05/31/2013 11:41 am ET Updated Jul 31, 2013

"It Takes a Very Special Heart" 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 34: "It Takes a Very Special Heart"

As my weeks of visiting clients in Kenya quickly turn to months, I begin to see a pattern amongst many Zidisha borrowers.  Their initial reaction to Zidisha's unique microlending model is usually one of incredulity, but also curiosity, for most have never heard of peer-to-peer lending before.  Upon receiving their loan, what first was skepticism quickly turns to gratitude and an eagerness to spread the word. 
My visit with Ann Wanjiru was no different.  As I explain the process of peer-to-peer lending in greater depth, she stares back at me with a look of disbelief on her face.  "How does God think of you people, giving money to those poorer than you to raise them up?  It takes a very special heart to do that.  Not everyone is like that."  Soon after, I am greeted by friends of Ann who are interested in joining the Zidisha community.  And like many before her, happy with her borrowing experience, Ann has made Zidisha her primary financial service.
After the tragic loss of her eldest daughter several years ago, Ann found herself with the responsibility of caring for her two grandchildren.  And with an unemployment rate of over 40% in Kenya, Ann's son and daughter are without work as well, making it ever more crucial for her to run successful businesses.  And that she has done!  Through the selling of bananas and transporting water to the ever-growing construction sites in her neighborhood in the outskirts of Nairobi, Ann has been able to fulfill her role as the sole provider for her family. 
Though it is only 9:30 in the morning, Ann has already made almost $20 worth of banana sales.  Produce stalls appear in the thousands here in Kenya and among the most popular items to sell are bananas.  Despite the high population of suppliers, Ann manages to stay on top through a combination of quality customer care and carefully chosen bananas.  Though she is currently selling only bananas and working from her home, Ann would like to see her business grow into a shop where she can sell a wide variety of local produce, such as avocados, arrowroot, and sweet potato. 
Ann intended to use her first Zidisha loan of $302 to launch a more diversified produce shop, but she subsequently realized the profitability of transporting and selling water.  With the sprouting of many residential homes in her neighborhood, construction sites are in constant need of water for mixing cement.  Acting on an entrepreneurial impulse, Ann used her Zidisha loan to purchase a donkey and a cart, which she then hired out to the water transporters of her community.  I was unable to see her new donkey and cart in action, which I take as a good sign that they were not sitting idly at home.
Today being the day Ann goes to a nearby town to replenish her banana stock, we part ways shortly after it begins.  While taking a few final photos of Ann and her family, she exclaims, "Oh, it's a beautiful day.  It's like my birthday!"  On the contrary, it is Ann who surprises me with a gift, for on the bus back to the city, long after I leave her neighborhood, the conductor tells me Ann has paid for my fare.

Ann's Words:

I am a business lady who is dedicated to make a living from doing business. I started this business to help me [become] independent financially and at the same time help my family get their daily bread. I also have orphans who [I] am caring for...

I mainly deal in green grocery where I sell vegetables to the community around. Since Utawala is an upcoming estate there is demand for vegetable due to the fact that the region is dry and does not support agriculture. I buy my commodities from Nairobi and sell them to the community around.

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

From Chapter 34 of Venture: A Collection of True Microfinance Stories by Zidisha Microfinance.

Next time:An internet connection transforms life in a village in the middle of the desert...