Needle and Thread

atik

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 “mine of gold” inside

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I met Aissatou Traore last year at the Dakar, Senegal headquarters of Forever Living, a direct selling company that produces aloe vera and other natural health products. Forever Living is based in Arizona, but markets its products through a worldwide network of millions of independent distributors, including Aissatou.

Aissatou is the sole breadwinner for her elderly mother and 14-year-old son, who she hopes will have the chance to go to university in Canada someday. She has a genius for marketing, and our conversation soon turned to the benefits of her products. She gave a riveting presentation, skillfully weaving international statistics, personal experience and client success stories into a mesmerizing narrative that left me thoroughly convinced that aloe vera toothpaste is a must-have staple of good oral health.

Aissatou starts her day at five o’clock on most days. After a quick breakfast, she spends the next two hours reading books on marketing and entrepreneurship. Aissatou is an encyclopedia of market networking strategies and management one-liners. Motivational business posters deck her living room. Her favorite book is Being the Best You Can Be in MLM: How to Train Your Way to the Top in Multi-Level / Network Marketing-America’s Fastest-Growing Industries by marketing guru John Kalench.

Aissatou usually begins meeting her clients at nine o’clock in the morning. As a saleswoman, Aissatou spends her time traveling in and out of Dakar to meet her customers at their homes or offices. When not assisting customers, Aissatou patrols the streets and public buses for new clients and potential partners. When she started as a saleswoman, most of her customers were friends and family. Today, they represent half.

Aissatou’s marketing approach is direct and fearless. Armed with a badge pronouncing “I feel great, ask me why!” hanging around her neck, she proudly walks up to potential clients (typically mothers and middle-aged adults) to tell them about her products. With two years of increasing sales, Aissatou has mastered the art of salesmanship. “Confidence is key. I use my products, so I know they work. I have no problem or fear telling others about them. In fact, I feel like I’m doing people a service,” she explains.

If a potential client shows interest, Aissatou gives them her business card and asks for their number. Aissatou then logs that number into her client book and schedules a rendezvous the following day. At these meetings, Aissatou brings a catalog of her products and lists her clients’ demands. Her best selling products are Vitamin C pills and organic juices. She then heads to her retailer, Forever Living Products, to buy the products at a discount rate and distribute them to her clients.

This process of finding clients, soliciting their orders, purchasing them at retail prices and then reselling them consumes long hours. Aissatou’s workday ends at ten o’clock at night. Despite the long hours, Aissatou shows no sign of tire. “I love my job. Being a saleswoman gives me the independence and flexibility to earn the money I deserve and better my family’s well-being.”

Last year Aissatou managed to purchase a large inventory of Forever Living products, which ought to have boosted her earnings substantially. Unfortunately, most of the inventory was lost to a thief who broke into her home and stole her stock before she had the chance to sell it.  Aissatou suspects a neighbor stole her products and has been soliciting police stations ever since, to no effect.

Completely out of money to buy new stock, but undeterred, Aissatou contacted her best clients one by one and offered a deal: She would give them a special discount if they would agree to pay in advance for the products, rather than upon delivery. She used the advances to restart selling, at a profit margin that was razor thin due to the discounts. She makes up for the narrow profits with volume: Her notebook contains the names of several hundred clients, many of whom are located in rural villages a day’s journey from Dakar city. On the days she “goes into the bush” to deliver her products to the villages, Aissatou wakes up at four o’clock in the morning to prepare the day’s meals for her fourteen-year-old son, and returns home as late as one o’clock the following night. This strategy enabled Aissatou to slowly reconstitute her working capital.  Her hard work paid off this year, when she was promoted to a managerial position at Forever Living.

I asked Aissatou if she has always been so resilient and relentless. “My Grandma raised me this way,” she replied. “As a child in the Casamance (the war-torn southern region of Senegal), we had to pick rice in the fields after school. It was tough. I still remember all that weight of rice we carried on our heads. But this hard upbringing and the example set by my grandmother taught me to never give up, even when it feels like the sky is falling,” she explained. “The real challenge in life is getting back up. Once you decide to want to get back up, you work your way out and God takes care of the rest.”

With her last Zidisha loan, Aissatou was able to start construction on a house for her mother in Casamance. She showed us the floor plan for the house and is so excited to have broken ground. Her mother has been sick for the past two years and has been living with Aissatou in Dakar, but with the loan she will be able to build the house and make sure her mother is taken care of. Aissatou expects the construction will take four months, and after that she would like to take out another loan so that she can supply her two nephews with Forever Living inventory as well.

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She seemed completely unfazed by all of the obstacles in her path. By way of explanation, Aissatou cited the example of Bill Gates: He started on a small scale as well, and she is simply doing the same. She is a voracious reader. On the day we met, she was reading a French translation of The Leader in You by Dale Carnegie. Aissatou said she was inspired by Mr. Carnegie’s idea that there is a “mine of gold” inside each one of us, and that the best way to fully realize our potential is to develop our own business. She values her freedom, and says that nothing can stop her from reaching her ambitions.

This post combines the narratives of several Zidisha staff who have met with Aissatou Traore. You may read more at her Zidisha profile page.

Our new homepage design

Our homepage has a new look: large images, streamlined menu options and scrolling infographics that help visitors take in what our community is all about.  The new design uses the latest responsive website design framework to facilitate viewing on a variety of browsers and devices.

Before:

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After:

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We have so many inspiring entrepreneur stories that it was incredibly difficult to choose a cover image for our new homepage.  We finally settled on this photo of Pherister Ndoge, one of our earliest members, who left a comfortable teaching job to bootstrap a school for disadvantaged kids in Kenya.  She used a small Zidisha loan to add more classrooms, resulting in access to education for many more children.  (You may check out her full story here.)

We thought this photo of Ms. Ndoge’s school and students is a fitting representation of what we have achieved, where we are headed – and of the many lives that can be transformed by connecting people across previously insurmountable geographic barriers in an online community.

Thanks to Kevin Hale, a Y Combinator partner and cofounder of Wufoo renowned for his web design expertise, for helping us transition to the new homepage design.

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.

Lend this week, double your impact

Our first matching loan campaign is entering its final week.  Made possible by a generous contribution from Yun-Fang Juan, the creator of Facebook Ads, this fund matches, dollar for dollar, the amounts lent manually by individual Zidisha members.

This means that if you lend before the matching loan campaign ends this week, the impact of your loans will be doubled: for every dollar you lend, your chosen entrepreneurs will receive two dollars in funding to grow their businesses and achieve a better life.

Why lend through Zidisha?  No intermediaries between you and the borrower = lower cost for the borrower + direct connection with the entrepreneur you are helping.

Introducing our new loan profile page

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By Julia Kurnia

Our new loan profile design went live today!  Here are the highlights:

  • A larger, high-resolution profile photo facilitates a closer connection than the previous small image.
  • The borrower’s narrative and comment history are featured in the center directly below the photo, making it easier to follow the story.
  • Information about the borrower’s reputation and performance scores and the current loan terms are organized into separate panels along the right side, facilitating evaluation of the key information needed to inform lending decisions.

What other elements would you like to see featured in the loan profile page?  Let us know by adding a comment here.