When you enter a YOSEFO community bank you are sure to encounter business owners facing every stage of the business life cycle. Some entrepreneurs are just getting their ventures off the ground and are using their loan money to purchase their first sewing machine, food stuffs or rent a salon space. Other businesses are flourishing, sales are growing and customers are becoming more regular. A few businesses are on the decline; higher prices for goods or a new industry regulation could be making it hard to maintain profits. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get to meet the veteran business owners – those that received their first loan money from YOSEFO 8 or 10 years ago. They have been around long enough to grow their first business and subsequently started other successful businesses. Leonard Lusungu would fall in that category and I had the pleasure of talking to him today in the Vituka community of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Leonard took his first loan years ago and used the money to purchase a deep freezer for his small grocery. Over the years, he has reinvested his business income and borrowed more money to expand his grocery store and establish a local restaurant and pharmacy. In addition to those businesses, he raises cattle and operates a bus service. He employs over 20 people in all of his businesses yet manages all the operations in a relaxed manner. When I asked if feels a lot of pressure because he owns several businesses and employs so many people, he just smiled and told me that he’s found good managers to run the operations of each of his businesses, leaving him free to continue to think of new ways to make money. His next venture will be a wholesale beer and soda store.
Leonard has been a good client for YOSEFO over the years and now borrows funds ten times the amount of his first loan. Not surprisingly his needs have changed over the years. He is now interested in making it easier to increase the amount of money he can borrow and wants to make larger loan payments less frequently. I imagine tenured microfinance institutions are finding distinct customer segments emerging and now have to determine how to make their model more flexible to meet the needs of these high-value customers.
When I asked Leonard why he enjoys running his own businesses, I wasn’t surprised by the answer because it mirrored the feelings that other small business owners in the US had been telling me for years. It’s the fact that his work will almost directly determine his success and income. He also mentioned that he enjoyed the freedom of coming and going without having to report into a boss. His flexible work schedule allowed him to take his four kids to school in the morning – something that most fathers he knew were not able to do.
I left Leonard’s restaurant inspired by the power of microfinance. Leonard told me that without the community bank he would not have been able to achieve his dreams — professionally and personally. His business income has paid for a home in Dar es Salaam and a second home in his home land in the Kilimanjaro district. All four of his children are thriving in primary school and he’s able to take care of his extended family. By sending capital to well-run microfinance institutions, like YOSEFO, Kiva Lenders are helping men and women, like Leonard, down the path towards achieving their life’s dreams