The Bank is Still Open

by on August 5, 2009
in Business, Sudan


Deng Agei barely knows what it is to live during peace time. The young Sudanese man has known war for so many years, that now, life under peace seems like heaven to him. And he is enjoying the possibility of building a new life for himself. Actually he had already started after the end of the war in Sudan.

In 2005, the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between north and south Sudan marked the end of the Second Sudanese Civil War, which had lasted more than 20 years.  An estimated two million people were killed and four million displaced during the second civil war, which began in 1983. Deng thought about opening a microbusiness selling food and goods. Luckily for him, Lietnohm, his village was chosen to get a real bank from where he could microfinance his business.

The sight of your bank local branch in your neighborhood is so common that you don’t even pay attention to it. It’s there, period. But in Southern Sudan, a brick and mortar bank in a village was a first. The idea was supported by Five Talents, a non profit helping the Southern Sudanese people adjust from their ancestral pastoral life with educational programs. Deng took a loan and had his business booming in the central market of Lietnohm until skirmishes broke again.

Southern Sudan is a patchwork of ethnicity, languages and clans making it difficult to unify the population. A conflict started between two clans in Lietnohm ending up in most of the village being burned down, including Deng’s shop and savings. Deng was not demoralized. He decided to start again.

Interestingly, one of the rare buildings not destroyed during the clans fight was the bank with its more than $10,000 in cash, a real fortune in Sudan. Since everyone,  every clan has interests in it, the building was spared by the fight and is bringing the community together again.

Deng took another loan. He rebuilt his business so well that now he is doing much better than before the clans fight erupted. Deng can really see now a better future. :)


A Miracle in the Toilets


David Kuria is a 37-year-old architect from Kenya. Already having a comfortable life working for the few wealthy Kenyans who could afford his services, he felt unsatisfied. He wanted to do more to help his community. David found his calling in an unlikely area: the toilets.

According to the Acumen Fund, only 48% of Kenya’s population has access to basic sanitation services. It has been more than 30 years since the government last invested in toilet facilities in Nairobi, one of the most densely populated informal settlements in the world. The few toilet units in low-income areas are beset by overcrowding, inaccessibility, as well as a general lack of privacy, hygiene and security.

Upon learning that women seeking privacy, would often pay a small fee to use a privately operated, unhygienic pit latrine, David saw an opportunity to build a business while helping his community. He founded Ikotoilet, a company which provides clean and secure sanitation services for a small fee. The company uses a Build-Operate-Transfer model of public-private partnership, entering into long-term contracts with municipalities to secure use of public lands.

David’s venture is now a real success. As an architect, he designed himself the facilities, which look like small restaurants, not toilets. An average of 1000 Kenyans use everyday each Ikotoilet because besides providing dignified and decent toilets, it also offers a range of services like showers, baby stations, phone booths, shoe shines and a small food shop. At the same time it creates jobs for urban youth.

David made a point to focus on sustainability especially with water which is now scarce in cities. That’s why each facility uses waterless urinals, low flush systems, rainwater harvesting and water saving taps to ensure optimal conservation. He is also keen on the potential for nutrient and energy recovery, harvesting urine and now exploring how to invest in conversion to ammonia. Also, biogas is generated from human waste and is used to light Ikotoilets.

His vision fulfilled David wanted to make sure expansion would not hurt the quality of service provided to the community. How could he guarantee the managers would keep each Ikotoilet spotless? David came up with very simple but effective idea: the office is located above or next to the toilets. No one would want to work or hold a meeting around stinking toilets. :)

The Unexpected Value of a Painting


This post was written by Nilima Achwal, pictured above, a Kiva Fellow working in Bolivia. You can find her original story on Kiva’s blog.

On my second day in La Paz, I braved the high altitude and made my way to Calle Sagarnaga, the main tourist shopping street. As I trudged up the slippery cobbled street, a skinny middle-aged man carrying a folder easily kept pace beside me and urged me to take a look at his paintings. Since I only needed an excuse to stop climbing, I stopped, and the man started sifting through painting after painting of indigenous women wearing a myriad of hats and shawls and pointing out the corresponding figures on the street. I soon learned that his name was Jorge and he wanted to give me an introductory course on indigenous Bolivian dress. “See that woman there?” He asked excitedly, “She’s single. You can tell by the color of her shawl. She’s also originally from Cochabamba, not La Paz. ” In a span of five minutes, the vendor had given me a proud summary of the dress and customs of some indigenous groups of three different Bolivian cities.

Then came the question that  I dreaded: “Where are you from?” Ever since I arrived in La Paz, I have been inundated by anti-American rhetoric, like the highway barriers that read “Yankees Go Home; El Alto Se Respeta [expletive]” (El Alto respects itself) repeatedly over the several kilometer stretch of road that passes right in front of the AgroCapital office, in the suburb of El Alto. The American ambassador in Bolivia was kicked out just last fall. In addition, I fully expected the price of his paintings to miraculously increase three-fold as soon as I answered that question. But taken in by this man’s sincere interest, I answered quietly, “Los Estados Unidos.”

Then came: “Are you just travelling or are you here for social work?”

“Social work,” I answered.

Jorge flashed me a toothless grin and looked me in the eye. “Gracias.”

It touched me that a stranger to whom I had nothing to offer was grateful for my work. In turn, I asked him about his work. He has painted his entire life. “Lo hago por cariño,” he explained—I do it out of love. Love for his people, his culture, and his country. His intense appreciation of the beauty of his heritage carries him through day after day of hard work and absolute economic uncertainty.

I decide to buy a small, colorful painting, and he charges me 15 bolivianos, or slightly more than two dollars. After assuring me that he has change, I hand him a 100 boliviano bill (14 dollars), or more than even the average-income Bolivian makes in an entire day of work. Before I realize what is happening, he tells me to wait one moment with his folder, and he has disappeared down the steep, crowded street to go get change.

I mentally kick myself. I only blame myself for letting him run away with my bill. My logical mind tells me not to waste my time and to give those fourteen dollars up for lost. But something keeps me rooted to my spot. He told me to watch his paintings. I have a responsibility to wait for him and make sure nothing happens to his work.

I wait. Three minutes, five minutes. I feel like an idiot; a lost-looking foreigner just standing on the side of a crowded street. By the time ten minutes pass, I am ready to shed my idealism and leave.

Jorge, in his bright red shirt, comes striding up the hill, pushing through tourists and vendors, eighty-five bolivianos in hand. He happily scurries up and hands me enough money to pay for eighty-five bus rides within the city of La Paz.

It’s the pride he takes in his work that inspires and energizes me. It’s the respect for other human beings (and their money) that this pride demands of him. This is not an isolated incident; I’ve seen this deep pride in many vendors and Kiva entrepreneurs in Bolivia. It’s rare for anyone to change her prices much in La Paz—the product is worth what it’s worth. Similarly, the value of her work is non-negotiable.

I feel safer and more comfortable here than I have in any other developing country, and it’s because, as a loan officer explained to me once, “Bolivians think you’re the same as them.”

Kiva is a wonderful non profit specializing in microlending. If you haven’t done so please consider becoming a lender. Need more motivation? Check out the Kiva song!

Bringing Hope To Uzbeks With Disabilities


In Uzbekistan, the disabled don’t have special ramps or access to buildings. It is very expensive to use a taxi able to accommodate a wheelchair. The lack of infrastructures designed for people with disability keeps them at home, hidden from the public. But a dynamic 50-year old woman wants to change that.

Zora Rahmatullaeva, herself wheelchair bound, is fighting to get fundamental rights for the Uzbek handicapped. She discovered how life was much easier for her when she took her first trip to the US in 2001. She could easily access public buildings, take elevators and use special toilets. Back in Uzbekistan, she thought, if she couldn’t move the red tape bureaucracy fast enough at least she could do something by herself.

Zora is the head of the National Association of Businesswomen with Disabilities of Uzbekistan. She encourages other women to get out of their home and start an activity. In Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, she also manages a club that has been proven very popular among women with disabilities. They come for the social interaction but mostly to get active. They are sewing and embroidering, they make breads and there are plans to open a greenhouse. The goal is to sell their production to add to their small income.

For Zora, the most important part of the plan is to empower these women who are used to be dependent on others. She wants them to be in charge. She teaches them leadership skills. That’s what freedom is about. Via

Mama Lucy Is Helping Tanzania Fight Poverty


The Girl Effect is happening everywhere and especially in developing countries. Everyday I find new stories about women stepping up to the plate with courage and persistence to offer a better future to the next generation.

In Arusha, Tanzania, Lucy Kamptoni, aka Mama Lucy, was selling chickens, her main income. Knowing that the key to eradicate poverty in her country was education, in 2003 she took her savings and started a primary school, Sheperds Junior Academy. She rented land next to her home and with iron determination, grew the classes from 6 children to include by 2007 more than 300 students at 8 grade levels.

But in July 2007, a hotel developer bought the land Mama Lucy was renting, planning to start construction in 2008. That meant the school would have to be shut down. Luckily for the students, around the same time, two Americans, Stacey Monk and Sanjay Patel in the midst of a trip, were volunteering at the school. When they learned about the situation, they were moved to help. They knew that their background in project management and corporate consulting could benefit the children.

Back in the US, they founded Epic Change (facebook page), a non-profit that loans money to organizations seeking to improve their communities. After raising tenth of thousands of dollars, they loaned the money to Mama Lucy and Sheperds Junior Academy was able to buy land and build new classrooms.

The added benefit of this loan is empowerment. Lead by Mama Lucy, the parents and the children are working hard to reimbourse the loan, giving them a sense of pride and ownership. Through the sales of gifts like postcards drawn by the students, everyday Shepherds is becoming more and more independent. Their motivation is backed by their academic scores. In November, the school participated in national exams for the first time.  Shepherds ranked #1 out of 117 participating schools in the Arusha district. Yeah! :)

David Sanchez (US High School Student)

by on April 30, 2009
in Business, Teens, USA


David from Racine, WI,  noticed a lot of homeless students in Racine. After researching, he found out that there were more than 1000 homeless kids just in the Racine Unified School District. He then took action and created his own organization  to match them with part-time jobs. These days he is busy talking to employers and community leaders to introduce his program. His efforts have already paid because in February he won $10,000 in seed money and more might be on the way. Via

David’s organization, Job-Link

Jeremy Hockenstein (Canadian Social Entrepreneur)


He visited Cambodia as a tourist and thought he could help local people who were learning computer skills but couldn’t find a job. He founded there a non-profit company that works like a business and helps the poorest Cambodians find better jobs and upgrade their skills. The company, Digital Divide Data has now expanded to Laos and Vietnam. Via

David Valle (US Baseball Player)


The first time David Valle went to play outside of the US, it was in the Dominican Republic. As he said later, he didn’t know what to expect and was relieved to see many children running towards him after he left the ballpark. After all, back in America, kids would ask for his autograph all the time.

He was stunned when he finally understood that they didn’t care much about him. They were hungry and just wanted some food. Shaken by this experience he made the decision to help them and their families.

In 1995, one year before retiring, he founded a non-profit, Esperanza, which means hope in Spanish. Since then, through microfinanced loans he has helped hundreds of Dominicans start a small business to end the circle of poverty they were trapped in. He has now expanded operations to neighboring Haiti.

Update: an example of Esperanza’s success: Milan Tapia

Leonard Abess (US Banker)

by on February 17, 2009
in Business, USA


Every CEO says it, how they value their employees. When Leonard Abess sold his bank in Miami, he really meant it and had his employees share 60 million dollars. Via

David Singer (US CEO)

by on February 11, 2009
in Business, USA


His company bought through an auction a bankrupt company which had already fired all its employees. He made sure all of them got a $1500 prepaid debit card as a token of his commitment. And slowly the former employees are hired back. Via

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