Dr. Victoria Kisyombe is the founder of SELFINA, a company in Tanzania that provides micro-leasing to mostly widows and young girls.
Given women’s lack of collateral and resulting lack of access to capital, Dr. Victoria Kisyombe began pioneering micro-leasing as a solution. Her pioneering micro-leasing model as an alternative way to financing women has generated praise beyond Tanzania, and efforts are under way to expand the model to other countries in the region.
Victoria’s incredible journey into entrepreneurship emerged as a result of personal tragedy and the unexpected death of her husband back in 1991. For her and their three young children, life was to change inexorably as she was left to deal with the resulting social and economic challenges facing them. An entrepreneurial approach to life thereafter provided the solution.
When Victoria faced the prospect of providing for her family alone in Tanzania, she was faced with some stark facts – under customary law, his family reclaimed all their marital possessions. She didn’t own property in her own name, she didn’t have any collateral, or indeed a personal credit history with a bank.
In fact, she had only one asset to her name – a cow named Sero. Being educated and resourceful out of necessity, she looked to make this sole asset work for her and become a critical source of income. She sold the milk produced by Sero each day and used the income to look after her family and accumulate some savings with which to rebuild her life. That precious cow, Sero, made all the difference in the world to the family.
During this time, Victoria found that her difficult circumstances were not unique, indeed she knew that many women find themselves in similarly tough circumstances, yet often without access to productive assets like Sero to help them through those tough times.
In 2002, she recognized that access to micro-finance for women could be a game changer in the lives of Tanzanian women, so she took on the challenge of redesigning the traditional model of micro-finance to make it work for women.
She launched a new business venture, SELFINA (Sero Lease and Finance Limited), named after her first asset, her cow Sero, and began loaning and leasing productive assets to Tanzanian women.
These leased assets provided a practical means of women being able to generate their own sustainable income, and over the lease term, eventually owning the assets in their own names. This not only newly empowered these women, but also provided them with critical collateral to qualify them to access traditional bank finance in the future.
SELFINA has gone on to finance 27,000 women, create 150,000 jobs, with 250,000 people impacted and US$17 Million revolved.
She was also recognized as Regional Social Entrepreneur of the Year for Africa in 2010. In addition, and in keeping with her personal philosophy that the key to empowerment is through education, she raised money to build the Mukuza Girl’s Secondary School in Dar Es Salaam. The school has 129 students, and provides room and board so the girls can have their own space to study and learn.
Dr. Victoria is a leader who has used innovation, initiative, and determination to empower women in Tanzania to become economically self-sufficient.
“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”