01/04/2013 04:41 pm ET Updated Mar 06, 2013

The Indomitable Mobile Payments Entrepreneur, 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 13: The Indomitable Mobile Payments Entrepreneur

Fatim Sylla is a retailer for Tigo and Orange, two large cell phone service providers here in Senegal. She sells prepaid phone cards, which is how most of the Senegalese pay for cell service. Before she received her Zidisha loan her brother, who owns a small convenience store, allowed Fatim to stand near his door, a high-traffic area, to sell her cards. 

She is very open about her past marriage which ended on a bad note. Like many in Senegal, her husband forbade her from making her own money and encouraged a more "traditional" role for her. She divorced him, and now supports her family of eight (including a 94-year old grandmother!) and has an outlet for her ambition. 

In Fatim's line of work, she constantly meets new people and maintains old relationships. For her, however, it's hardly work. She seems like some sort of local celebrity. It's easy to tell that she loves to catch up with all of her clients and friends throughout the neighborhood. Spending the afternoon with her was a real lesson in customer service - treating them well is her number one priority. Especially in the phone-card business that has a lot of repeat purchases, this is very important. Her newest project illustrates her ability to look into the future and predict trends. 

Fatim caught onto a promising technology through her affiliation with the service provider Orange. Orange Money is a "mobile banking" service that allows people to transfer money to one another through cell phone text messages. This technology has proven to be successful in other African countries (like the M-PESA system in Kenya) and Fatim expects the same reception in Senegal. She sees Orange Money as a tool to allow people to help others. For example, Orange Money would allow people who work in Dakar, where work is more available, to send money to family members in rural villages where cash is more scarce. 

In order to begin selling this service, she needed to have a more traditional retail space. Selling Orange Money credit requires having access to a computer terminal and other things she could not use if she continued to sell in the doorway of her brother's store.  In August of last year, Zidisha members lent her $382.  She used the funds to acquire a second-hand computer and rent a simple retail space at $30 per month, thereby realizing her ambition of having her own store and marketing Orange Money in addition to prepaid phone cards.

Fatim's Words:

My name is Fatim. I am very happy to have recently come across the Zidisha web site. I know that I can benefit from financing my work for clients who want to sign up for phone numbers in order to communicate with their family and friends...

I buy prepaid calling cards for cell phones. I sell them in a boutique in the market near my neighborhood. I sell the cards often to clients who pass by the market and to locals who work all day long. For each quantity of two hundred subscription cards, one makes a profit of about 25,000 francs CFA [about $50]. To buy this quantity, one must pay nearly 160,000 francs CFA [$360] to the wholesaler... There are also packs of ASDL (high-speed internet) for clients who use a wireless phone line or internet at their homes...

The women's credit association I previously borrowed from required a contribution each week of 1,000 francs CFA [$2]. Every two weeks, a woman in the group would receive 50,000 francs CFA [$100] or 100,000 francs CFA [$200] so that she can invest in a revenue-generating activity. When the amount was given to me I started my business. Afterward, I continued to contribute to the association with whom I participated until the end of that contribution cycle....

I am from a poor family and am the oldest of my mother's children. I am responsible for caring for my two children alone, as I am divorced from my husband. He didn't want me to have a business, because he thought that a woman's place is inside the home. Whereas I think that every individual should be able to work and benefit from the fruits of their own labor.

You may view the latest news and photos of Fatim's business at her Zidisha Microfinance profile page.

From Chapter 13 of Venture: A Collection of True Microfinance Stories by Zidisha Microfinance.

Next time:A penniless mango salesman becomes a food supplier for an entire community...