Another Burkinabé Entrepreneur

This month will mark one full year since Mien De Graeve left a comfortable job in Belgium and boarded a plane to Ouagadougou to become our first Burkina Faso Client Relationship Manager.

Back in September 2012, we had only five members in Burkina Faso. A landlocked desert country in West Africa, Burkina Faso is one of the world’s poorest and most isolated places. Literacy rates are below 20% in many areas, and only a tiny percentage of residents use the internet. Experienced humanitarian workers were skeptical that a web-based P2P microlending community could take root in such a place.

Mien had no office, staff, vehicle or even a stipend to cover expenses. Undaunted, she began crisscrossing the vast desert nation by bus and bicycle, using the tiny handful of early Zidisha adopters as a springboard to recruit new members. Each time someone joined, Mien performed a careful background check and thorough orientation – and often sampled their business products, met their family and shared their stories and photos with potential lenders back home in Belgium.

Twelve months later, we have gone from just five loans in Burkina Faso to over 150. An impressive 95% of these loans are repaying on time – the best repayment performance of all of our large lending programs. The social impact of these loans has been immeasurable – especially on the children of the entrepreneurs who are eating better food and going to better schools as a result of their families’ greater earning power. 

Mien’s achievements go beyond the borders of Burkina Faso. Late last year, she began laying the groundwork for our newest lending program in neighboring Niger, ultimately making two trips to the country to negotiate the opening of a bank account and build relationships with early members and volunteers. 

We at Zidisha have an immense admiration and gratitude for what Mien has built, and that is why I was pleased to learn that she has decided to launch her own enterprise in Burkina Faso. Starting this month, Mien is leasing a property owned by the Atelier Théâtre Burkinabé in Ouagadougou, and partnering with a Zidisha member to turn the location into a unique restaurant and entertainment hub. Fortunately for Zidisha, Mien will continue to work with our members in Burkina Faso after hours, while joining their ranks as a genuine entrepreneur.

Please take a moment to visit the Atelier Théâtre Burkinabé Facebook page, check out some pre-restoration photos and share your support for Mien’s new enterprise! 


The new house Zidisha member Siaka Toure built for his family in Banfora, Burkina Faso, using proceeds from his Zidisha loan.

A New Home












By James Hastwell, Burkina Faso Client Relationship Manager

I recently had the great pleasure of visiting Siaka in his village Takaledougou. He was nice enough to put me up for the night in one of the local huts. He really is a fantastically nice and welcoming person, not to mention all the fantastic things that he continues to do as a volunteer mentor.

Siaka began showing off some of the items he has purchased with his Zidisha loans. With the first he acquired equipment to process manioc into attieke, a local dish. With the second, he purchased the ‘taximoto’ seen in his pictures below. His intentions were originally to use it to collect manioc and sell attieke in town. As it turns out, the ‘taximoto’ is in high demand and he frequently lends it out, for a fee, to other villagers.

Recently Siaka has expanded his manioc fields to ensure a year-round supply of manioc. He currently has 4 different types growing as he tries to find out which gives the greatest yield.

I asked why he didn’t want to just focus on processing manioc, and I found his answer quite insightful. As he puts it, cultural forces at play mean that Siaka’s main risk was losing his suppliers once he started to show a bit of success. He identified this early and began planting his fields. 

A number of months later his predictions held true and suppliers began giving preference to foreign buyers. Without his foresight, Siaka would have surely seen his financial situation deteriorate. You must admire his use of experience and vertical integration in managing his business operations.

In terms of impact, the most obvious is effect is the literally gigantic (by local standards) newly built house in the picture below. Siaka is insistent that without the two loans he never would have had the income to build it.

Looking forward, Siaka tells me he is planning to go back to school to finish his education. From then on it really is hard to tell how far this man’s talents will take him.

You may read Mr. Traore’s story in his own words and view more comments at his Zidisha Microfinance Profile page.






“Au dedans de toi est la source de la vie”



By Mien De Graeve

My name is Mien and I am Client Relationship Manager for Zidisha in Burkina Faso. We just had a few members in Burkina Faso when I arrived here last September. I am very proud to tell you that the number of loans financed in this country reached 100 last week!
One of these 100 entrepreneurs is Justine Ouedraogo. During her loan application I communicated with her through email. I got very curious though after a while, not only because it is quite particular to meet a writer in Burkina Faso, but also because she started to speak about Zidisha to the members of her association Amour Divin, some of these members have applied for Zidisha loans as well and all of them seem to meet exceptionally motivated people.
Yesterday afternoon I finally met this extraordinary woman!

When you have a look at the titles and covers of her book, you may think that she’s writing about religion. She is not! She is writing about spirituality and she asked me to stress the difference between those 2 concepts. Religion is about a set of rules, it’s a system trying to guide people to live according to important values. Religion is about attributing responsibility for what happens to you and your life to someone else. Spirituality is about the inner force that guides you to live according to the same values and about believing that you are capable of changing things, of achieving your goals yourself. “Au dedans de toi est la source de la vie” (“The source of life is inside of you”), that’s the most important message Justine wants to spread through her books, her songs and her lectures. 

It was very interesting to hear how she became the promoter of this message. She used to be a very pious catholic, just like her first husband and father of 4 of her children. At a certain moment she decided to leave the catholic church and she converted to evangelism. She was then still fully convinced that a religion was the best answer to the spiritual questions we all have to deal with. Her conversion caused a lot of trouble in the relationship with her husband, to that extent that he started to ill-treat her and finally repudiated her. 
First she found comfort and consolation in her religion and in praying but after a while she started to realize that it’s not your religious belief that is going to change your life and the world, it’s your acts and the way you interact with people. She then turned away from church and religion completely and started to work on her own ideas and concepts. She created the association ‘Amour Divin’, she started to write and to sing. It’s hard to survive with the revenues of sales of her books and records, but she’s very determined to continue. Actually ideas are a product as important as food or clothes, especially in a developing country as Burkina Faso. Many people are trained to rely on help from others or to belief that one day help will come as long as they continue praying. What Justine wants to make clear is that each and everyone has a personal responsibility to work towards the changes he would like to see in his or her life, and that guidance is to be found in each person’s heart. She said yesterday that if she would have understood spirituality a few years ago as she does now, the conflict with her first husband would never have occurred. 

Although I am an atheist myself, I found it very inspiring to speak with Justine and it makes me happy to see how some people in Burkina Faso are so determined to invest in the mental, moral and spiritual development of the country. It also makes me very happy to see and feel how Justine really lives according to her values and principles and how she supports and inspires so many people in her community. 

This was indeed very different from visiting a more traditional business such as a pig farm, a hair dresser or a hard ware store but it was a wonderful discovery! Check out Justine’s books on (author name: Justine Marie Philippe OUEDRAOGO)

“A Good Stepping Stone”



This remarkable personal story was posted by Sylvain Yameogo, one of our earliest members in the desert country of Burkina Faso, West Africa.  

The area where I live is called KOUDOUGOU. It is located in the western part of the country, 100km from the capital, Ouagadougou. As stated in this profile, my name if YAMEOGO Weindate Sylvain. I am 24 years old and am the oldest of a family of three children. I lost my father when I was nine, on December 15th 1996. After his death, my mother who was a housekeeper was forced to work even more in order to feed us. Our situation was made even more difficult with my younger brother’s illness. From this point on, I spent the summers working to help my mother and to pay school for my siblings and I. 

Our situation did not improve and my mother passed away from a long illness on September 13th 2003. After her death, I took on the responsibility of caring for my younger brother and sister. I continued to attend public school and obtained my license in 2009. After graduating, I enrolled in the geography program at the university level to better support my siblings in their schooling. I chose geography for the ability to quickly obtain a diploma even though my dream was to become a pharmacist. Unfortunately, an extended strike in the geography department affected the availability of classes. It became impossible to attend the regular program within the planned graduation timeframe. This situation was conflicting with my desire to help my brother and sister succeed. So I decided to start a small scale chicken farming business to occupy the free time created by the professor’s absences and the continuous strikes on campus. 

More importantly, I made this decision to create a revenue stream allowing me to fulfill my duties of oldest son to support my brother and sister. With the revenue from the enterprise, I am in a better position to provide for my brother and sister, pay for medical appointments and prescription medication for my ill brother. I also buy material needed for my geography training, internet access to be able to visit the Zidisha website, etc. I am very passionate about my small experience in chicken farming and am interested in turning it into a true professional and scientific career. 

In my opinion, the Zidisha concept constitutes a good stepping stone. Ambitious entrepreneurs like me don’t always have the opportunity to see our dreams come true since the access to credit is complicated in the country. First and foremost I would like to congratulate Zidisha. If their system didn’t exist it would need to be created. I am very motivated, ready for work and think of myself as an innovator. My hope is to be successful and be seen as a model for generations to come as an inspiration to develop my country and all of Africa.

To view more comments and Mr Yameogo’s original words in French, please visit his Zidisha Microfinance profile page.

Zidisha Lender and Borrower Meet in Burkina Faso

By Mien De Graeve, West Africa Client Relationship Manager

Zidisha lenders and Zidisha borrowers are communicating with each other every day, thanks to the wonderful World Wide Web. Real-life meetings between lenders and borrowers are rare though, and probably what happened last week in Ouagadougou was unique! Sigmund Elias Holm, a resident of Norway, booked a ten-day trip to the capital of Burkina Faso to attend FESPACO, the biennial pan-African Film Festival, together with a friend. He had been lending through various microcredit sites before and only recently discovered Zidisha. He also found out that Zidisha has a lending program in Burkina Faso and he decided that this would be a perfect opportunity to learn more!

No sooner said than done. He wrote an email to Zidisha and quickly got in touch with me. As you may know I am Client Relationship Manager in Burkina Faso since last September. We met last week in the beautiful garden of a guesthouse in Ouagadougou and I did my best answering many questions about Zidisha and about what makes Zidisha so very different from other microfinance initiatives. Nothing is more convincing though than seeing something with your own eyes. That is why we visited one of the active borrowers in Ouagadougou, Mrs. Safiatou Dao (check out her borrower profile at Mrs. Dao runs a small restaurant, where she serves breakfast in the morning, lunch at noon, and fresh drinks (including delicious bissap, made from hibiscus flowers and mint) all day. Thanks to her first Zidisha loan Mrs. Dao was able to build an extra shed next to her “kiosque,” buy extra tables and chairs, and some new plates and cutlery. Since the enlargement of her restaurant Mrs. Dao saw her clientele growing steadily. Many employees from the offices around and students from the schools nearby appreciate that they now have a place to sit down quietly to enjoy a simple but delicious homemade meal. That was exactly what we did as well, while chatting with Mrs. Dao. She felt really honoured with the visit, and I bet Zidisha has two more loyal lenders!


Zidisha lender Sigmund Elias Holm in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso