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"The Mattress Doctor," 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 25: The Mattress Doctor

James Mwangi runs a cleaning business in Nairobi, Kenya, specializing in cleaning mattresses. His business is called "The Mattress Doctor." He and his cousin, who is an insurance agent, share the premises to cut down on the rent.

James found Zidisha on his own. He went to a bank for a loan but the bank asked for a guarantor, a running business with stable profits and an interest rate of 13% to 15%. He then searched online and found a famous lending organization that referred him to a local microfinance organization (which the famous lending organization funded). This local organization asked him to open an account with them and other complicated formalities and demanded an interest rate of more than 26% per year. James persevered in his search still, and he found Zidisha. Today, James is one of the strongest advocates of Zidisha and volunteers for us. He is also the de facto coordinator of Zidisha activities in Nairobi.

James used his first Zidisha loan of $303 to buy a steam machine and to design and print flyers that he used for marketing his business. The first loan fully repaid, he used a second loan of $1,084 for an industrial vacuum cleaner and professional marketing materials.

When I asked him how he learned to clean mattresses, he said "through the internet!" and proceeded to show me a bundle of downloaded literature on mattress cleaning. When one of my professors said that the internet would democratize information (this was in 1999-2000), I did not expect it to manifest like this.

After finishing school, James did a course in programming and later used these skills to design his own business website (www.mattressdoc.kbo.co.ke) which I found to be quite interesting, informative and easy to maneuver. The remarkable thing is that James does not even own a computer. Like most Kenyans, he accesses the internet through a local cybercafe, paying just a few cents for an hour of browsing time.

James' Words:

Thank for the loans you are giving. After receiving my loan I managed to buy a vacuum cleaner which I use for my business, adding [to] the equipment that i have for cleaning mattresses. I also made marketing materials, I printed printout and posters which I continue to give out which has helped to market my business and there is a lot of inquires arising from that materials. Thanks and may God bless you all and continue with that spirit...

For all those who have contributed to my loan, I say thanks a lot. May the almighty God bless you all and increase your earning tenfold. Continue with the good work; you are changing lives and many hearts are touched by your generous action. For me and my family it's a dream come true and I am more than sure that I am on the right path.

You may view more comments and photos at James' Zidisha Microfinance profile page.

From Chapter 25 of Venture: A Collection of True Microfinance Stories by Zidisha Microfinance.

Next time:A "aspiring middle class" family tries various business strategies in an effort to keep food on the table and their daughter in school...