I moved to South Africa from Zimbabwe two weeks ago for the second placement of my fellowship. As part of my work for expanding Kiva’s partnerships within South Africa, I have been meeting with lots of interesting organizations with very innovative business models. Whenever I mention that I worked in Zimbabwe before arriving to South Africa, they cannot stop talking about the entrepreneurial spirit of the Zimbabweans and how hard working individuals they are.
They are so right. I can attest, first hand, to this fact. When I browse through pages of scribbles and infinite photos from borrower visits all over Zimbabwe I cannot help but be inspired by these individuals, admire their hard work, grit, drive and joie-de-vivre, and feel privileged to have had the chance to meet such special people during my fellowship. I wanted to share a few of them with you.
Solomon is a brick moulder in Chipinge, a rural town of Zimbabwe. When I visited him, he was having a slow season; clients tend to buy farm bricks during the dry seasons. But he said, the $750 loan he received from Kiva will improve his capital base and help him win over the competition. Without even asking him, he told me about his ambitions, listing his plans for his business. He wants to expand his product set to making, flower pots, and window sills, employ more people so he can double the amount of bricks he makes every day (currently at 200 – 500 / day), and become the biggest player in the market in Chipinge.
Jabulani is the car-washing king of Chipinge. He was the first-comer to this business in Chipinge and has been a relentless businessman for 14 years. He says it is about dedication. There have been other car washers pop up every now and then, but they could not handle the challenges of the business. Jabulani has 6 employees, and a very busy business. We were constantly interrupted with new customers. With 14 years under his belt, he is not in cruising mode. He is constantly expanding his business. He even helped his wife get through school and become an accountant. With his new Kiva loan, he will build concrete for a larger car washing space and buy more supplies.
Ronnie has a retail stand in downtown Chipinge. And he is an incredibly talented salesman. He works in a big market with many other similar retails stands. When I ask how he distinguishes himself, he says the most important things in this business are client relationships and product diversification. He wants to be able attract every customer with his product set. The Kiva loan has helped him buy different products and boost his business. His biggest piece of advice was, "Provide, what you client wants. If I need to go to South Africa to get a product for my customer, I would do it!”
Solomon, Jabulani, and Ronnie are not the only ones. I just wish I could share all of them with you here. They are everywhere on the streets of Zimbabwe: maybe selling baked goods, instead of air time, or carving a different type of figure in stone sculptures amongst tens of stone sculpture artists, or staying four hours longer at the office to study for an executive MBA program. I think we all have something to learn from them.