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.

 

Zidisha applies online karma system to international P2P lending

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By Julia Kurnia

At Zidisha, we have invested a great deal in the development of reputation measures – feedback ratings, and on-time repayment scores – for borrowing members. Most of our website development resources have gone toward risk management and in developing tools to allow lenders to better differentiate loan applicants on the basis of previous performance and trust networks. These investments are paying off in the form of the first exclusively online microlending community to connect lenders and borrowers directly across international borders on the basis of online reputation alone.

As a first step toward a greater emphasis on the contributions of lenders to our community, we introduced today a karma display for lenders. This is shown in parentheses next to lender usernames in the borrower profile pages, and is analogous to borrower on-time repayment and feedback scores in that it is intended to say something about the impact of the member’s contributions to the Zidisha community over time.

Currently, karma is calculated on the basis of five factors:

  • The total amount lent by the lenders the member has invited to join Zidisha via the “Send Invite” page
  • The total amount lent by lenders to whom the member has given gift cards
  • The total amount lent by the member
  • The total number of comments posted by the member

The karma score is a work in progress, and we expect to adjust and improve it with time and experience. Thus far, the largest karma scores appear to be held by members who have been the most active in inviting others to join, via email invites and gift cards, and who have posted many comments.

I look forward to questions and comments regarding lender karma, and would especially welcome your feedback regarding the factors that ought to carry the most weight in calculating karma.

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.