What better time to showcase the amazing endurance and entrepreneurial spirit of Zimbabwean women than on International Women’s Day?
 
I was fortunate enough to sit down with two groups of women, The Mercedes Club Group and The Divine Touch Group, in Mutare, Zimbabwe. They discussed how the changing Zimbabwean economy has had an indirect impact on their families lives and their decision to start a business.  A few years ago the Zimbabwean economy took a turn for the worse, leaving many people without formal employment and a steady pay check. When their husbands lost their jobs and they could no longer afford their children’s school fees, these women took matters into their own hands. Through a Kiva group loan, they have been able to start and expand their own businesses and set up a community of support along the way. In addition to providing for their families, these women take in orphaned children in their community who lost their parents to HIV. All these factors, make owning and running a business in Zimbabwe extremely challenging. 


The women of The Divine Touch Group cool off under a jacaranda tree
 
Group loans can help ease some of these obstacles. They create a bond among the members of the group that goes beyond the financial. Joining a group makes it easier to receive a loan and creates a support system for its members. If one member of the group falls delinquent, than the entire group appears delinquent. This kind of social pressure around repayments serves as a form of collateral. They make sure everyones repayments are being done on time. If one is falling behind on loan repayments, the others pitch in to help out. Overtime, their lives and businesses merge together and the success of one is contingent on the success of everyone.

The Divine Touch Group at Caroline's (center right) fruit stand

Groups like The Divine Touch Group and The Mercedes Club Group meet once a month to discuss travel plans, check in to see who needs products from which countries and exchange ideas on how to encourage growth. Their businesses range from clothing sales to poultry distribution to hardware sales to a fruit stand. Although the members of the group each have a separate business, their goals are the same. They want to be able to support their family and grow their business. All these women are the primary breadwinners for their family.
 
Stellah, the group leader of the Merecedes Group, explained how the three Kiva loans have impacted her over time. Stellah runs a hardware stand, and she used her first Kiva loan to buy supplies to sell and expand her product type. After Stellah’s second loan, she was able to buy a bigger table and moved her stall to the front of the market. This new location had more foot traffic and helped to increase sales. THanks to a third loan, Stellah now runs a shop in town with two employees. 

Stellah from The Mercedes Club Group proudly showing off her hardware stand
 
I was struck by how hard working and optimistic these ladies are despite the continuous challenges they need to overcome. I found myself thanking them over and over again for sharing their stories, knowing their endurance and work ethic has made an impact on me. 
When I finished the interview, I asked if I could take their photos. Stellah said, "I wish you could see a photo of me before my first loan. A before and after. I was a totally different person. I couldn’t afford nice clothes. You have no idea how much these loans have changed our lives. We are no longer dependent on men. We have peace of mind. And we are successful”. 

The Mercedes Club Group
 
I think it's safe to say that this definition of success is one that women all over work towards. Celebrate a woman, or group of women, today by lending to a female run business! Happy International Women's Day!

 
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