This Sterling-based micro-lender helps the world’s poor and needy
Zidisha was one of the first micro-lending platforrms of its kind. It connects borrowers directly with lenders, enabling them to repay those lenders firsthand without a need for a loan officer.
The platform is the brainchild of Julia Kurnia, who has lived in Sterling for the past seven years.
“I'd always wanted to do something to bring people together across the international wealth divide,” Kurnia said.
The birth of Zidisha was several years in the making. During graduate school, Kurnia traveled to Senegal in West Africa and worked with a local micro-financial organization to raise money for Kiva, an organization that allowed micro-financing banks to raise money from ordinary people. The funds could then be used to help those seeking loans.
Kurnia said she was surprised to find how expensive it was to manage small loans and pay the loan officers traveling out to small villages to collect cash payments. In order to cover costs, fees were passed on to the borrower, with 30 to 40 percent interest added to the loan.
Following school, Kurnia began to work for the U.S. government in Africa. She still saw large numbers of impoverished people, but with a difference: Many were tech savvy and regularly using cyber cafes.
“I started thinking, what if we eliminate the bank altogether and directly connect the lenders and the borrowers over the internet,” she said
Zidisha was officially born in 2009, becoming the first micro-lending platform to lend money across the international wealth divide. Borrowers post their own loans online and repay the lenders directly. The service fee is a mere 5 percent.
One of the platform's earliest success stories was a seamstress from Senegal who asked for a loan to buy a sewing machine, which would help her to make larger quantities of dresses than she could by hand. Once she had the sewing machine, her production capacity tripled and she was able to pay back the loan and take on her first employee.
Zidisha is now in 10 countries, primarily in Africa, but also in Haiti and Indonesia. A Mexico operation also launched this year.
Since its conception, more than 80,000 people have used Zidisha, and the company has facilitated $9 million in loans.
Those who have sought loans have offered a variety of reasons, including enabling them to go to university. Lenders can give from as little as one dollar. Kurnia said they run an internship program with students visiting borrowers to check how they have spent their money.
“They have almost never found that the loan has been used for anything other than the borrower said. I think the reason is, there is no incentive to lie, loans can be used for anything as long as it's legal and ethical,” Kurnia added.
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