From Designer to Refugee to Kiva Zip Borrower in Kenya

While working on Kiva Zip operations in Kenya, I engage with Trustees (the volunteer backbone of the Kiva Zip model) every day, hearing their stories, experiences, issues, and very often-getting humble invitations to visit their borrowers. These visits are one of my favorite parts of my fellowship. This is when I get to see the impact of the Kiva Zip model on the ground.


Recently, I got to visit Kone Mory who is from Côte d’Ivoire, a country in west Africa. Kone is a designer, tailor, father of two children, a UNHCR refugee in Kenya and a Kiva Zip Borrower. He is currently separated from his family, who are still in Côte d’Ivoire. Eager to tell me his story, he was dressed sharply in his tailored suit and had a huge grin with deep dimples on his face when I arrived at his 10x14 feet tailoring/design shop in the Central Business District of Nairobi. 


During the 2002 civil war in Côte d’Ivoire, Kone’s design and tailoring business was burned down and he was separated from his entire family. During this four-year civil war, he managed to escape his home country in search of a better life. Leaving everything behind, Kone travelled for a year, 7400 km from Côte d’Ivoire to Kenya, crossing eight African countries as a refugee. He was given official UNHCR refugee status part way through his journey to Kenya.

“Life was so uncertain and scary but with my refugee brothers and sisters I had hope. I didn’t know where my family was," Kone said.


According to 2013’s UNHCR’s Global Trends report, by the end of 2013 there were 51.2 million individuals displaced globally due to persecution, conflict, generalized violence or human rights violation. There are approximately 11.7 million refugees under UNHCR mandate. Kenya hosts more than a half million African refugees, the largest number of any country in Africa.

Kone has been in Kenya for the past 6 years now. He struggled to make a living initially despite being so skilled,since he couldn’t easily start up a new tailoring business with his refugee status. He was finally able to do just that as part of Xavier Project’s Livelihood Program called Kasirye.
I asked him what he did with his first Kiva Zip loand and he said, “Monthly rent for my tailoring shop is 10,000 KSH which is exactly my first Kiva Zip loan amount. Now I have my own shop where I can grow my business steadily, I don’t have to travel to people’s houses around the city, work in different tailoring shops in various Nairobi markets. Kiva Zip loan access will bring stability to my business”.

After hearing Kone’s powerful story, I didn’t even know what to ask him next specifically. I simply asked him what's next.

“I am so grateful for Kenya, my trustee Xavier Project, my lenders from around the globe and Kiva Zip for believing in me, giving me this opportunity to grow big again, for hearing my story," he said. "I want to have a bigger shop in a more secured location of Nairobi.  With a larger next loan, I can do that and also can employ my refugee brothers and sisters. I miss my family, I want to be united with them once again someday. All the work I do today is still for them."


Xavier Project is a Kiva Zip Trustee providing opportunities to urban refugees in Kenya and Uganda to create employment so that they can regain control of their lives and live dignified lives again. Kiva Zip in Kenya partners with over 150+ Trustees that reach entrepreneurs at the bottom of the pyramid, those in dire need of finance, and skilled struggling entrepreneurs that are just looking for that right opportunity and people to believe in them. These Trustees are also volunteers just like Kiva Fellows. We are working together to make the mission of Kiva (To connect people through lending to alleviate poverty) possible.
Visit Kiva Zip to lend to entrepreneurs in the U.S. and Kenya starting with as little as $5.00.

About the author

Nina Patel.

Nina has been working for NASA as a Software Engineer for the last 10 years. She graduated with Bachelors in Computer Science from Penn State University, Masters in Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and studied abroad in Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Growing up in India, she developed a deep interest in international development through interacting with small struggling businesses on daily basis – where each person had sense of sincerity, survival, and hard work. She first heard of Kiva in 2006 through an interview with Mohammad Yunnus. In Kiva, she saw the unleashing power of microfinance, a pure human connection, a never-ending selfless cycle of giving, receiving, and self-empowerment using web 2.0 technology. She wanted to be part of it, and instantly became a Kiva lender and volunteer. Empowered by her technical skills and cross-cultural experiences, giving back to society is a part of her life’s purpose. Her passions include technology, space exploration, art, social enterprises and conscious businesses. She is leaving her enthusiasm for NASA space exploration behind to pursue her passions further, starting with this amazing Kiva Fellowship in Kenya, Africa.