Introducing Impact Investment Funds

Our new Impact Investment Funds let anyone open a growth-enabled donation lending account.

Impact Investment Funds work just like regular lending accounts, in that 100% of the lending funds you upload, and their repayments, go to your chosen entrepreneurs.  In addition:

  • A portion of the 5% service fee paid by all Zidisha borrowers is reinvested in the account with every loan funded, so that its value can grow over time.
  • Lending funds paid into the account are tax-deductible as charitable donations in the United States.
  • Impact Investment accounts include a Lending Fund Value page, which tracks changes in the value of the fund and its outstanding loan portfolio.

 

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Who should open an Impact Investment Fund?

Impact Investment Funds are intended for anyone who would like to make a charitable donation and watch its impact grow over time.  (The average $50 lending account funds over $750 worth of loan projects in five years!)

Is this a financial asset?

No.  All funds paid into an Impact Investment Account are considered charitable donations to be used only for funding loans, and cannot be withdrawn.

Why are withdrawals not enabled for Impact Investment Funds?

Since Zidisha is not an investment broker, US securities regulations do not allow us to offer revenue-generating financial investments to the public.

How are Zidisha’s costs covered, if it is returning service fee income to the Impact Investment Funds?

Our costs are covered separately by the portion of the 5% service fee not credited to the Impact Investment Funds, and by optional tips from lenders.

Why not reduce or eliminate the 5% borrower service fee, instead of crediting part of it to lending funds?

Our founding purpose is to reduce the cost of microloans in the world’s poorest places, where interest rates upwards of 40% are common.  That said, we believe it is optimal for entrepreneurs to pay a modest cost for loans, because it helps prevent dependency on subsidized services, and encourages entrepreneurs to invest in revenue-generating projects.  In addition, returning the service fee revenue to lending funds increases the capital available to other deserving entrepreneurs over the long term.

How much of the service fee is credited back to Impact Investment Funds?

Currently the full 5% service fee received for every loan (or portion of a loan) funded by an Impact Investment Fund is credited to the fund at the time the loan is disbursed.  This may change in the future, depending on how large a percentage of loans are funded by Impact Investment Funds.

Are Impact Investment Funds guaranteed to grow over time?

No: Impact Investment Funds are subject to the same risks as other Zidisha lending accounts, including currency exchange rate fluctuations and non-payment by borrowers.  Reinvesting service fee revenue is intended to help counterbalance these risks and make fund value growth possible, but does not guarantee it.

How do I open an Impact Investment Fund?

You may convert an existing withdrawable lending account to an Impact Investment Fund in the Account Preferences page.

To open a new Impact Investment Fund:

  1. Go to www.zidisha.org.
  2. Use the “Sign Up” link to create an account.
  3. Go to the Account Preferences page and choose the Impact Investment Fund option.

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Going Global

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by Rebecca Wolfe

Francis Maweu is always smiling, because, he says, he always finds something to smile about. A loving son, hard worker, and entrepreneur at heart, his passions have driven him all of his life. He started his first business as a young boy, raising and selling rabbits and chickens to supplement his mother’s breadwinning income in their small village in Eastern Kenya. His father passed away when he was quite young, and he has helped to support his mother and younger brother ever since. When Francis was nineteen he started a photography business, expanding to videography a year later.  This is how he got his start in technology. In 2013 he relocated to Nairobi, where he was able to open a cyber cafe, providing internet access to his new community. These two enterprises paid Francis’ way through university, his hard work resulting in a Bachelor of Economics Degree from University of Kenya in December of 2015.

Still a college student at the beginning of 2015,Francis wanted to boost his business, but found himself unable to put forth the necessary capital. This is when Francis found out about Zidisha. Invited by friend and fellow entrepreneur Earnest Makau, Francis joined Zidisha and posted his first loan proposal in January of 2015. The $100 loan was quickly funded, and allowed Francis to purchase a new computer for his cafe. Just as he had hoped, business increased, and his income rose “tremendously.” Zidisha had helped to turn the tides of business in his favor. In February, Francis became a volunteer mentor for other Zidisha members, sharing his business expertise.

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As his income increased, Francis was able to realize one of his dreams: opening a computer college. Now, in addition internet access, he was also able to offer classes in computer skills and digital literacy. By April of 2015, Francis’ college already had fifteen students enrolled, and a growing list of prospective learners who wanted to enroll but, due to limited space, could not be accommodated. Francis, then, was confronted with one of the best problems an entrepreneur can have: too much business. So, with his previous loan fully repaid, Francis came again to Zidisha lenders with a request. His second loan proposal, at a total of $427, was quickly funded, and, combined with the $450 Francis had already managed to save, he was able to purchase new computers and furniture for his students. He was even able to hire an employee to teach classes and look after the shop when he is gone.

In September of 2015 Francis was able to purchase a cooler to stock drinks for his customers, allowing them to enjoy a cold drink while they used the computers. The resultant boost in income from drink sales allowed Francis to increase his loan repayments. “I am doing good in business,” he said on his discussion page, “and thus would like to pay higher installments for others to benefit too.” He did this several times over the next few months, increasing his loan repayments when business boomed, allowing lenders to relend the funds that he repaid, increasing the impact of their investment.

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At the beginning of 2016 a new partnership with a nearby secondary school was flooding Francis’ shop with students eager to learn basic computer skills and gain digital literacy for the workplace. Francis’ Global Computer College was taking off.  Along with a rise in popularity of online sports betting in Kenya making the cyber cafe a popular place, Francis again found himself facing the best kind of problem: too much business. Even after extending the hours of his shop, often staying open until 10 PM, Francis was unable to keep up with the needs of his customers. He began to seek out ways to increase the capacity of his cafe. He came up with plenty of ideas, but all of the necessary upgrades required large amounts of starting capital that he did not have. Francis, though, was not alone in his business ventures. He had a family of lenders and advisors on his team.

In February Francis reached out to Zidisha, requesting a loan of $765 to purchase more computers. With an upgrade in his offerings, he was sure that he would see business take off even more. “I am really happy as I see my dreams being converted to realities,” he said. Business did boom, taking off enormously over the next seven months. Between February and September, Francis was able to open an mpesa (mobile money transfer) shop, an Aritel money agency, and purchase a larger refrigerator for a greater selection of beverages for his customers. “I am so grateful to Zidisha for the light, hope, and success it has brought in my business since joining it. I dearly appreciate the community,” Francis posted to his discussion page, along with photos of his new ventures.  A month later, at the beginning of October, Francis brought forward a new proposal. He wanted to expand his Global Computer College’s class offerings to include photography and videography, in which he had long been a practicing professional himself.

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With a new venture in mind, Francis came to Zidisha with a well organized plan. His loan proposal spoke of diversifying his portfolio, upgrading to professional cameras, both still and video.  “This will enable me to employ more people and take advantage of the changing lifestyle of Kenyans,” he said. With professional-grade equipment, he could cover events such as weddings and birthday parties, as well as teach and train others in the art. It was not long before this loan, too, was funded. The $1290 funded by Zidisha lenders, combined with the $800 Francis had managed to save, allowed him to purchase two professional cameras and a tripod. Francis has now added video and photo classes to his college’s repertoire, and is able to cover events as a photographer and videographer himself.

Francis has demonstrated an incredible mind for business and entrepreneurship, as well as a huge desire to help his community through training and employment. Currently, Francis is a volunteer mentor for almost fifty borrowers in his community, many of whom come to his cyber cafe to access their Zidisha accounts. The future, for Francis, is a bright one and digital one, and Zidisha will be with him in it, helping him make a difference for his neighbors and his family back home.

If you would like to help another entrepreneur reach their goals and impact their community, head on over to our loans page and contribute to a loan proposal.

A Woman of the Land

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by Rebecca Wolfe

Miriam Marani is a woman of the land. Raised in a rural Kenyan community, she has long been friends with the soil and the plants. The oldest daughter of two school teachers, she made her way through high school and college and then into a clerical position at a community organization. This work, however, did not provide enough for her family and operated on a contract basis, with ever-possible termination looming overhead. Following her lifelong passion for farming, and her deep familiarity with the fruits, herbs, and vegetables of her rural Kenyan region, Miriam decided to start an agricultural business to supplement her family’s income.

Miriam specializes in horticulture, farming tomatoes, onions, capsicums, passion fruits, watermelons, and arrowroots. Supporting her two young children, she relies on her crops to provide for her family’s daily needs. “The crops I plant are marketable and in demand in all seasons,” she says of her strategic harvests. Her main challenges are pests and viruses that attack the crops, along with the perennial farmer’s challenge of unfavorable weather conditions.

Since starting her farm, Miriam has been able to pay her children’s school fees and medical bills, as well as provide food and clothing. Her profits have even enabled her to build a permanent, proper house for her family, giving her children a reliable place to come home to at night.

In the spring of 2016, Miriam set out to take on the dry season with a drip system, but found that her funds were insufficient to cover the initial investment. Knowing that this improvement in infrastructure would greatly benefit her agricultural endeavors, she set out to find another way to bring this improvement to her farm. Zidisha was that way. A March 2016 loan application for $150 was quickly funded, and Miriam was able to install drip lines in over an acre of her land, nourishing her plants even as the rain clouds dissipated. This increase in produce, particularly in the dry season during which there is less market saturation, provided her with a greater profit margin. This increase in profit allowed her to invest in seedlings for a new crop and increase infrastructure for her greenhouse plants.

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In May of 2016 Miriam again applied for and received a loan of $150. She had planted passion fruit seedlings that February, and they were growing very quickly. While this rapid growth was a positive thing, it was not something that Miriam’s infrastructure was prepared for. Passion fruit, when left on the ground, is prone to infection. Miriam’s second loan enabled her to purchase trellises for her 500 passion fruit seedlings, supporting the plants and helping them to avoid infection and spoil. Posting a photo of her plants that June, Miriam thanked her lenders for their support and spoke of her excitement about the harvest set to come in August.

Before that harvest came, however, a small disaster struck Miriam’s farm — the plastic covering of her greenhouse was torn, rendering the space unlivable by those plants which required very specific environments. She hoped to use the space to grow capsicums, better known as bell peppers in the United States and many European countries. With a hopeful heart, Miriam came to Zidisha with a request for $460. “This is my torn greenhouse,” she said alongside a photograph of the damage. “I wish to repair it so that I can start using it… The proceeds will help me improve livelihood of my family by paying for their basic needs comfortably.” By the middle of the month, just a few days after the loan was posted, Miriam’s funds were in her account and the necessary polythene paper and drip lines were on their way. The Zidisha community had come together to support her in her journey. In August, Miriam’s harvests came. She was selling capsicums weekly, and her passion fruits were bright and healthy.

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“I am thanking Zidisha lenders so much for their great help in my Agri business venture,” she said in a post at the beginning of November. “Through Zidisha I have been able to stand on my own two feet and improve my family’s livelihood.” Miriam’s crops are growing, as is her community. Her family now lives in a sturdy home, and her most recent loan of $766, funded on November 7th, will enable her to build a new greenhouse on her property. “I am so happy, excited, thankful and humbled for this honor,” she said when the funds came through. “I have no words to express this. I wish I could mention each one of you by names.”

With a greenhouse specifically dedicated to tomatoes, which sell hand in hand with capsicums in the local cuisine, Miriam will be able to pay her children’s school fees, as well as “provide them with nutritious food, cloth and shelter.” She also plans to use her proceeds to help young farmers in her area, teaching them all that she knows about agriculture so that they too might find the success that she has found. Miriam has been “nominated by an Agricultural Extension officer in [her] area to help mentor other upcoming farmers on Capscicum farming.” In addition to this, she is also a volunteer mentor with Zidisha, serving fifty other members through sharing her expertise and her friendship.

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The impact of Miriam’s loans go beyond her own livelihood. They extend to her community, those she mentors, those who are able to have fresh produce at dinner because of her and her efforts. Like the plants that she so carefully cultivates, Miriam’s impact grows.

If you would like to see more communities thrive, head on over to our loans page and fund a loan for another inspiring entrepreneur.

Serving Up Swedru

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By Rebecca Wolfe

The light flickers on, a fluorescent hum filling the kitchen, the beams reflecting off of the metal oven and neat stacks of pots and pans. The world outside the little window is dark, dawn not having yet arrived in Swedru. Antoinette sets down her bag, lifts the string of her red apron over her head, and sets to work, singing as she goes.

Antoinette Agyare is a chef, as well as creator, bookkeeper, and manager for her restaurant and catering business in the Central Region of Ghana.  She began the business in 2011, working out of her home to support her two adopted children, an older boy and younger girl. Having studied accounting at Accra Polytechnic University, she knew her way around business finance, and chose her endeavor wisely.

Aside from the sagacity of the investment, it was a lifelong love for cooking that led the then-thirty-one-year-old into the food business. Entering the field with a strong repertoire of recipes and techniques, she was able to create an expansive menu from the get-go, offering a variety of local and continental dishes.

It was not too long after starting her business that Antoinette was able to raise the fund to construct a separate, commercial kitchen space. This new space allowed her to expand her company, taking on larger catering orders. As her business has grown, she has been able to enlarge her workforce to include several other local women. Six years after her first order, Antoinette’s team consists of herself, two other permanent staff members, and three contract workers for special events.

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This last year, Antoinette’s equipment began to grow old, and her ability to fill special orders became limited. In order to keep her business growing and expanding as it had been, she needed a financial boost to purchase new kitchen gear. She heard about Zidisha from a man named Fredrick, another Swedru entrepreneur and Zidisha borrower, and wanted to give it a shot. Fredrick invited her to the platform and she put up her loan application. With her loan quickly and fully funded, Antoinette had $300 to invest in her kitchen.

With the purchase of new pastry equipment, Antoinette’s business grew. She was able to meet higher demand for wedding and birthday orders, and more and more of these orders came in. Antoinette’s loan was paid back with ease, the funding having supported her business so well. “The first loan,” she says, “was very helpful to my business. It enabled me to acquire more equipment and food stuffs to be able to meet higher demands. This has made me more productive in my business and also helped me meet customers satisfaction all the time.”

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In September, Antoinette sought to expand her growing business even more and applied for her second Zidisha loan. The response from lenders was quick and amazing, with twenty-five different people coming together to finance the $440 loan. “Antoinette,” a woman named Elena wrote on the discussion page, “Good luck to you in getting your loan fully funded! It’s amazing to see that you care for adopted children, employ other women, and are learning so much about running a successful business. It’s very courageous to pursue so many things.” With her second loan fully funded, Antoinette says she was able to “improve on the services I render to my clients and community,” helping “improve on the standard of living for myself and my two adopted kids.”

Antoinette’s fourteen-hour work day is a long one, spent standing over a hot stove, planning menus, and organizing deliveries and preparation for large events. The life of an entrepreneur is one that requires fortitude and, as a wise lender mentioned, courage. Antoinette has plenty of both. She is an amazing mother, chef, and businesswoman, driving change in her community as she serves up delicious food, gainful employment, and a better life for her children.

If you would like to help boost the business of another entrepreneur, head over to our loans page and help fund a businessperson’s dream.

 

 

 

 

The Fruits of His Labor

7c2664249ecb99ae09ca3966ff83dd93By Rebecca Wolfe

As a child growing up in the Kenyan farming region of Meru, Godfrey Mugo realized something: farmers had produce, but no market.

As an adult, Godfrey decided to change that.

Leaving Maru as a young man, Godfrey moved to Nairobi to look for work. Though he took every odd job he could find, he struggled to make ends meet, barely covering the cost of his food and his share of the rent for the single room he and several others called home. After a few years in the capitol, Godfrey returned to the land of his childhood and managed to find a job as an accounting clerk nearby. He was paid relatively well for his time, and so managed to save up a few thousand KSE (around $30).

During this time, Godfrey married his wife of eleven years, an early childhood teacher name Carol, and he and his wife welcomed into the world their daughter, Anselim, now ten years old. Godfrey was making enough to scrape by as a clerk, but wanted the best for his wife and daughter. Working everyday with the farmers in the community, Godfrey “saw the need to venture a market for their produce,” and so “decided to start a banana business.” Having learned the ropes of retail at some of his previous odd jobs, Godfrey took it upon himself to create a path to retail for the farmers of Meru. He went farm to farm, field to field, purchasing boxes of bananas until he had enough to take to market in Nairobi. “I sold for a week… managed a small profit… then made it back… and bought more produce.”

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Godfrey managed his business well but, due to a lack of initial financing and business infrastructure, struggled to keep it going. After a while, he was forced to put his entrepreneurial dreams on hold. Prioritizing the wellbeing of his family, Godfrey worked construction jobs to put food on the table, hoping all along to save enough to reopen his fruit business and generate market access for local farmers.

In July of 2015 this hope came to fruition. Godfrey heard about Zidisha, and quickly applied for an initial loan of $100. With funds in his pocket, Godfrey returned to the fields, and from the fields went to market. A few months later, in August of 2015, Godfrey posted to his discussion page. “I am grateful to Zidisha. Having received funding, I was able to increase my stock. Now I can hire a pickup to collect my produce and take them to market.” No longer did Godfrey have to walk from farm to farm, nor load, unload, and reload fruit as he had done before. With a hired pickup, he could create a supply chain that was directly farm-to-market.

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As the months went on, Godfrey’s business took off. In November of 2015 he shared on his discussion page that not only was his business up and running smoothly, but he had been able to hire two local people to assist him with deliveries, as well as field hands to help select and harvest fruit. A month later Godfrey noted that he was now able to package his fruit, adding value to the product at market. In December he received his second loan, this for $193. The first loan, he noted, had “transformed [him],” and he had been able to repay it with ease. His second loan, he hoped, would allow him to boost his inventory, settle his accounts, and promote his goods, which is precisely what it did. “I take the Zidisha group as a dream changer,” Godfrey said in February. “You have transformed my life. This has helped me to help farmers increase their produce and the quality of their produce. Through the funding, we now have gone far.”

In June of 2016, Godfrey applied for this third loan. He was in the process of putting up a permanent storefront for his produce sales and sought aid for completing the project, “painting, fixing… shelves, buying metal.” In his new store, Godfrey said, he hoped to have new stock and hire an attendant. When the $390 loan came through, reality exceeded dreams. “I opened a new outlet,” he posted, joyfully, in July. “I also introduced new products… improved my packaging, and renovated my work premises.” As this business success continues, the growing profits have enabled Godfrey to build a permanent, sturdy home for his family, replacing their former makeshift residence.

As the business stands today, Godfrey has two full-time employees and an ever-expanding impact in his community. His shop attendant, Morris, has been able to purchase a motorcycle with his earnings and is currently building a house for his family. David, Godfrey’s sourcing employee, is able to provide for his wife and three children, as well as pay all three’s tuition fees. “I have great farmers,” Godfrey says, and they all get along well, “so supportive.” As Godfrey purchases produce from these farmers, they have been able to employ more staff as pickers and packers, as well as afford fertilizer and new agricultural technology.

The entrepreneurial journey is never an easy one, but it is most certainly worthwhile. For Godfrey, entrepreneurship has been the path toward sustainability and success for both himself and his community. “Zidisha loans have really helped me shape my life. Through their funding I have created employment, improved my lifestyle, and that of my employees. And I have also have found a market for farmers’ produce. Since his business has become sustainable, Godfrey has set his sights on even loftier goals. “I am coming up with a strategy to make supply to schools, supermarkets, hotels, and institutions… to touch as many people as possible by providing good, quality…  fruits of all kinds.”

If you would like to help another entrepreneur transform their local community, head on over to our loans page and put your funds towards a brighter future.

Eggs and Education

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By Rebecca Wolfe

Benard Onyango is a farmer, accounting assistant, and, above all, a caring and supportive guardian for four boys, all of whom came into his life about six years ago. Benard’s wife at the time had a sibling who died and left behind two sons. At Benard’s insistence, he and his wife brought the oldest of the two, Samuel, into their home. Samuel’s younger brother, Godfrey, proved difficult to track down. He had dropped out of school and joined a group of street children in Eldoret. Samuel, Benard says, was “really devastated but… could do nothing.” Not long after Samuel came to live with them, Benard lost his own older brother and sister-in-law in a motor accident. This couple also left behind two boys – Paul, age eight, and Silmax, age seven. After the burial the two boys, having nowhere else to go, joined their cousin Samuel in their uncle’s house. “With 3 boys now,” Benard says, “life had to change completely.” Benard’s wife did not wish to stay with the family and moved away. All of a sudden, Benard was tasked with raising and providing for three growing young men. Soon enough, that three turned into four. After his wife left, Benard  went in search of Godfrey, finding him on the streets of Eldoret. Convincing him to come back home with him, Benard reunited Samuel with his younger brother, and introduced him to the cousins who had, in effect, become his siblings. This trip to Eldoret, Benard says, “was one of the trying moments,” but he “had faith that [Godfrey] was an innocent boy who was pushed to the wall.” All four of his boys, Benard says, “are very bright and willing to fulfill their dreams in life.”

Benard himself “grew up in a very challenging situation” under his stepmother’s care, with his parents having divorced when he was three. He is familiar with the struggles of a painful childhood. Benard cites this as one of the primary reasons he has been so eager to take in his nephews. “I really understand what they go through,” he says. For six years now Benard has been caring for his boys, and in March of 2016 this care brought Benard to Zidisha. “I was stuck with Samuel’s final exams fees,” he says, “and went to request my long term friend to bail me out. He then told me about Zidisha.” This friend was a new member with Zidisha and, after their talk, sent Benard an invitation to the platform. Within a week of applying, Benard received his first loan. The $150 provided by Zidisha lenders allowed Benard to pay for Samuel’s final exam fees which, in turn, allowed him to graduate. Samuel walked across the stage, receiving his diploma and First Class Honours from Muranga University. With his degree in accounting, he can pursue employment in the financial sector. In Kenya, an accountant makes around $5500 USD per year – more than four times the national average of around $1250 USD. Thanks to the determination of a loving guardian, and the help of Zidisha lenders, Samuel can look forward to a life of greater prosperity. In the future, he hopes to enroll in a CPA course, furthering his ability to provide for his brother and cousins, as well as any children he might have himself one day.

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Benard repaid this loan out of his wages. Since 2008, just a few years before the boys came into his life, Benard has been working for the Institute for Security Studies. Having begun his tenure as a driver, he is now assisting in accounting and administration, as well as operating as the “authorized agent in the Institute Accounts.” Recently, however, the organization has “been experiencing funding difficulties,” forcing them to lay off twenty-five staff members. Benard was among the few who remained on payroll. The office is now running with a skeleton staff, and will likely be closing down in December. “We are still holding on to faith that… the institute will get funding to continue with their activities,” Benard says, but the very real possibility of his job disappearing, and school fees for Godfrey, Paul, and Silmax on the horizon, has led him to pursue entrepreneurship. With a crowded job market, Benard decided that he would create his own source of income, starting up a small poultry farm in the village where he grew up. “It’s still in its early stages,” he says, “but I have high hopes it will grow rapidly with the help of Zidisha.”

Around the same time as Samuel’s graduation in June, Benard applied for his second Zidisha loan. He had already purchased chickens and wire mesh, but required financial assistance to fund a fencing project. With unenclosed land, Benard’s chickens were vulnerable to theft, disease, and simply getting lost. Benard’s loan was quickly funded, and he immediately took to constructing the fence, keeping his chickens from harm and allowing him to better support his boys. This poultry business alone, Benard says, will pay for Godfrey’s school fees.

It was not very long ago that Godfrey, the second eldest of Benard’s boys, had joined a group of street boys in Eldoret after dropping out of school. “He had already given up in life,” Benard said, “because he had nowhere to turn to.” Benard gave him a place to turn, and this year, “to prove the world wrong,” Godfrey was his school’s top student on the KCPE exams. The next step for Godfrey is high school, but with further education comes further financial strain. Benard put out a large number of scholarship applications, but came up empty handed as the school year approached. In the end, he was forced to use a small part of his second loan to directly finance Godfrey’s enrollment. This, however, is really what the money was intended for all along – an education and a chance at a more prosperous future, a chance that Benard is doing everything to provide for his boys.

In early September Benard posted photos to his discussion page, sharing the progress of his farm. Fencing was up, and chickens were roaming. With three more boys to put through school, Benard hopes that his chickens continue to thrive. He is making plans to expand his farm to include dairy cows, as well considering starting a taxi business. Such endeavors require significant effort but Benard says he believes “that a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step, and that is the step I have already taken.” With Zidisha lenders walking Benard’s road with him, the path ahead looks a bit smoother, the climb a bit less steep. There are many steps to come on this journey that has already begun, and together, with Benard, his boys, and the Zidisha community, these steps will lead to great places.

If you would like to journey with a member of your global community, head on over to our loans page and help fund an entrepreneur’s dreams.

 

Seeing the Light

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by Rebecca Wolfe

The soft fibers of the wick flicker, crumble, and flame, feeding off the kerosene that seeps into its weave. A fuzzy hum something like the noise of far off crickets fills the cinderblock home. A dim, orange light casts long shadows along the empty floor. A student takes his papers over to the small table and sits, squinting as he scratches out the solutions to the problem sets he was assigned. He coughs, blinks, and coughs again.

“Growing up in the village… raised by my great grandmother, kerosene lamps were the only affordable source of lighting.” These are the words of Francis Mbewe, a shop owner, clean energy advocate, and Zidisha borrower. Using kerosene lamps to study for his grade seven and grade nine exams, Francis wound up with a cough that forced him to miss school for two weeks. While Francis did face hardship throughout his education, he made it all the way through to university, where he began his journey as an entrepreneur. Struggling to find the funds to purchase his textbooks, he got creative. By taking on several part-time and weekend jobs Francis was able to gather enough capital to purchase a set of refurbished phones, which he resold to fellow students for a small profit. It was a successful venture. Francis was not only able to buy his textbooks but also to expand his business, developing the small sales production into the shop he owns and operates today. Francis’ business, Royal Towers Zambia offers a plethora of technologically oriented services, from music downloads to phone charging, software installation to printing. Francis says that he chose to enter into this technology based business because “there was no one providing these services under one roof.” He knew that he could bring it all together in one place, creating a one-stop-technology-shop for his community.

While Francis’ business was doing fairly well, he did not have the capital that he needed to expand his services and create more opportunities for his family – his “lovely and caring” wife of four years, Thelma, their three-year-old daughter Nadalisika, and their second child who is on the way. Francis was looking for opportunities to increase his capital, and that is how he came to find Zidisha. “I did not take it very seriously the first time because it was too good to be true,” he says, speaking of his first encounter with peer-to-peer lending via a Facebook post about a year ago. A while later, however, Francis was visiting a friend who told him about Zidisha and how it could be a good fit for his business. So, Francis decided to give it a shot.

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Francis received his first Zidisha loan in March of 2016. His application, for a sum of $200, requested funding to purchase a toner printer, which would make large printing orders less expensive and more reliable. Zidisha lenders made this switch to a toner printer possible, increasing the shop’s printing profits by 60% in the first two months. In an update to his lenders Francis said that the increase in income helped him to better the nutrition of himself and his family, as well as pay his daughter’s school fees. It also enabled him to repay his loan and lay the groundwork for expanding his business into a new venture: providing solar lamps for those not connected to electricity.

This venture is Francis’ work of passion. Having spent many nights doing school work by the dim flame of a harmful kerosene lamp, he knew that wanted to help his community become free from the toxic light source. “Looking back,” he says, “I feel bad when I see any household in my village still using kerosene to light their homes or even to study. That’s why I launched my social business to distribute solar lamps to every household in my community. No student should be allowed to go through the challenges I went through! All students should have a chance to own a solar lamp and study for as many hours as they want.”

Following after this passion, Francis posted his second loan application in June of 2016. This loan, for a sum of $321, was to serve as the start-up capital for his goal of providing solar lamps to his entire community. “Energy poverty is pervasive in rural and slum communities of Chipata,” Francis said in his discussion page. “Over 70% of the population is not connected to electricity and still uses traditional sources of energy. Many rely on kerosene lamps for lighting. Each kerosene lamp releases a ton of carbon dioxide smoke every year, contributing to global warming and creating risks of burns, pneumonia, bronchitis, and lung cancer. The [kerosene] lamps are too dim for good reading and kerosene purchases eat up family income.” The average household, he said, spent $85 per year on kerosene for light and cooking. His business, Royal Towers Zambia, he said, was working toward a new goal of “distributing solar lamps to students and families so that we replace kerosene use with clean solar lamps that are affordable and lights 10x more than a kerosene lamp.” With solar lamps costing just $15, and coming with a one-year warranty, the replacement of kerosene with this product has the possibility of saving a family up to $70, “which they can use to improve their nutrition intake or invest in their children’s education.” One of Francis’ lenders praised his effort and Francis replied with thanks. “It’s a Social Business,” he said. “Helping people while making money to support my family.”

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With his second loan fully funded Francis was able to purchase 30 solar lamps, which he distributed to students and families, “the most vulnerable people and communities who constantly continue using unreliable sources of energy for lighting and cooking.” Adding solar lamps to his business also increased Francis’ income by 60%, allowing him to raise his family’s standard of living as well as contribute to the greater health of his community. “Thank you so so very much for this great opportunity I have been given to grow my business from all of you my lenders.”

In mid-July Francis posted to his discussion page. “To all my lenders, I want you to meet Rachel Zulu, our very first client of the solar lamps we are selling.” Rachel, a young mother in Francis’ community, lives in a home without electricity. Her typical light sources were candles and kerosene, which were expensive and unreliable, affecting her daughters’ ability to study at home as well as her family’s health. Rachel’s purchase of a solar lamp, Francis said, would save her $310 over the course of 5 years. Another ten days after that, Francis introduced James Mwanza, another solar lamp client. A husband and father of 3, he and his family lived in a community without electricity and used kerosene as their main source of light. “Every year,” Francis said, “James spends $200 to light his house so that the children can study and also to light his small shop that brings income for the family.” The purchase of a solar lamp, Francis said, would save James’ family “over $1,000 in the next 5 years!” James had said that his children had “problems with the smoke that used to come from the kerosene lamps and their health was at risk.” With a solar lamp, this was no longer a risk. “James has no access to the internet,” Francis said, “And can’t access the loans here on Zidisha, but indirectly you are helping James save more and live a life that is worth living!”

In September, Francis shared the story of Doreen Bwalya, a “good friend and neighbor” to Rachel, his first solar customer. A mother of five, Doreen and her family live in an area of Chipata where “89% of the population still lives on less than $1.5 a day.” At night, Doreen had been lighting her home with candles. To ensure that the candles would last as long as possible, she and her family only lit them for a few minutes in order to prepare for bed. “This broke my heart,” Francis said, “because when I go home every day, I have electricity… it’s a privilege that sometimes I have taken for granted in the past.” Doreen saw a bright light coming from her neighbor Rachel’s house and went to ask her what it was. Rachel told her about the solar lamp, and the next day when Francis arrived to open his shop, Doreen was waiting there for him. After crunching the numbers, Doreen bought a lamp, delighted at the impact it would make for her children’s studies and her family’s ability to light their home.

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Francis is passionate about his business and the impact that it is making for people in his community. Excited by the possibilities of solar technology, he is working toward a clean energy future for his friends and neighbors. With the increase in profits from Royal Towers Zambia, Francis has been able to begin construction on a home for his family, which should be finished by June of 2017. This building, he says, “will be powered 100% by solar energy… every single day am working on moving from grid electricity to clean energy lighting.”

An astute businessman and passionate community member, Francis is making his community a safer, healthier, and more productive place. “Thank you again all my lenders,” Francis says at the end of his updates. “Always know that not only are you improving my life and that of my family, but you also impacting lives of many families in my community!”

Francis’ business is still going strong. With three sales people and a security guard now in his employ, Francis is seeing his dream grow. The Royal Towers Zambia team has a goal for 2017—to distribute 1000 lamps to the people of Chipata. “With Zidisha and all the lenders supporting our cause,” Francis says, “the goal is achievable!”

To keep up with Francis’ and his journey, follow him here. If you would like to make a life-changing difference in another community, invest in an entrepreneur over on our loans page.