Weaving Promise

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by Rebecca Wolfe

Promise Badu loves his work and loves to share it. Operator of Dogbeda Vormawu Kente Training Center in the Volta region of Ghana, the twenty-seven-year-old has a passion for teaching others.

“The aspect I do enjoy most about my work is telling people (tourists) the history of the art/fabric, and teaching it.” Giving a portion of his tour speech, Promise elaborated. “Kente weaving is an ancient indigenous method in which thread (any colour) is set on a loom and woven into strips that are later sewn together into larger tapestries. These cloths are used for ceremonial events in Ghana. It can also be used as wall hangings, table cloths and the like. This ancient art has gained international recognition and tourists come from around the world to see how it’s made.”

Promise has, in some ways, followed in the family footsteps. Raised in a single parent household, he lived with and learned from his father, a master kente weaver and founder of the kente center that Promise now operates. All throughout his formal education, Promise was also receiving instruction in kente weaving. “As a kid,” he says, “I use to stay with [my father] and watch him do it, and helped him after school and on vacations.” His father had little taste for academics and so struck a bargain with his son: he would pay for his school fees until he came of age if Promise worked with him in the kente center on school vacations. Even with assistance from his father, Promise sometimes found it difficult to gather the funds to pay for his fees and textbooks, and often went to school without money for lunch. Promise fought to finish his education, and succeeded, graduating from Agortime Senior High School.

Soon after graduation Promise was hired by the president of Trinity Yard School, a fee-free vocational-secondary school on the west coast of Ghana. Working as the school’s kente instructor four years, Promise “learnt from the kids (students) and also made friends with visiting groups and volunteers from the US and other parts of the globe.” While there, Promise trained a young man named James Awotwe Niffio. Promise described him as “a smart, hardworking guy,” who struggled in formal lessons, but thrived in kente class. A 2012 graduate of Trinity Yard School, James has recently stepped into Promise’s shoes as the school’s official kente instructor. Furthering his own kente education, James is also “undergoing an intensive internship training at the center.”

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Graduation at Trinity Yard School

In the course of his time at Trinity Yard School, Promise came to strongly identify with the school’s mission to “educate and empower the youth… to honor the potential of young Ghanaians.” This is a vision which Promise now applies to his own community in the east of Ghana. “My dream is to raise the less privileged in my community with the help of my business,” he says. “Creating a business avenue to help them get a vocation on their own.” Most of the young people in his community, he says, “have limited access to formal education due to high levels of penury.” This is a struggle which Promise understands. “I have also gone through the same plight,” he says with great empathy. “I know the zeal embedded in these youths, but due to limited resources, they can’t realize their potential.” Lack of opportunities and resources is a condition which Promise hopes to change. He wants to provide “jobs to the jobless, training and educating the youths.” He praises Trinity Yard School, and its founder Rory Jackson, as a “LIGHT in the lives of many.” His time there, he says, “has motivated me to replicate his ideas… turning the center into a light in my community as well, because kids here need same thing.”

Promise long held a dream to empower the youth of his community, but without access to capital, struggled to see how it might come to fruition. After finishing up his time at Trinity Yard School and passing the baton of kente instruction on to his former pupil James, Promise returned to his hometown and began to develop a plan for growing the family kente center to accommodate such an effort. In April of 2015, Promise applied for his first Zidisha loan, one of the first major steps in his new and ambitious project.

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Strips of Kente Cloth

This first loan, for the small sum of $46.75, allowed Promise to repair several broken looms. Faithfully and efficiently repaying this loan, Promise established financial credibility with lenders. With his second loan, $93.50 funded in June of 2015 by three Zidisha lenders, Promise purchased colorful skeins of yarn. These first two loans helped Promise put “stuff in place” in the kente shop, developing capital and resources, building toward Promise’s long term goal of youth empowerment. Six months after this second loan, having repaid his lenders and spent the summer and fall building infrastructure and laying groundwork for a youth engagement and occupational training program, Promise again applied to Zidisha. This loan, a credit of $262 disbursed in January 2016, covered the start-up cost of employing three young members of Promise’s Ghanaian community.

In the ten months since this second loan was received, Promise has fully repaid his lenders and his training program has grown considerably. An August 2016 loan of $348, the most recent sum to date, enabled the purchase of yarns, shuttles, bobbins, and other materials for weaving, as well as supplied the funds to hire two additional young employees. “These loans helped greatly in laying the foundation of the dream,” Promise says.

At this time, the Dogbeda Vormawu Kente Training Center employs nine people. Three work on a full-time basis, two are in training, and four operate on contract. “Work normally starts at 7 AM,” Promise says, describing a typical day at Dogbeda. “You have everyone busy in their various looms, except those training may be assigned to other things.” Weavers take breaks as needed throughout the day, closing up shop around 5 PM, though sometimes special projects will keep them there until 8.

As Promise’s business grows, so do his dreams. “I have been using the funds I get from the sales of these beautiful kente clothes as a source of income to enlarge, renew, and purchase more working materials for my center.” He is delighted at the success of the program, grateful for the opportunity to employ young people in his community. Ultimately, he wants to see the center expand to locations all across Africa. “I want to be a source of motivation and inspiration,” he says. “I always count myself fortunate to have gotten to this level of my business in which I can give a helping hand to few people in my community. My dream is to see more of them not only inspired and motivated but make available resources and jobs for them.”

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Promise’s Training Center

“I would like to say a big thank you to the Zidisha team, lenders, and to all that are making this program work effectively to help young entrepreneurs raise and expand their business,” he said on his loan profile. “I believe with the help of this platform and the support of the best lenders, together we can achieve the targeted goals, that is making a difference by providing jobs and positioning the youths for the future in my community.”

With a name like Promise it is likely that this young man knows better than most the potential for ingenuity, for bright and productive futures, that young Ghanaians hold. He himself is an example of this promise; promise coming to fruition. Thanks to Promise’s effort and dreams, and financial support from Zidisha lenders, more young people will have the opportunity to fulfill their promise and see their communities grow and thrive.

If you would like to assist another entrepreneur of promise, head over to our loans page and contribute to one of the loan applications posted there. Help a community thrive and a business grow.

 

Needle and Thread

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by Rebecca Wolfe, Entrepreneur Story Writing Intern

The whirr of a sewing machine fills the little room, the gentle noise softening the edges of the day. Aat Atikah sits at her table, using both hands to guide a strip of fabric beneath the needle as it bobs. She settles into the familiar, soothing rhythm of sewing. She blinks, her eyes keeping up with flash of thread through a pattern of flowers. This is going to be a beautiful dress.

Aat Atikah, called Atik by her friends, family, and lenders, is a wife, mother, and designer in Bogor, Indonesia. Age 38, Atik has three children. The oldest, a son, is 21 years old and lives elsewhere in their island nation. The two younger daughters, ages 15 and 1, live at home with their mother and father. Since the birth of her first child, Atik has been a stay-at-home mother, leaving her eight-year job as a tailor in a garment factory upon confirmation of her pregnancy.

As a young woman, Atik says, “I had a lot of dreams that I wanted to achieve.” She had big plans to build a clothing empire. “I wanted to be a woman entrepreneur who has a large industrial garment factory,” she said. She wanted to “Provide jobs for the needy… Help my beloved family’s economic welfare.” When Atik became a mother, however, she put that dream on hold.

Spending her days in the role of what Atik terms a “normal housewife,” Atik has provided for the needs of her family physically, emotionally, and mentally. As her children grew older, Atik began to have some free time. With her entrepreneurial spirit firmly intact, she took up sewing for neighbors and relatives. As word of her excellent tailoring work spread, Atik began to receive requests from people she did not even know. Atik had, inadvertently, launched a small tailoring service. This business grew, and allowed her to provide a supplemental income to increase her family’s economic welfare.

Presently, Atik is able to accept and fill one order a day. She alters pants, makes shirts, and designs dresses. You name it, she sews it. With customers paying an average of $2 to $10, depending on the complexity of the order, Atik brings in $14 to $70 per week. As her husband is the family’s primary breadwinner, Atik is able to contribute to the family’s funds while also putting some money away for future investments. Currently, Atik says, “I have only one dream. I just want to be happy with my lovely family.” Familial happiness and entrepreneurship need not be mutually exclusive, though, and this is something she well knows.

With her skills and expertise lying in the realm of fashion, Atik is well prepared for a venture into clothing and textiles. The dreams of her youth are coming back to life, coming off hold. “I really want to have a bigger, industrial clothing production and employ many employees,” she said in her January 2016 application for a $50 loan. “But I know it cannot be achieved easily, cannot be instant. There must be a process that I go through to achieve success. Therefore, at this time, I would like to start from zero.” Her zero is what she calls her “little tailor shop,” the table in her home where she slides her seams beneath the whirring needle of the sewing machine. With her first loan, Atik purchased a stock of fabric, and that fabric turned into profit.

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Atik is working, “slowly but surely,” toward her long term goal of a clothing empire. Six months after her first loan, she returned to Zidisha. “I am very happy I know this site and all of you,” she said. “This program has much helped my business grow up.” With her second loan, a larger sum of $200, Atik plans to buy a new sewing machine. “Yipiiee hehe,” she exclaimed in a discussion post. “I will buy a machine to make my production better. Hope all lenders… know and trust me and can help me again.”

As Atik has said, there is much hard work ahead of her. With help, however, from Zidisha lenders, she has come several steps closer to reaching her goals. Hard work and determination can take a person far, and with a little help from friends around the world, anything is possible.

If you would like to make something possible for an entrepreneur, head over to our loans page and contribute to the project of another self-starter like Atik.

 

 

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.

 

The Key to Success

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By Julia Kurnia, director Zidisha

We funded our first loan in Ghana this week.  

This milestone marks the beginning of an exciting new business growth opportunity for Cornelius Nartey and countless other highly motivated Ghanaian entrepreneurs.  It is also the culmination of many months of dedicated preparation by our Ghana Country Expansion Coordinator, Roberta Zenere.

Roberta began volunteering with us early this year from her hometown in Padua, Italy.  She quickly became a pillar of our Kenya lending program, single-handedly fielding SMS inquiries for thousands of members and serving as the leader of our M-PESA loan disbursement team.  

This summer Roberta took a trip to Ghana, where she had previously spent time conducting research on the provision of financial services through the traditional Susu collection system.  This time, her aim was to help extend Zidisha lending services to the entrepreneurs she had met there.

The obstacles to offering loans in Ghana seemed insurmountable.  We need to open local currency accounts in order to lend cost-effectively in a new country, but we were told this was not possible in Ghana unless we established a brick-and-mortar office in the country – something our small nonprofit cannot afford.  Everywhere Roberta turned, she was met with indifference, delay and bureaucratic red tape.  She spent weeks meeting with banks and mobile payment service providers, but in the end none of our leads came through.  Soon her time in Ghana ended and she had to return to Italy.

Even the most dedicated pioneer might be expected to give up at this point, but Roberta persisted.  She continued the campaign to extend Zidisha’s lending platform to Ghana from Italy.  This time, she had an ally: Mr Cornelius Nartey, the founder and president of the Association of African Entrepreneurs, a pan-African NGO based in Ghana, with a similar vision of overcoming barriers of location via internet technology.  

This fall, Roberta returned to Ghana and continued to the effort to open a local currency account for Zidisha.  Over the course of many meetings, discussions and trips back and forth to the capital, Roberta and Mr. Nartey forged a partnership between the Association of African Entrepreneurs, the MTN mobile phone payment platform and Zidisha to bring peer-to-peer microlending services to Ghana.

The popular conception of innovation being all about having unique ideas is wrong.  Successful innovation is mostly a result of perseverance in the face of obstacles that seem insurmountable to everyone else.  The payoff of innovation is huge – we are literally changing the world.  But we would never get there without the persistence of people like Roberta, making things happen long after most ordinary people have given up.

Music for Microloans

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Shimoda Air Force has come up with a new way to create great music via online collaboration – while using their art to make a positive difference on the other side of the world.
 
Brian Weingartner of Shimoda Air Force explains how it all started in this interview.
 
 
What is Shimoda Air Force?
 
Shimoda Air Force is a two-person band featuring Brian Weingartner and Josh Kross. Our influences include Wilco, Radiohead, WEEN, Miles Davis, and The Hold Steady. We are pretty much a recording project because Josh lives in New York City and I live in Philadelphia. Josh and I have been friends for decades and SAF was born out of our desire to make music together even though we lived several hours apart. 
 
We share our recording files over the internet, making the recording process pretty flexible for us, and we have been able to give each other a lot of creative freedom to experiment with song writing and arranging, as well as recording techniques. Since we are rarely in the same room together when recording we have learned to trust the judgment of the other person, in a way that is completely different than any bands we’ve either been in before this. 
 
 
I understand that SAF has an innovative revenue model, where your listeners themselves decide how much to pay for your music – and you are using 50% of your proceeds to make loans to Zidisha entrepreneurs.  Why did you decide to involve Zidisha?
 
This was really a multi-step decision on our part. After our debut EP “Stay On Target” had been on iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify for a year we were faced with the decision on whether or not we wanted to take a chunk of our profits to re-up with those services. When it came down to, it just seemed like a waste of money, and that there was something better we could be doing with that money. While having our music available on the big sites was cool, it ended up seeming like more of a status symbol to us instead of a sound business decision, especially because we are a small independent band. We also did not like having no control over what to charge for our music. We love making music, we love sharing the music we make, and any money that comes from this process is a bonus to us. 
 
Once we made the decision to move forward with our music only on BandCamp and have the pay what you want model, we next came to what to do with the money we already made, and what we would do with the money we might potentially make. We decided we wanted to help make a difference in the world, and thought about a number of charities we would like to support. We ran into the issue that we would most likely be making a one time donation, and due to the amount of money we would be donating, make a relatively small impact. This led us to consider micro-lending.
 
Picking the right micro-lending organization was more complex than we anticipated. After considering several bigger names that turned out to lend with extremely high interest rates, we decided on Zidisha.  Zidisha provided us with a great opportunity to make a large impact on someone’s life, with our relatively limited profits, as well as the ability to roll over our loans into new loans as they are paid back. Once we figured this all out we became really excited about the prospect of being able to help multiple people with the same funds.
 
 
How have your listeners responded to the chance to support Zidisha entrepreneurs with their purchases?
 
We certainly have had several people express interest in what we are doing with the proceeds, and the feedback we have received has all been overwhelmingly positive. We chose not to hit people over the head with our decision to get involved with Zidisha with music that had been out for a year already. We have a new release coming in 6 months or so, and we plan on hitting the micro-lending aspect of what we are doing much harder with that release. We really hope that the positive interest we have received so far translates into a greater impact for our Zidisha lending.
 
 
What is your favorite Zidisha entrepreneur story?
 
Josh has had the opportunity to make loans to a lot of people, as he seems to always pick short-term loans that need a little money to finish.  His favorite, however, has been a larger loan to Yacine Moustatpha Gueye in Senegal.  One of the most interesting things about the loan process has been her constant updates about what she’s doing and where she is doing it.  She has posted about many other women she works with, and has kept us with updates about how the holidays and seasons are affecting business.  This gives a much better insight into the help we are giving the borrowers.  
 
Learn more about Shimoda Air Force:
 
Twitter: @ShimodaAF
Get “Stay On Target”: http://shimodaairforce.bandcamp.com/

Zidisha selected for interview at Y Combinator

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Zidisha has been selected for an interview with Y Combinator!

Y Combinator was named by Forbes as the top startup incubator and accelerator, and is considered the world’s most prestigious program for game-changing online startups.  Such well-known companies as AirBNB, Dropbox, Scribd and reddit got their start with Y Combinator.

This is the first funding round in which Y Combinator has accepted applications from nonprofits.  An invitation to join Y Combinator’s inaugural round of nonprofit interviews is a strong vote of confidence in Zidisha’s potential to change the world.

Zidisha was selected because we are pioneering a radically new way of connecting individuals in the world’s poorest locations with better opportunities via an international person-to-person lending community.

Supporting such a revolutionary idea is never easy, but the payoff is immense.

It is thanks to the faith and generosity of our borrowers, lenders and volunteers that we have made it this far in making our vision of a world where geography need no longer hold people of merit back from the chance to build a better life.

From One Startup to Another

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The hot new startup Hatchet and Gear has teamed up with the Zidisha platform to offer their customers a new kind of value.  
 
Today, Hatchet and Gear owner Lyssandra Allen was kind enough to tell us more in this interview: 
 
What is Hatchet and Gear?
 
Hatchet and Gear is a start-up business aimed at standardizing women’s hat sizes and making durable, fashionable hats and accessories available to everyone.
 
 

I understand that 10% of every sale you make is going to support Zidisha entrepreneurs – thanks!  Why did you choose to partner with Zidisha?

 
I chose to partner with Zidisha for two reasons, both of which were posted on your “How it works” page. The first is that, unlike some other microfinance lenders, 100% of the loan goes to the borrower- no middlemen taking their cut of the loan. I wanted to help small businesses, not financiers. The second reason is because the lender- not the borrower- bears the risk of loss due to currency conversion. I know how hard it is to start a business, and when factors beyond your control change to make things harder, it is incredibly frustrating. As your legal note recommends, I consider lending through Zidisha to be philanthropic – a way to help others, not to make money myself.
 
 
Like many Zidisha borrowers, you are also an entrepreneurial start-up.  What similarities and differences have you noticed between your experience starting a business in the US, and the accounts of entrepreneurs you have met through Zidisha?
 
Many of the entrepreneurs that you see on Zidisha are looking to expand their business to better meet high demands for necessary commodities. By contrast, entrepreneurs in the US are mostly focused on technology or fashion- things that are good to have, but not necessary for quality of life demands. There also seems to be less of an issue with marketing or being recognized for entrepreneurs on Zidisha, possibly due to the fact that they live in smaller, more tightly-knit communities.
 
 
What is your favorite Zidisha entrepreneur story?

My favorite Zidisha entrepreneur story is one from John Ndafa Nyumu, who went from being a casual laborer to getting training for poultry vaccinations so he can help marginalized groups improve their economic status with healthy poultry. In a world where so many people are just out to help themselves, it is always refreshing to see someone who is willing to help others while improving their own situation.

 

Thanks so much for the interview.

Thank you so much for letting me be a part of the Zidisha community! 

 

Visit the Hatchet and Gear online store to shop for beautifully unique hats, satchels and accessories while supporting Zidisha entrepreneurs.