Zidisha is the world’s first direct peer-to-peer micro-lending platform, providing Internet users the chance to directly loan money to entrepreneurs in the developing world.
Sound familiar? You may be thinking of Kiva, a much larger online micro-lending platform that has channeled more than $300 million of online loans to the developing world. Kiva recently launched Kiva Zip, which eliminates the middleman by sending loans directly to mobile phones — just like Zidisha does.
Zidisha has never used intermediaries. Borrowers return interest to their lenders, rather than sending part of their profits to a third party. The only portion of loans that don’t go directly to the borrowers is a transaction fee, which they pay from their loan.
Zidisha’s model allows lenders to develop a relationship with their loans’ recipient. As a lender, you can read the loan applications written by the small business owners, who have passed background checks. Borrowers share their stories, answer questions and establish the terms of the loan, including the repayment period and interest rate.
“We’re proving that peer-to-peer can be repaid responsibly in the U.S.,” says Julia Kurnia, director of Zidisha. “People thought, ‘How do you know they’re going to be honest?’ We’re showing that it’s possible for poor people in developing countries to repay loans responsibly. They’re just as capable as you or I.”
In its two years of operation, Zidisha loan recipients have repaid more than 97% of loans. It has lent $193,441, financed more than 330 businesses and has more than 1,175 members around the world. Zidisha loans currently go to Indonesia, Kenya, Senegal and Burkina Faso, though the non-profit hopes to expand to more countries in the near future.
Zidisha’s model is made possible by the spread of Internet cafes, where business owners post their applications, and low-cost mobile technology, such as Kenya’s M-PESA. The mobile wallet — M for mobile, PESA is Swahili for money — allows Kenyans without bank accounts to receive loans.
“Geography is becoming less and less of a barrier,” Kurnia says. “A Paypal transfer over the Internet goes directly to a Masai villager’s cell phone and he doesnt have to leave his village. This wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago.”
One-third of Kenya’s GDP now goes through M-PESA transactions.
The impact of micro-loans is immediately visible. Ndeye Bineta Sarr (pictured above), one loan recipient from Senegal, used her $700 2009 Zidisha loan to buy an electric sewing machine, rent a workshop, hire her first employee and establish a fund large enough to fill a dozen client orders at once. Before her loan, she couldn’t work on more than two orders at a time. Sarr is now her household’s main earner, making enough money to send her three children, nieces and nephews to public school through the university level.
Have you ever financed a micro-loan? Share your experiences in the comments.
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