Support Grassroots Entrepreneurs with Zidisha


Have you ever wished that you could use your privileged do something more to impact upon poverty? Do you donate to charity, but feel disconnected from the impact of your money at the grassroots? Would you like a better understanding of the power of small amounts of money to improve people’s lives?

Let me introduce Zidisha, a micro-lending platform that lets you lend small amounts of money directly to entrepreneurs in impoverished communities, bi-passing banks and profit-seeking middlemen. Borrowers use funds to invest in businesses, starting new businesses to provide themselves with an income or expanding a business to provide better services to their community, investing in infrastructure and services which will benefit their communities. Zidisha provides lenders with the opportunities to directly communicate with borrowers so you can hear how their business are changing lives, funding education, and supporting families.

When I stumbled across Zidisha I was immediately struck by the benefits of this model. After nearly a decade working in community development, I know that there are some great projects achieving great things, but there are also a lot of projects that just do not meet the needs at the grassroots. By lending money directly to individuals, you provide with the means to determine their own needs, how they should be met, and how they will provide themselves with a sustainable route out of extreme poverty.

I was excited, and joined immediately, with the intention of supporting ethical fashion and green businesses in grassroots communities. So far I have contributed to loans for men and women in Kenya, Burkina Faso, Indonesia and Haiti. I have even set a up group for Ethical Fashion and Green Business so we can lend together as a community.

I spent some time talking with Kelly, a Lender Outreach Volunteer at Zidisha to get a better understanding of how it all works.

Can you explain how Zidisha works, and how it is different to other micro lending platforms like Kiva?

Zidisha is a micro-lending platform and community where lenders and entrepreneurs across the globe can interact directly with one another. Small business owners apply through Zidisha for a loan for their company and, once approved, lenders are able to browse through the projects and lend money to the entrepreneurs. Throughout the process, the lenders and entrepreneurs are able to communicate directly by leaving updates, view repayment schedules, and much more! Which leads into why Zidisha is so different from other micro-financing platforms. We put emphasis on the community aspect of our organization, taking pride in knowing that lenders and borrowers have no middle man between them, and that we can offer a direct way for these two parties to not only communicate, but to see a project come to life and thrive. Additionally, without any intermediaries or interest rates, Zidisha is able to give 100% of the money lent straight to the entrepreneurs.

Why does micro-lending have such an impact for grassroots development?

Micro-lending has a significant impact on local communities because it empowers individuals who may not otherwise have the means to fund or pursue their dreams and goals. Some of the countries that our amazing entrepreneurs hail from are not only poverty-stricken but are sometimes at the mercy of big financial institutions whose loan terms are strict and also charge unfathomable fees to budding entrepreneurs. This can often be disheartening and financially burdening to those in developing nations. Micro-lending works to reverse this mindset and way of life, and instead encourages the entrepreneurs to change the lives of their families and communities by being able to hone on their skill sets and trades, and to create/nurture their businesses through the help and investment of others across the world.

Can you tell me one or two of your favourite stories that have come out of Zidisha lending at the grassroots?

One of my favorite stories was actually the very first loan that my husband and I lent out. It was a teacher in Ghana who was using part of her own salary to help some of her students who didn’t have books, stationery or even the proper shoes for school. She knew that it was preventing them from coming to school and wanted to do anything to help the children and their families. It touched us very deeply and, since then, she was able to raise all the money needed to buy pens and exercise books for her students. It made me even more excited to be a part of Zidisha, knowing that even though we were thousands of miles away, we were making an impact in the lives of others. This is just one of the countless inspirational stories to come out of Zidisha, and it’s so encouraging to see them on a daily basis.

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I also asked a couple of questions of Zidisha’s founder Julia, about the process of finding investors to get her innovative project off the ground.

I understand that Zidisha’s development was supported by a tech incubator. Was it difficult convey the value of a technological solution for social benefit in an environment that is usually focussed on profit?

Not at all!  The best for-profit entrepreneurs and their investors are motivated by the desire to create value and make the world a better place – they see profit as a means to that end, not the end itself.  And their familiarity with the cutting edge of technology made it easy for them to see the vast possibilities of a decentralized online lending community like ours.

What is your best piece of advice for budding social entrepreneurs in the technological space?
Anyone who intends to dedicate their career to creating new solutions in the technological space should invest the time in learning to program.  It’s the best way to become intimately familiar with the medium and to attract good engineers to your team.

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If you are interested to give micro-lending a try, Zidisha has provided me with $10 lending credits to give away to 30 readers. If you want this $10 credit to lend to an entrepreneur of your choice, so you can see the results firsthand, simply email me at summer(at)tortoiseandladygrey(dot)com with Zidisha in the subject line. I hope to hear from you very soon :)

Do you have a favourite social enterprise or charity is doing great work? I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment below.


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