01/25/2013 08:21 am ET Updated Mar 27, 2013

"Some Courses Come From the 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 16: "Some Courses Come From the Heart"

"I'm very hardworking," says Jane Wambui Kabugo without a tinge of boastfulness, but rather a sense of pride. Rightfully so. Jane is 27 years old and already a successful businesswoman, not to mention a mother of two. Jane and her husband own a kinyozi (salon) and a produce stall in the little rural village of Mitimingi, Kenya. As Jane and I speak from her produce stall, we peer across the street at the kinyozi where we can see her husband cutting the hair of a young gentleman. In another minute, Jane gets a customer wanting to buy bananas, evidence that their two businesses are thriving. 

Jane is an experienced Zidisha member, already repaying her second loan of $1,226. She comments on how she finished repaying her first loan four months early, and she anticipates following this example for her second. The creation of her family's kinyozi was possible because of Zidisha. Through her first loan of $546, Jane was able to rent a space, buy all the necessary machinery (i.e. shavers, razors), stock her store with hair products and shoes, and even buy two batteries that enable her shop to stay open during the frequent power outages.

While her husband is in charge of styling the men, Jane takes care of the children's haircuts when not working at her produce stall. We have all heard of children being fearful of haircuts, with scissors too close for comfort and strange noises and smells permeating the air. Jane gestures towards her kind and understanding face, implying this is the answer to the children's haircut jitters. Although both Jane and her husband have no formal training in barbering, she explains to me that "some courses come from the heart."

To further prove how hardworking she is, Jane speaks about her two cows, one of which was bought with her second Zidisha loan. With the milk from her cows, she is able to make $625 a month, which then assists in paying for school fees (both boys are in boarding schools) and rent for her kinyozi. 

I had found Jane at her produce stall, where she sells vegetables and fruits that she grows mostly on her own farm. She was dressed in smart slacks and a white t-shirt and greeted me with a firm handshake (this I found to be true for all women here - their handshakes are always full-bodied and firm - showing confidence and also warmth). Jane appears to be quite enterprising. She, like most Kenyans, has a very strong desire to improve her lot and works really hard to make sure she and her family have the best that is possible.

Jane used the Zidisha loan and some of her own money to buy a good breed of cow. The cow cost her around $750, but gives around 20 liters of milk per day (at peak capacity), which translates to a monthly revenue of around $180 from the cow. She spends about $60 per month on the cow, and the remaining $120 per month are her profit.

She has sent her two sons to boarding schools because she feels the quality of education is much better there. She told me that she pays annual tuition of $630 for one of her sons and $350 for the other. This appears quite steep to me, but she wants to make sure her children get the best education and will not compromise on this. She told me she wants one of the sons to be a lawyer and the other to be a doctor. I couldn't help feeling admiration for her.

Upon my departure, Jane reaches for a banana, the ripest of the bunch, and gives it to me as a gift. Refusing to take my money, she makes me promise to visit again, even extending an invitation to her home. As I make my descent home, I think about Mitimingi, one of the smallest villages I have seen in Kenya, but filled with people possessing the biggest of hearts.

Jane's Words:

After marriage I decided to start a business to uplift my family's living standard. I have a cosmetics shop and some of my wears include hair waves, shampoo shoes and oils. After running the business for three years I have been able to buy a cow, furnitures, a piece of land besides affording my kitchen items. I have been able to assist my husband financially to build a two-roomed house. So far my business is doing well but not without challenges. The recent tribal clashes and persistent drought that lasted for two years had negative effect on my customers' purchasing power. Sales were down for a period stretching to mid this year. With anticipated high harvest this season, I have a slightly high than normal flow of customers.

You may view more comments and photos of Jane's business at her Zidisha Microfinance profile page.

From Chapter 16 of Venture: A Collection of True Microfinance Stories by Zidisha Microfinance.

Next time:A microloan unexpectedly makes life-saving medical care possible for a single mother in Senegal...