The success stories of many women are preceded by a dilemma which often stands as an inspiration to others later.  The ups and downs of life often require a leveller to scale the odds.

Our Amazonpreneur for this week is Victoria Kisyombe, a trailblazer in Tanzania whose story is an inspiration and a pointer to possibilities.

Victoria’s journey to entrepreneurship began after she suddenly lost her husband and breadwinner of the family in 1991. Unlike some widows, Victoria inherited nothing from her late husband, and this made life extremely difficult for her and her three young children.

Victoria had a cow called Sero and that was the only thing she had that could bring in money for her to sustain her home. Victoria began milking Sero and selling the milk to sustain her family. Over a period of time, she was able to put together some money that can rebuild her life. She thoroughly thought of what she could invest on. Through deep-thinking, Victoria realized there were women, widows and young girls who were not educated like she was and were worst off financially than her.  She thought of how they were surviving since they had no asset like Sero to survive on. An innovative idea struck and this has completely changed her life for the better.

Thirty-three percent of the people in Tanzania live below the poverty line. Women struggle to open and grow businesses without the collateral needed to qualify for loans. More than 90 percent of women do not own property due to the country’s customary laws, which in most cases supersede other laws; this exclusion propels many women into a cycle of poverty.

Although the situation seemed too difficult, however, Victoria saw it as an opportunity to turn around the restrictions in other to accommodate women’s economic participation in Tanzania. She restructured the conventional system of micro-finance in Tanzania so that the criteria for eligibility could allow women with no assets and little business experience take loans to engage in commercial activities to support themselves and their families. In 2002, she opened micro leasing called SELFINA, which she named after her cow Sero (Sero Lease and Finance Limited). SELFINA was launched in Dar es Salaam and the organisation was involved in loaning and leasing productive assets. The requirement for consideration was the client’s ability to generate cash flow. The leased assets enable women to generate income sustainably, and at the end of the lease, a client owns the asset in her own name. It becomes collateral that qualifies her for a traditional bank loan.

Twelve years later, Victoria and her team have provided 25,000 leases to women, USD $16 million in credit, impacted more than 200,000 people and created 125,000 jobs. A repayment rate of 95 percent enabled the company to keep growing; to serve more women and their families.

Up to date, SELFINA has been a catalyst for women’s entrepreneurship, responsible for the launch of a range of small businesses and enterprises. The bank leases just about everything, from tractors, photocopiers, ovens, and livestock, and her clients are a diverse group including florists, caterers, fashion designers, and farmers.

Most of the clients are rural settlers who are widows and young women who would not otherwise have access to the opportunity SELFINA provides. Victoria has designed a solution that meets her community’s needs, and she has built a model recognized by the World Bank and World Economic Forum.

Her entrepreneurship fuels bigger dreams, bigger goals. “If I can change the life of one person it makes a whole difference because behind that person there is a whole family. It’s a family, it’s a society, it’s Tanzania.” Victoria plans to open offices across Tanzania and has her sights set on expanding to other countries in East Africa.

Miracle Nwankwo

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