In my last blog post. I argued that Zoona’s agents are the ones who really make this company unique. So how does an ordinary person – even if they had a hard start in life or do not meet the minimum qualifications – become a successful Zoon franchise owner? How do they afford the start-up costs and have enough working capital? How do they get a loan without any credit history? Zoona has found a way to help budding entrepreneurs overcome these issues through a partnership with crowdfunding platform, Kiva.
Take, for example, Fedson – a 27-year old man living in Dowa, Malawi. He couldn’t afford to pay his tuition and had to drop out of college; as a result, he has struggled to find a permanent job. His four-year-old son has to live at his girlfriend’s mother’s house until the family can afford their own place.
Becoming a Zoona agent is an opportunity that is open to people like Fedson and would help him achieve his ambition to live with his son. But how do you become an agent and set up a business without any money?
In Zambia and Malawi, where Zoona operates, it is extremely hard for people like Fedson to get a loan. Banks only lend if you have collateral, but few people own their own land or housing until very late in life. Even some of my colleagues in the Zoona office – university-educated, and in stable, well-paid jobs – do not have access to credit from banks.
To address this, in 2012, Zoona embarked on a partnership with Kiva. Kiva is a micro-lending platform that allows people to loan money to underserved entrepreneurs and students all over the world and boasts a 99% repayment rate.
Zoona now creates profiles for all new agents on the Kiva website so that they can receive start-up funding. Before this partnership, Zoona relied on agents who already had an income or savings to cover their
initial costs. Now, Zoona calculates the exact amount of funding that an agent needs based on the cost of a kiosk, and an affordable minimum monthly payment based on the agent’s expected commission.
The Zoona-Kiva partnership also benefits the lender: Zoona automatically deducts the monthly payment from the agents’ accounts, meaning that as long as the agent continues transacting, their repayment is guaranteed.
The success stories from this initiative are really inspiring. I was put in contact with Mr. Mundia in Mongu, Zambia. He has now fully repaid four Kiva loans worth almost $16,000 in total. When he got his first one, he only had one Zoona outlet in Mongu; he now has 16 outlets and 17 employees.
His success has earned him the nickname ‘The Pioneer’ in Mongu and it is evident how proud he is of his achievements:
“Kiva lenders have changed my life,” he beamed. “I never believed that one day I would be able to send my children to university. I am a somebody today, because of Kiva and Zoona.”
Mr. Mundia outside one of his 16 successful Zoona outlets.
It’s an encouraging result, but it’s one that arises from a broken formal financial system. It frustrates me that budding business-owners like Fedson and Mr. Mundia are invisible to the formal banking sector in their home countries. Mr. Mundia is clearly a reliable borrower, but even his proven credit history does not improve his chances of getting a bank loan without collateral. But I am optimistic – with the boom in financial inclusion and fintech – that this can, and will, change within my lifetime.
In the meantime, Kiva is providing an effective service to Zoona agents. In doing so, I hope they are helping to change the face of Africa: from the starving child to the emerging entrepreneur.
Kirsty Gray is working out of Lusaka, Zambia, with fintech entrepreneur Zoona on an insights and agent reactivation project.