04/19/2013 12:44 pm ET Updated Jun 19, 2013

"God Has Extended My Territories," 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 28: "God Has Extended My Territories"

Zidisha has reached beyond the entrepreneur's doorstep and has now become a family affair.  Emanating a sense of pride, Violet Karwimbo smiles as she speaks about her two children's interest in their mom's celebrityhood among the Zidisha community. 

Frequently updating her lenders on the progress of GHEMT Hardware & Electricals, Violet and her children (16 and 10 years old) often go together to the cybercafe in their Nairobi neighborhood. The children find joy in seeing their mother's photo on the internet and her obvious success as a self-made businesswoman.  Prior to becoming a Zidisha member, Violet found computers to be foreign and daunting machines, but through the encouragement of her family, friends, and the organization itself, she can now use one without intimidation.

Commuting to the hustle of downtown Nairobi throughout the week, Violet's career in hardware began in a shop similar to her own.  What first was a choice of convenience, for she was able to take her baby with her to work, quickly became a life-altering experience.  For ten years, Violet slowly built the knowledge base needed to start her own business in hardware.  Due to the shop owner's decision to employ family, Violet was let go of her job in Nairobi.  Despite this unexpected change of events, this transition set the path for her current success.  With a savings of $250, GHEMT was established in 2009.  In its short three years of existence, the growth of GHEMT Hardware & Electricals is proof of Violet's successful business approach.

Introduced to Zidisha by another member, Vitalis Opondo, Violet received her first loan of $302 in early August.  Since then, she has been able to stock her shop with desirable and hard to come by plumbing equipment, such as water pipes.  Wanting to make her store more aesthetically pleasing, Violet also put in new shelves, which enabled her to display her stock to the many passers-by.  Having the opportunity to supply GHEMT with new supplies has increased her sales, for although there are many hardware stores in the area, most do not sell water pipes and fittings.  As her name grows and sales increase, Violet hopes to move her store to the newly paved road in the town shopping center.  She would also like to start selling mattresses, plastic wares (buckets, wash bins, etc.), and school trunks for students attending boarding school.

Before our departure, Violet invites Vitalis to her shop, where another benefit of being a Zidisha member is revealed.  Violet expresses that without her business, she would have never met Vitalis, heard about Zidisha, or learned how to use a computer.  The encouragement they are now able to provide for each other is uplifting, and the avenues that Zidisha paves have proven to be endless. 

Violet's Words:

My name is Violet aged 36 and am a Kenyan. Am married with two children and I live in Utawala, Embakasi Estate. I finished my high school in 1994 [and] joined college in Computer Technology. Later I was employed in a hardware store for ten years and I was retrenched [laid off].

I decided to start my own business whereby I sell building materials and electrical fittings. This business has enabled me [to] buy a small piece of land and [I] am still constructing a small house with the earnings I get, and the rest is saved into my account. I have also managed to buy a donkey and a cart to enable me [to] deliver goods to my customers. [I] am also able to stock the business and support my family as well as meet my daily basic needs. Being the first born in a family of five, I help my parents in paying for [my siblings'] education...

My business is called "GHEMT Hardware Electricals". GHEMT means "God has extended my territories." I deal with paints, electrical fittings and building materials such as pipes, cement and nails. I chose to start a hardware shop, since it's a local place with few people but still in construction. People prefer my business despite the competition since I deliver free transport. I also ensure I know what's new on market so as to sell quality and original products. I provide customers with plumbers, electricians and painters who charge them at fair costs for labor costs. Some of the challenges I get include lack of financial support since the business is too demanding...
I have managed to buy paints, electric fittings and pipes. My shop now has a new display since I have added plumbing and sanitary wares. I have used part of the money to rearrange and make my shop have an a attractive look. Thank you for making my shop a place where each customer desires to buy from...

I have a positive attitude towards Zidisha and in future I can see myself going far in business. The grace period you gave me has enabled me to have enough time to view new products in the market and to sell and stock the shop, thus making profit before repaying back. God bless you and am so grateful.

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

From Chapter 28 of Venture: A Collection of True Microfinance Stories by Zidisha Microfinance.

Next time:A resourceful accounting student in Dakar becomes an employer of others - who run the business while he completes his studies...