05/24/2013 10:41 am ET Updated Jul 24, 2013

"Continuing Education" from Venture: A Collection of True Microfinance Stories

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 33: Continuing Education

Stewed rabbit, fried rabbit, grilled rabbit, roasted rabbit.  As I sit with Zidisha member Josephine Nyang'au in a training seminar for rabbit breeding (current topic being ways to cook a rabbit), my mind wonders to scenes from Forrest Gump, of Bubba and his endless string of various shrimp concoctions.  Upon arriving in Kenya I never imagined myself partaking in a certification course for rabbit breeding, but when presented with an invitation from Josephine, how could I decline.  Though it was a three-day seminar, we both agreed I came on the right day, as one of the topics on today's schedule was a hands-on lesson in meat preparation!

Although I was unable to visit her place of business in Rongai, this rare opportunity granted me the chance to spend the entire day with Josephine, witness her undeniable fervor for life, and get to know this ambitious entrepreneur.  The list of Josephine's skills stretch on, for before becoming a rabbit farmer, she was a caterer, had a small embroidery business, worked for the United Nations Development Program, and also volunteered as a mentor and trainer to women and youths.  In 2003, Josephine also became a university student.  When first presented with the idea of going to college, Josephine declared, "Me?!  Are you crazy?  I am too old."  But with some persuasion, she took the leap and in 2006, she received her diploma in Social Sciences.

Always looking for opportunities to enrich her life, Josephine started rabbit farming three months ago.  It all began with a simple Google search.  From there, her interest peaked and Josephine began visiting other rabbit farmers.  Through yet another Google search, Josephine was introduced to Zidisha.  Quickly becoming a member, she received her first loan of $362 this month and was able to purchase wires for her rabbit cages and bowls for their food.  She anticipates paying her loan back earlier than intended, in hopes of taking out another and building proper housing, using the knowledge she has gained from this week's seminar.  Josephine mentions several times throughout the day about her dreams of owning as many as two hundred rabbits!  With Zidisha and her undeniable go-getter attitude, I know she will achieve this.  
Being new to rabbit farming, Josephine decided to further her education to better serve her business.  Josephine started with only seven rabbits, and did not want to expand until she was well versed in proper rabbit care.  This three-day seminar covered a variety of topics, from husbandry, to rabbit reproduction management, to feeding schedules, to suitable housing, and even bookkeeping.  

In addition to seizing the educational opportunities afforded by the seminar, Josephine used these three days to network with fellow like-minded entrepreneurs.  One of the most boisterous in class, Josephine initiated class introductions and suggested everyone exchange contacts in order to assist one another with their future business ventures.  She even arranged for someone in class to create a Facebook group (making sure it was a closed group of course!).  During our breaks, she did not pass up the chance to speak with more experienced rabbit farmers about their experiences, absorbing as much knowledge as she could.

There is so much more I could add about my day spent with Josephine, but I know it would all come back to the fierce dedication and the strong initiative she puts into all that she does.  During one of our many conversations throughout the day, Josephine exclaims, "I want to succeed.  I need to succeed.  I am succeeding!"  Spoken like a woman who knows what she wants out of life and is stopping at nothing to get there.

Josephine's Words:

Am delighted for what Zidisha organization does and want to thank you for having thought about this type of lending which many people do not understand, they think that it is devilish or nothing like that can happen, but once they see the money or progress of someone they really want to join. I once again thank you for sending me your group to see my Rabbit. I will say thank you [and] keep sending them to my place whenever they want to visit, as they will get more or many different story. Be blessed. Thank you, Josephine

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

From Chapter 33 of Venture: A Collection of True Microfinance Stories by Zidisha Microfinance.

Next time:How to support a family by selling bananas...