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By Faith Shop, From 'Venture: A Collection of True Microfinance Stories'

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Venture is a rich and readable collection of true microfinance stories. It is written for anyone who would like to better understand the realities faced by the the aspiring middle class in the world's least developed countries, the range of factors that affect their prospects for working their way out of poverty, and how microfinance can impact their lives.

The entrepreneurs featured in this book are all members of Zidisha Microfinance, a web-based crowdfunding platform that allows low-income, computer-savvy entrepreneurs in developing countries to share their stories and negotiate microloans directly with individual lenders. As the world's first person-to-person lending service to eliminate intermediaries and connect individual web users and entrepreneurs across the international wealth divide, Zidisha is uniquely positioned to offer an undistorted depiction of the variety of individual stories and circumstances that come to play each time a microfinance loan is disbursed.

Each story paints an unforgettable picture: A 70-year-old goat farmer who relocates his home to better care for his ailing father, carrying the sticks and metal sheeting it was made from across the mountains on his back. A plump, beaming detergent saleslady who lives in a home no larger than an ordinary bathroom but has adopted five orphans. A cancer survivor who supports herself and two children by pounding millet for $1.58 per day. An irrepressible lady who supplies half of her neighborhood with much-needed IVs and other medical supplies by day, and by night checks into the local cybercafe to chat with Facebook friends on the other side of the world. A young man who has no arms but insists on working to support his able-bodied parents out of filial duty. An accounting student who pays for his university tuition by purchasing a taxi and splitting proceeds with a hired driver. A bright young lady who renounces college to care for her orphaned siblings and overcomes gender stereotypes to launch a thriving construction business.

At its heart, "Venture" is a tribute to the remarkable community of Zidisha Microfinance entrepreneurs and countless others like them -- a tribute to their grit, ambition and indomitable spirit in the face of overwhelming obstacles. We hope this book will help translate the statistics about poverty and the opportunities afforded by microfinance into human terms, and inspire readers to reach out and connect with their counterparts on the other side of the international wealth divide.

Story 9: By Faith Shop

By Faith Shop could easily go unnoticed among the overwhelming number of like-businesses taking over the narrow pathways of Nairobi's Mukuru slums, but the endless stream of customers says otherwise.  During my visit with Charles Murungi, not a minute passes without a customer in want of something By Faith Shop supplies.  Luckily his wife and business partner, Milicent, is there to accompany me while Charles busily handles the many requests for items such as milk, soap, and sugar.   

This unassuming general store has been in operation for eight years, and although the business has always been enough to supplement the income Charles made as a lorry driver, Zidisha has helped to almost double their sales!  The bulk of the $611 loan was used to buy in-demand items, such as milk, sugar, unga, and soda.  Having these items readily available has increased their daily sales from about $37 before the loan to $62 on average, sometimes reaching over $75 on a good day. 

As Charles lacks a contract with his current employer, his job as a driver is inconsistent and wages are unpredictable.  Thanks to the recent boost in income from By Faith Shop, paying for rent, school fees, and basic necessities is manageable.  While having highly sought-after items in stock is one key to operating a successful business, the long grueling hours spent at work are another. Most days for Charles and Milicent begin at 5 AM and end as late as 10 in the evening.  

In addition to stock for the shop, the Zidisha loan was also used to purchase five goats and one calf, which are being raised by Charles's father in his hometown of Laikipia in central Kenya. Charles hopes to sell the goats when they reach a mature age.  When his calf is ready for milk production, Charles intends to sell milk in Laikipia as well.  Wanting to continue as a Zidisha borrower after repaying his first loan, Charles hopes a second loan will allow him to purchase a piece of land to grow crops and later sell to the community.  Charles and Milicent would also like to add spaghetti noodles to their stock, which are popular with the large Somali population that has recently grown up in their neighborhood.

Charles' Words:

I am 40 years old, married with two daughters. I work with Macken Services as a driver and I have a small business which I run along my work with my wife. I have a small shop where I sell basic household items and foods in the slums of Mukuru in Nairobi. I started the business to supplement the income which I earn as a driver which is not enough to feed and educate my children...

I sell consumable goods like soaps, sugar, cooking fat, sodas, salt, tissues and all other small basic items. The good are in high demands as this is a highly populated area and people buy what they use on daily basis as this area is inhabited by poor and casual workers. I have many customers as I have been running this business for more than ten years and many customers are my neighbors and i know them personally. The business is profitable as the goods I sell are packaged in small quantities so I sell many units and they are basic family needs.

You may view the latest news and photos of Charles' business at his Zidisha Microfinance profile page.

From Chapter 9 of Venture: A Collection of True Microfinance Stories by Zidisha Microfinance.

Next time: The story of a village housewife and "serial entrepreneur" who pioneered drip irrigation technology in rural Kenya...