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.

 

Curious about how far a microloan goes in Kenya? Check out this $250 cybercafe.

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Posted today by Zidisha member John Wairobi in Kayole, Kenya:

“Hi, just to thank all the lenders that supported my project, as i had promised here are the computers that i purchased. the cyber i currently up and running we still are awaiting for a special permit from the ministry of education so that we can begin training and teaching computer skills within the area.”

“I want to leave a legacy in the world”

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By Julia Kurnia

Paul Kamande is an Electrical Engineering student in Kenya and quite a remarkable person.  At age twenty-three, he designed an automated irrigation system adapted to the unique climate of his home village in central Kenya.

Two years into his university career, Mr. Kamande found himself in the circumstance that prevents so many in his country from completing higher education: funding for tuition ran out, and as he was an only child, the livelihood of his parents relied on his earnings.

Mr. Kamande is not the type to give up easily.  With $125 in savings, he purchased some spinach, watermelon and potato seeds to plant on his parents’ two-acre farm.  The resulting produce when harvested and sold yielded $187 – just enough to acquire a dairy calf, which is one of the most lucrative investments available in rural Kenya.  Thanks to earnings from milk sales combined with part-time work, Mr. Kamande managed to support his family while completing his second year of university.

He then discovered Zidisha, and began to leverage Zidisha loans to add a rabbit raising facility to his family farm.  Since joining us early last year, Mr. Kamande has become one of our most active volunteers, assisting dozens of others in his community to raise loans and engaging in regular dialogue with lenders via our forum and website.

With his parents taken care of, Mr. Kamande returned his focus to his university studies.  Last month, he encountered a more serious setback: the old laptop he had been using for schoolwork and to earn extra money as an online writer broke down.  With that source of earning stopped, he was unable to pay his university tuition of $478 – a fortune in a country where most residents earn less than $1000 per year.  The university administration warned that he would not be allowed to sit for the upcoming final exams until the bill was paid.

It seemed as though there was no way out.  Opportunities to earn such a substantial amount in a short time simply did not exist locally, even for as smart and determined a person as Mr. Kamande.  He could not take out another loan from Zidisha, as he had recently invested a currently outstanding loan in his parents’ farm.

Then he hit on an idea: he would launch an crowdfunding campaign at Indiegogo to raise the necessary amount.  He borrowed a computer to create a campaign page, complete with photos, a video of his project, and an appeal to raise $800 to cover his past due tuition and purchase a new laptop.

Within a few short weeks, the necessary amount was raised: an astounding success, as the majority of crowdfunding appeals fail.  How was Mr. Kamande able to raise so much so quickly?

A look at Mr. Kamande’s Zidisha profile page hints at the reason: the comment forum is full of posts by Mr. Kamande consistently providing generous answers to lender questions and requests – interspersed with messages of thanks from the many fellow members in Kenya whose lives Mr. Kamande has changed by connecting them with the chance to raise Zidisha loans.  Mr. Kamande has helped so many people in the past that the assistance was there for the taking now, when he most needed it.

“I want to leave a legacy in the world,” wrote Mr. Kamande in his Indiegogo campaign page. “Not just in Africa as a continent that truly with tapped potential of a child, he or she can achieve what many never though he or she could. I am fortunate to have gone to school and pursued engineering in such a reputable school in our country despite coming from a humble background and the promise I made to myself and God is after I complete my education and get a good job, I will also help children who come from less fortunate backgrounds and make their dreams come true just like you are about to make mine come true also.”

Mr. Kamande has already built a great legacy.  I look forward to seeing more to come.

You may view Mr. Kamande’s Zidisha profile here: https://www.zidisha.org/microfinance/loan/PaulGitau/3540.html

Mr. Kamande’s Indiegogo campaign page is here: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/university-education-aid-to-complete-course

A YouTube video depicting Mr. Kamande’s automated irrigation device is here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLsKLFNfJ1k&feature=youtu.be