Entrepreneur Profiles

Flaura: Serial Entrepreneur

"When you're responsible, you have to think of different ways to help your family."

These are hardly the words one would expect to hear from your typical 22 year-old university student. But Flaura Ingabire is hardly your typical 22 year-old.

So far, Flaura has run five businesses!

At just 16 years old, Flaura began supporting her family with her first business: a small bar in her village that she ran while home from boarding school over the holidays, but which closed when she was at school. She supplemented the income from the bar by riding a bicycle to local markets on market-days and selling pieces of fabric (that's her second business).

In 2005, Flaura received her first loan from Vision Finance Company, a Kiva Field Partner, in the form of a Village Phone (her third business). VFC leases Village Phones to its clients so that the clients may generate income as customers pay to make calls, and is an important service between rural parts of the world that lack mobile phone service and centers of commerce.

When Flaura finished secondary school, she moved to Byumba town, away from her small village, to pursue her bachelor's degree in management and accounting. For the first year of university, she remained in her village during the week to operate the bar and went to Byumba only on the weekends to attend classes. After one year of commuting, she closed the bar and used the profits from her bar and Village Phone businesses to open a small shop in Byumba (that's her fourth business!). She operated the shop every day, attending classes in the evening.

In October 2008, Flaura received her first Kiva loan. She had already opened a small canteen at her university where she sells drinks to students and professors (that's her fifth business!). With her loan of $750 along with approximately $600 that she had saved in order to buy a photocopy machine, she expanded her canteen and began making photocopies for her classmates. Here, professors do not have enough copies of hand-outs for every student, so Flaura's photocopier has provided all students with access to the day's lessons.

The photocopier purchased with her Kiva loan has enabled her to earn approximately $40 in profit each week, in addition to the $40 per month that her canteen was previously earning and the $40 per month that her shop in Byumba town earns. With her profits, Flaura is able to pay her mother's frequent hospital bills, her sister's school fees, and her own university fees. She is also saving as much as possible which she will use to further expand her business.

Flaura appears at first glance to be just a shy twenty-something, but her ambition and drive reveal that she is an exceptional person who has survived extraordinary circumstances.

Born in a village near Byumba, Rwanda in 1986, Flaura inherited the responsibility of supporting her family after the Genocide in 1994. Though the Genocide began in April, in some regions violence broke out in the first three months of 1994, and Flaura's home was one of the targets of the early violence and was attacked in March of that year. Her father was killed during the attack and her mother was beaten until the genocidaires thought she was dead. Her mother was later found in the house and taken to the hospital. She survived, but with severe injuries that continue to debilitate her, prevent her from working, and continually send her to the hospital.

Flaura, her brother and sister survived the attack because they fled to the bush before the massacre took place. They hid there for 3 days before returning to their home. A month later, once the Genocide began in earnest, Flaura and her siblings again fled to the bush. They stayed in hiding for three weeks before the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) troops came in from Uganda and ended the killings in the north of the country, where Byumba is located. She considers herself lucky that her home town is so close to the border with Uganda, noting that in other parts of the country it took much longer for the RPF to arrive and stop the genocidaires.

Flaura is poised to become the first university graduate in her family. She is also an employer of two people, and an exemplary client of Vision Finance Company, the first international microfinance institution in Rwanda to introduce voluntary savings, individual loans, and Village Phones. Even when discussing her painful past or the weight of her responsibility, Flaura does not reveal a hint of self-pity or bitterness and spends no time lamenting the circumstances that have determined her life.

This spring, Flaura hopes to take out a loan of $2,000 from VFC in order to expand her canteen into a full-fledged cafeteria and to buy computers with internet access for the students to use. There are currently no computers on her university's campus, nor is there any establishment that sells food.

Flaura's ambition is exceptional and her business ideas are savvy. When asked how she came up with each of her plans, she explains that, "When you're responsible, you have to think of different ways to help your family. I am so thankful for VFC and my lenders for making this possible."

Pictures of Flaura: Flaura, Flaura's shop, Flaura's copier machine.

Kumri: Building a Business, Building a Country

In Tajikistan, women often joke that they "don't have husbands, only names of husbands". This is because each year several hundred thousand men leave Tajikistan for Russia in hopes of finding work that will feed their families back home. Kumri Orifova and her sisters found themselves in this situation when unemployment rose after Tajikistan gained its independence from the U.S.S.R. in the early 1990s.

Kumri has a university degree, and before Tajikistan gained independence she had worked for many years as an accountant at a Soviet-run sewing factory. For the most part she enjoyed the work. However, in the early 1990s the Tajik government took over management of the factory, and with a civil war waging, the factory did not receive enough funding or support to continue operating - after several years, the government stopped funding the project altogether. Kumri's husband and her sisters' husbands left to find work in Russia, and Kumri found herself unemployed and responsible for her three children and her husband's aunt.

For many, this is where the story would take a turn for the worst. In Kumri's story, however, this is where she began to show what a determined woman is capable of.

Kumri decided to start her own sewing business, immediately convincing her two sisters, Farogat Muhamadova and Sharifa Kosimova, to join her in the venture. Instead of operating the business as three joint owners, they operate more like a cooperative - each has the ability to invest in and profit from their own financial decisions. They started small, borrowing enough money from friends and family to rent a space and a few machines - eventually reinvesting the profits to purchase the machines outright. They were able to find enough work to hire an additional 4 sewers, all of whom were related to the sisters in some way. They have contracts with several local factories to sew uniforms, but are also able to devote some of their time to sewing the national dress for women in their community.

The business was successful, so four years ago Kumri decided to branch out. She joined with a few other investors to purchase a weaving factory so that her sewing factory could source fabric at a cheaper price, without having to pay a middleman. They found a factory that employed blind weavers and had suffered a similar fate to her previous employer; after being started by the Tajik government as a way to provide jobs and housing to legally blind adults from all over the country, its doors were closed after economic hardships hit. Kumri and her business partners were now in ownership of a successful sewing factory and a weaving factory that employed 40 blind men and women.

Even with a direct supply of fabric at cost, the full potential for Kumri's enterprise had not yet been reached. The sewing machines she had were old, and Kumri believed they could increase production if they had new machines.

About six months ago Kumri and her sisters received their first business loans from IMON International, a Kiva Field Partner since December 2007. Kumri and Farogat each took out loans for $600, and they used this money to purchase three new sewing machines, phasing out some of the older machines that had become too difficult to use.

Even they were shocked by the impact of such a small loan: the factory went from sewing 10 uniforms a day to 50. And after only a few months of this increased productivity, Kumri and her sisters were able to secure more factory contracts and hire three more sewers.

More sewers means more contracts. More contracts means more fabric. And, hopefully, more fabric means more work for the weavers as well.

While Kumri refers to the business as a factory, it is not much more than a big room crammed tightly with sewing machines, bolts of fabric, and a large cutting table. The large windows that line all four walls of the space do little to stop the wind and cold air from pervading the space - even on a sunny Fall day, the sewers were struggling to stay warm. A small coal stove in the middle of the room was the only source of heat and was a popular gathering spot during Tajikistan's harsh winter. The women are only able to sew for about an hour at time, stopping for 20 minutes breaks to warm their hands.

Kumri and her sisters eagerly talk about their future plans for the business. Each month, they set aside 5-10% of their salary, so that they eventually hire more sewers and finance their business' expansion. They have big plans to open workshops in other towns in the region.

Just five years ago, they were trying to create jobs for themselves but now they are excited by the possibility of creating jobs for others in Tajikistan. In fact, when they talk about business growth, they don't mention their own personal profit, but instead count how many jobs they were able to create.

Kumri initially started working with blind people in order to get a tax break which the government provides to employers of people with disabilities. But, now she is really excited about the prospect of continuing to work with disabled communities. She is very upset that Tajikistan does not have access to industry or to work, that men are forced to leave their families and find work in Russia, and she is now focused on continuing to grow her business so that she can create more jobs for Tajikis, right here in their own community. She sees her work as a way to improve life in Tajikistan.

Pictures of Kumri and her sewing factory (click to download): Kumri, new sewing machine, sewing factory.

Yenku Sesay: From Survival to Success

Yenku Sesay very nearly didn't survive May 6, 1998. On that day a rebel army, led by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), invaded his village of Kondembaya in northern Sierra Leone, and cut off the hands of many of the villagers, including his own. According to the rebel soldiers, this was punishment for using their hands to vote for Sierra Leone's leader, against whom they were fighting.

Yenku's father used the family savings to hire a motorbike to take Yenku for treatment in a hospital hours away in the country's capital city, Freetown. It took 3 days to find a motorbike they could use, and for these three days Yenku waited without any medial treatment.

Due to the treatment he received at a hospital in the nearest city, Yenku eventually recovered from the physical wounds. In other ways, however, his life was destroyed. He was incapable of taking care of himself and eventually resorted to begging in the streets of Sierra Leone. At about 21 years old, Yenku's daily life had been reduced to asking for handouts, with little hope of change, little chance for something better.

Yenku would still be begging today, had he not been approached by Salone Microfinance Trust (SMT), in 2006, about taking out a group loan with four other local borrowers. No other institutions were even willing to consider Yenku for credit because of his amputee status. However, through lengthy discussions with Yenku, SMT saw in Yenku natural business skills and a drive to be self-reliant. He was approved for 300,000 Leones from SMT, the equivalent of approximately $100 USD.

Yenku used this money to develop a modest retail business. At first the business was no more than Yenku selling small items in the street, such as packaged biscuits, soaps, and other sundries. Over the past two years, by reinvesting the profits and building his credit with SMT, Yenku's business has grown to become a small shop selling an assortment of clothing, shoes, drinks, and other packaged food products.

Yenku dedicated himself to his business, and every month he made his repayments on time and often early. With the profits from his retail business, Yenku has recently expanded into livestock and agriculture. The result is that Yenku is now self-reliant.

Instead of being a burden to his family or the community, Yenku has become a provider. He is able to support his family. He can feed and clothe his three children. He sends both of his school-age children to primary school, and he even pays for his younger brother's education.

Additional pictures of Yenku (click to download): Yenku Sesay, Yenku smiling, the tree under which Yenku's hands were cut off.

Patricia Flores: A Big Heart and a Tasty Treat

Patricia Blanca Toledo Flores is a single mother with a six-year-old daughter Jamie. Both Patricia and Jamie suffer from a debilitating kidney disease, though Jamie's condition is more serious. Jamie is constantly ill and has to be hospitalized three to four times per year. "All the doctors know her," Pati says with a sad smile. Though Jamie coughs a bit, you'd never know she was sick from spending time with her. She's constantly moving, running and climbing, and is very cheerful.

Patricia runs an anticucho stand at night outside the Papa Paulo market in the northeastern section of the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia. She works Monday through Saturday and some Sundays selling on this street corner for two to six hours per night; she also cooks for parties in clients' homes. Her anticuchos have a reputation for being the best in Cochabamba.

Anticuchos are beef-heart kabobs that are grilled with small potatoes and served with spicy peanut sauce. The meat, potatoes and sauce are all served together on small plastic plates, and customers eat with their hands. Most of Pati's female clients seem to eat two or three anticuchos, while some of the men eat seven or eight. They sell for 3.50 bolivianos (US $0.50) apiece.

Pati has a small charcoal grill that she cooks on and a table with big Tupperware tubs of pre-prepared marinated beef hearts and cooked, peeled potatoes. She sets small plastic stools out on the sidewalk for her customers to sit on. At any given time of night there are three to five people standing around chatting, eating, and hungrily eying the grill, waiting for their anticuchos to cook. Every once in a while Pati uses an oversized brush to douse the kabobs in oil or water, sending up two-foot-high flames that light up the night and her clients' faces. Most are clearly regular customers who both Pati and her daughter know on a personal basis (Pati says they usually just know her as "Dona Pati" or "Pati Anticuchos").

Pati received a loan of $625 from 11 Kiva Lenders, to buy more ingredients to make her anticuchos. Since she was producing more, she was able to sell more, and there has been a modest positive effect on her business.

Patricia is currently trying to raise money to continue to live in the home she shares with her daughter. She's also looking for a part-time job she can work during the day while her daughter is in school. On September 1st, Pati used some of her savings to throw Jamie a sixth birthday party. Since Jamie has always been sick and Pati used to spend all of her money on medical expenses and hospital bills, Jamie had never had a birthday party before. She is healthier now than she used to be, so Pati wanted to take the opportunity to throw her a party.

Pati says she dreams of buying a house for her daughter to live in, and has promised Jamie that she will do so for her 15th birthday. "I work for her," she says of her daughter.

Additional pictures of Patricia (click to download): Patricia cooking over a fire, anticuchos, night market.

Glory's Goats

Glory Gbeaye grew up watching traders all around her. Nigeria, with few large-scale retailers, is mainly dependent on small traders to move and supply goods. Glory could make a living by purchasing goats from Kano, a city in the north of Nigeria, transporting them to Benin City in the south, and butchering the meat for a profit, however it was an expensive business to enter. She started by selling fish, a business with a lower entry cost, and over ten years slowly saved enough money to begin trading goats when she was 28 years old.

Over time Glory built her goat trading business, until she was able to purchase 60 - 80 goats on each trip to Kano, transporting them back to Benin City on the three day journey in the back of a lorry, and selling the butchered meat in a wooden market stall. With such large purchases during each trip she was able to increase her profits, supporting herself and her family of 8 children.

In 2006 Glory was on a trip to Kano to buy goats when her transport came across a barricade in the road. Thieves boarded the mini-bus and took the money of everyone on board. As Glory didn't have access to a bank account she was carrying most of the business capital she had built over decades of hard work, nearly 1 million Naira ($8,500 USD). Devastated, she returned to Benin City with no money and no goats to sell.

Glory closed her business for 2 months and was forced to pull her youngest children out of school. Fortunately, a friend told her about about Lift Above Poverty Organization (LAPO), a microfinance institution that offers credit to entrepreneurs. Glory visited LAPO and was approved for a loan of 15,000 Naira ($130 USD) to rebuild her business. She also received the support of one of her daughters, who took a loan of 15,000 Naira herself, and joined her mother's business to help restore it to its previous success.

With their first LAPO loans, Glory and her daughter could purchase only 5 goats each trip to Kano. But, rather than feeling defeated by the dramatic loss from their previous business success, Glory was determined to rebuild what she had built before. In just two years she was able to slowly increase her business inventory, and her credit history with LAPO, until she was approved for a $875 Kiva loan in March 2008. She is now purchasing 20 - 30 loans on each trip to Kano and growing quickly.

Glory's Kiva loan is already more than half repaid, and she is well on her way to achieving her previous business success. Her dream - to ensure to rebuild her business so that she can ensure her family is comfortable and her grandchildren are all educated.

Additional pictures of Glory (click to download): Glory butchering goat meat, Glory displaying her wares, Glory holding her grandchild.

Grace's Peanut Butter

Grace Ayaa is a mother of four who lives in Kulambiro, Uganda. She is of the Acholi tribe and lived in the Northern districts of Kitgum before the civil war forced her to leave her home. She cares for 13 children, 7 of whom are not her own but orphans of the civil war, and now adopted into her family.

Grace tried to support herself and her family making peanut butter using a mortar and pestle. The process was so slow, and batch of produce so small, that it was very difficult to make the peanut butter fast enough to earn enough money to cover living costs for her and her family.

Grace knew she had to change her processes for her business to be successful, so she saved enough money to purchase a processing machine, no longer grinding with a mortar and pestle. With her new investment she was able to make much larger batches of peanut butter more quickly than before, but she had no way of storing her peanut butter and therefore could not make more until her current batch had sold.

Grace took a loan of $475 through Kiva, administered by Life in Africa, a Kiva Field Partner. Grace intended to spend 50% of her loan to purchase a refrigerator to store the larger batches of peanut butter, 25% on packing materials and an additional 25% as working capital for her business.

Within six months Grace had employed an additional person to help her with her business. She was also able to save enough money with her increased profits to acquire a small piece of land, so that she could better care for her children who were growing up quickly.

Grace has become an example in her community of a successful woman, despite the difficulties she has faced. Grace is no longer forced to decide which children she can send to school each semester as she can afford to send them all, and she is now building a home for her family on the land she was able to purchase.

Angel's Bicycle Repairs

Angel Asenov is 30 year old young man living in Sliven, Bulgaria, where he had worked in a bicycle repair store for 15 years. Like many young men he dreamed of running his own business, but every one of the six banks in Sliven refused him a loan to start his own bicycle repair store. Angel is a member of the Roma minority, commonly known as gypsies, and supports his younger brother and mother who live with him in a 2 bedroom concrete house without running water.

Angel received a loan through Kiva, administered by REDC, a Kiva Field Partner. Angel spent the $850 loan on equipment he needed to buy (welding tools, wrenches, screwdrivers, saws, hammers and some bike-specific tools), inventory for the store (rubber, spare parts) and a modest renovation on the part of his house he converted into a shop front.

The first time Angel made a payment on his loan he brought chocolates to the REDC office to express his gratitude for making his dream a reality. To advertise his new business he organized a bike race within his community, which 100 children attended. When the cold months came Angel recongized that he could do much more with his welding tools than just fixing bikes, and he became the metalworking man-about-town.

Angel fully repaid his loan within 12 months, and with his success he has been able to hire his brother part-time, perform some simple renovations on their home and invest in his supplemental metalworking business. Angel's success - as a Roma - was so astounding to the public that his story made the Bulgarian national paper. Congratulations Angel!

Cookey's Internet Cafe

Cookey is one of the luckier Kiva Entrepreneurs. He received an education at the University of Benin, and while he was not formally trained in computing, he has had the opportunity to learn about computers through using them in some way for 20 years.

However, even the educated cannot escape the difficulties of a small business in the developing world. Cookey's internet cafe, which locals use to find information, communicate with family and friends and take computer training, suffers from the constant power outtages which are common in Nigeria. To provide a quality service to his customers, Cookey relied on a diesel generator to run his machines when the power drops out, costing him $68 (USD) per day. This additional cost to his business makes it hard to make a steady profit to support his family of 3 school-age children, and his wife.

Cookey found a way to improve this situation. With $875 he could buy a generator which runs on gasoline which is more efficient and can regulate power output. Cookey applied for a Kiva Loan through Lift Above Poverty Organization (LAPO), and purchased the generator that he needed with loan funds provided by Kiva Lenders.

The new generator has halved Cookey's generator costs, and he now only spends $26 (USD) each day keeping his cafe running when the power drops out. He is using his additional profit for two causes: reinvesting into his business so that he can one day have a steady and comfortable income from his internet cafe, and paying for his children to attend a private school which doesn't suffer from the frequent strikes at government schools.

Cookey has the benefit of being a Kiva Entrepreneur who has access to the internet, and as such he enjoys looking at his Kiva business page and reading the comments left by those who contributed towards his loan. When visited by Kiva Fellow Jessica Heinzelman, Cookey had this to say to his Kiva Lenders: