12/21/2012 04:02 pm ET Updated Feb 20, 2013

The Medical Supplier of Sacre Coeur, 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 11: The Medical Supplier of Sacre Coeur

A mother of one child, Combé Thiaw opened a small medical supply retailing business in 2008, based on experience she had gained while working at a local health clinic. The retailing business operates out of a small private health clinic called La Clinique Medico Chirurgicale in the low-income Sacre Coeur neighborhood of Dakar, Senegal. La Clinique Medico Chirurgicale provides general care, but specializes in complex joint-replacement surgery. Combé has a strong belief in charging patients based on their ability to pay. Very rarely do those who seek treatment get turned away.

Under Combé's direction, the clinic has seen significant success in retailing medical supplies to other clinics, hospitals and pharmacies. There is a wide variety of things she sells, but she specializes in low-margin items like IV equipment, sterilization tools and disposables. The clinic uses the sales of these products to subsidize services to patients who cannot afford to pay the full cost of their treatment.

When we first arrived at Combé's house, she took us immediately to see the storage room in her home. The room was filled with boxes containing all kinds of medical supplies, from antibiotics for infections to catheters to wipes for newborns. She told us that her most popular products are IV supplies, in particular bottles of IV fluid.

Combé used her first loan of $1,500 to purchase her first large inventory of products, which allowed her to keep a supplied stockroom. She said she is making a profit each month, and her money stays in a cycle of buying products and both selling and stocking them. Right now, she said, she has around $2,000 or $4,000 worth of products in her storeroom.

After showing us her products, Combé took us to her bedroom where she showed us all her invoices and receipts from previous transactions. She is an extremely organized and efficient businesswoman! She has lists for each month that show the exact products she sold, where she sold the products, the quantities of products, her buying price, her selling price, each product's sales revenue and her total sales revenue for that month. For example, in June she had around $1,600 in sales and in July she had $1,340 in sales.

Besides increasing the quantities of much-needed medical supplies that are delivered to clinics in Sacre Coeur, the loan from Zidisha has had a positive impact on Combé's own financial situation, allowing her to better meet her family's daily expenses like paying rent, paying the housekeeper, transportation (taxi or public transportation), her son's education and other small personal expenses. The monthly profit from her business is $800 to $1,000. After having deducted her expenses from her earnings, she buys goods which she keeps in her apartment's stockroom. Her house also has two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom.

In the future, Combé plans to continue buying and selling medical supplies for clinics around Dakar. One of her goals is to be able to purchase a car to carry supplies to clinics and hospitals. Right now, she must pay around $14 for a taxi to drive her around to clinics. Having a car would save money and increase profits because she would be able to drive downtown where there are more clinics and hospitals. She said she could even expand her business to towns outside of Dakar, like Thies and Mbour.

Combé's Words:

My business is the sale of medical products to clinics and hospitals, including supplies, solutes, anesthetic products for surgical procedures, and orthopedic products and materials. I decided to undertake the creation of my own business when I realized that I could follow others' example to become a supplier myself, because after my professional training I was hired by a clinic (a Blue Cross clinic) as a pharmacist, as I had studied some pharmacy during my professional training. My future business activities will include offering medical products from my own shop, which will house my inventory... Of course the loan has helped my business - I bought new products such as IV packets of Redon. Profits from these sales has made life much easier for my family.

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

From Chapter 11 of Venture: A Collection of True Microfinance Stories by Zidisha Microfinance.

Next time:A father's donkey cart transportation business becomes a vehicle to further his children's education, and go back to school himself at the same time...