I’m one of those people who believe in the nonexistence of luck. I define luck as when preparedness meets an opportunity. I concur with what Wesley Cohen and Daniel Leventhal would call it in their studies: “Fortune favors the prepared firm”. I so believe because even at my level as a graduate student and intern at Zidisha, most of the good things that have come my way have happened because they found me at an ideal state – prepared. If I would narrate my story, my background and how I happened to come to the United States, my scholarships, or even this internship I really love, I would make you agree with what scientist Louise Pasteur’s famous dictum (back in 1854): “chance only favors the prepared mind”. In the interest of space and time, I leave these to be stories of another time.

Talent and creativity is a ubiquitous phenomenon throughout the world. However, opportunity is scarce. The fact that there is disproportionate distribution of resources and opportunities across regions and continents means that some good, talented and intrinsically motivated folks are condemned to die unheard instead of thriving and realizing their dreams. As a student of public administration, I have come to appreciate that governments cannot keep track of every citizen; especially in the context of young developing nations like Kenya my country. I know some of my classmates in middle school and high school who were immensely smart and talented but would not prosper because they (or their parents) lacked opportunities. Today you will find them in the village obliviously comforting themselves with illicit brew. It wearies me because I believe they would have taken a completely different life trajectory if given the opportunity. Now this is where nonprofits like Zidisha come in.

Once again, “chance only favors the prepared mind”! After my summer internship at One World Youth Project in Washington DC, I happened to go back to idealist.org to see if there is any organization that would accept a remote intern. My interest is to work with nonprofits which focus on sub-Saharan Africa or developing countries because that is where I belong. I bumped into an organization called “Zidisha”. Hold on a minute. But “zidisha” sounds like Swahili – my language (it’s a verb that means “to go past the limit” or “exceed”). So I quickly checked their website … Man! – This was what I was looking for. An online micro-lending community that directly connects lenders and borrowers — no matter the distance or disparity between them. On its website, there are a lot of entrepreneurs, most of them young and from disadvantaged backgrounds. They are pitching a myriad of business ideas. Here are great genuine ideas. Depending on your background you may find some ludicrous, but they believe in them and as matter of fact they are viable. There are lenders and volunteers supporting this great mission.

On my return from Washington DC, my 3 months host and friend Dena Gudaitis – a longtime friend I met in Nairobi (she now works withMalaria No More) – gave me a book called Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World, (written by former U.S. president Bill Clinton) to read on my journey back to Ohio. I was traveling by bus (11 hours journey) so I needed an interesting book to read. The book reinforced my drive of working to help people help themselves. In this book, President Clinton posits that money is not the only thing we can give to express our altruism. We can give our time and skills too. He underscores that “the modern world, for all its blessings, is unequal, unstable, and unsustainable. And so the great mission of the early 21st century is to move our neighborhoods, our nation, and the world toward integrated communities of shared opportunities, shared responsibilities, and a shared sense of genuine belonging, based on the essence of every successful community: that our common humanity is more important than our interesting differences” (p. 4).

Even with President Clinton’s plea of having shared opportunities and responsibilities, the corporate world, especially the banking industry in developing countries, has set very high and intimidating standards for the less fortunate to acquire credits. This is on top of exorbitant interest rates. Government policies seem to be working against the people they should protect. Organizations such as Zidisha are filling this gap by connecting entrepreneurs in developing countries with an international peer-to-peer lending community. We indeed live in a small world. Here is a platform where one prepared mind from a different time zone helps another prepared mind in another time zone to change the world around themselves. The results have far reaching positive impacts on families and communities.

About Jonah Ondieki

Currently a Master of Public Administration (MPA) student at Bowling Green State. University in Bowling Green, Ohio, USA. Specializing in International Development with focus on sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Mel Bee

    You are an inspiration Jonah….keep up with the good work you will thrive.

  • Peter Njagi

    A great article- inspiring, thought provoking and genuine articulation of facts. Indeed, you have to lay the ground- be ready so that when opportunity comes you are well prepared. Good one Jonah!