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The Seed Supplier, 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 14: The Seed Supplier

Nicholas Munyua describes himself as a businessman in Mitimingi, but having the opportunity to visit him today, I see he did not do himself justice. I meet Nicholas in front of his store, Munyua General Shop, but soon find out he also owns a boutique two doors down called A to Z Boutique. Among the various items stocked on his shelves, Nicholas is most proud of the grains he is able to sell, making a profit of $6,250 a year - up from less than $2,500 per year at the time he took his first Zidisha loan.

The increase in income was made possible through his first loan of $1,000, which he used to purchase a store of maize for resale in the community. He explains how Zidisha has allowed him to "elevate to another level." Along with buying items for his stores, Nicholas was able to repair his vehicle with his second Zidisha loan. As essential to his business as the store itself, his truck allows him to transport his stock from the faraway cities of Nakuru and Nairobi.

Businesses aside, Nicholas is also the Vice Principal at Elementita Primary School. This paying only $10 per month, he also relies on his two-acre farming plot to support his family. His plot, situated next to his home, is ripe with pumpkins, bananas, oranges, potatoes, beans, maize, and much more.

Also worth noting is his role as a father, for although I have met many fathers during my stay in Kenya, Nicholas may be the proudest. As we sit in his living room and enjoy a steaming cup of tea, he reminisces over a stack of photos documenting birthday parties, school visitation days, and family get-togethers. After he tells me more about his eldest daughter, who now attends Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology, he picks up his phone and calls her. Being as kind and personable as her father, Susan makes plans to meet me the next time I am in Nairobi.

Nicholas recounts the many instances where as a child he went without food for as many as two days. He remembers promising himself that this would not be his fate or that of his family. With the help of two Zidisha loans and a firm focus on what he is striving for, Nicholas and his family have managed to own two blooming businesses, send all their children to boarding schools to get the best education, and build a new home equipped with all the modern conveniences of a middle-class Kenyan family. Does it come as a surprise that this all started with a little kiosk, where Nicholas began his first business by selling mangos and vegetables?

Nicholas' Words:

My business deals with selling both consumable and nonconsumable goods. This includes foodstuffs, farm inputs (fertilizers, seeds), farm tools (hoes, spades, axe), animal feeds. This business also include a boutique... Challenges in running the business are counterfeit goods in the market [which] cost like the genuine good but of low quality, change of fashion, unpredictable change of foodstuff prices, high competition, poor infrastructure e.g. poor roads during rainy season leading to high cost of transportation....

We hope it will be raining by February 10, I wish to have stocked my business when seeds and fertilizers are still cheap and before the rains destroy our roads hence increase in transport cost and avoid many losses...

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

From Chapter 14 of Venture: A Collection of True Microfinance Stories by Zidisha Microfinance.

Next time:The tragic story of an artist's struggle to create beauty in a West African conflict area...