to reduce poverty and to empower the local people with employment opportunities. Grameen Danone yoghurt was also rated by Businessweek to be one of the 25 products that might change the world. Such is the power of a social business that originated from a simple, thoughtful idea.
It was unfortunate not to have been able to attend this glorious event this year. For the 2012 edition, the Yunus Centre organized a 2 day conference in Dhaka with great speakers like Pr. Yunus, of course, his friend from NASA Ron Garan, Eric Lesueur from Veolia Water. The speeches that took place on Social Business Day 2012 have not been put up yet but this an amusing video created for this special occasion:

Tailoring in Munanda

Stephen in front of Irungu Modern Tailoring


Stephen in his shop

Stephen Irungu is one of our Kenyan borrowers living in the town of Munanda. At 25 years of age Stephen is quite busy running a tailoring business to support his young family. Stephen designs pants, shirts, skirts, and alters them as needed. For all of his hard work Stephen earns a profit of about $2.38 per day. While Stephen is a tailor by trade, he also farms to make money on the side (like many other Kenyans do). If his loan is funded (this will be his second) then Stephen will be able to stock his store with clothing during the upcoming harvest season. One of our Client Relationship Interns was able to visit Stephen last week. You can read about their meeting below in her own words:


Thursday, July 4, 2012

Hello, my name is Traci Yoshiyama, Zidisha’s Kenya Client Relationship Manager. 

I was welcomed into the town of Munanda today by Stephen Irungu, the proud owner of Irungu Modern Tailoring. It’s hard to miss his quaint shop, even amongst the many businesses blooming in the Munanda, for hanging on his door is a brown all-leather suit created by Stephen himself. 

In 2005, Stephen started Irungu Modern Tailoring with only one sewing machine. With this flourishing business, he now has three sewing machines, an iron, and also employs three people. It is also a family business, for his wife often times assists with the ironing.

This is his second Zidisha loan and he plans on creating a boutique for the people of his village, the first of its kind in Munanda. With the funds, he hopes to buy clothes from Nakuru and sell it in shop. His passion for fashion is evident, as he describes his store not merely as a job, but a hobby and his happiness.

After my visit to his shop, Stephen kindly took me around his village, showing me various shops and introducing me to friends. He even assisted me in finding some much needed supplies that cannot be found in Mugaa, the village I am residing in. 

Best of luck with your loan Stephen. It was a pleasure meeting you.