Posts tagged ‘Africa’

Mitumba 101: The Second Hand Clothing Trade in Kenya

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Toi Market. Nairobi’s largest second retail hub. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

The Blue Sweater

The founder of non-profit venture capital fund, Jacqueline Novogratz, is the author of “The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World.”  In the book, she describes a blue sweater, donning “zebras in the foreground and Mt. Kilimanjaro right across the chest,” that she wore often as a child.  Like many of our own childhood artifacts, the sweater was donated to good will once she started high school.

That exact moment is where the story goes global…

“Fast forward 10 years, about 5000 miles.  I had left my career on Wall Street and was working in Kigali, Rwanda with a small group of women to start the countries first micro-finance bank to make small loans to poor women.  When I was jogging through the streets, and low and behold 10 yards in front of me I see a little boy, pip squeak, knobby knees, wearing my sweater.  So, I run up to the child, grab him by the color, turn it over and there is my name,” said Novogratz.

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Novagratz’s sweater is one article of clothing among millions that are circulating the globe as part of the second hand clothing trade (SHCT).  Although the SHCT accounts for approximately 0.5% of global trade in clothing, more than 30% of those imports went to Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) as early as 2005Figures provided by an Oxfam report indicate that used garments, initially collected and sold by western charities, account for nearly 50% of the clothing sector in SSA.

The SHCT is a billion dollar industry that spans the globe.  According to a CNN report, “whilst exact continent-wide figures are hard to come by, global used clothing exports from OECD countries stood at $1.9 billion in 2009, according to 2011 U.N. Comtrade data.”   An estimate in the same article approximates import activity to be worth $3 billion, and the subsequent retail transactions to be worth two-times that amount.

Mitumba 101

In Kenya the second hand clothing trade is known as mitumba.

Used clothing was first imported as duty free charity in response to regional conflicts during the 70s and 80s.   The trade evolved into a commercialized business sector in the early 90s, when market liberalization policies were introduced into the Kenyan economy.  Those policies allowed for the importation of goods, like mass shipments of used clothing, at reduced costs.

Indigenous textile industries across many African economies could not compete with the lower cost and higher quality of used clothing from abroad.   In Kenya specifically, the resulting competition coupled with other factors like the collapse of the Kenyan cotton board, a drought from 1995-1997, lack of locally produced synthetic material and newly arriving cheap Asian imports, led to the closing of Kisumu Cotton Mills, Allied Industries Limited and Heritage Woolen Mills.

However, before you mourn the loss of local textile production, you should know that this is not entirely a sob story.   From the ashes of one industry, another one has emerged quite triumphantly.  Mitumba is a bustling business sector in Kenya.  It has created thousands of jobs where the government and private sector have failed to do so.  Furthermore, the state cashes in on import revenues and so do local city-municipal councils that require all vendors to purchase trading licenses regularly.

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Retail clothing vendor in Toi market. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Mitumba is popular across the entire spectrum of Kenyan society.  The poor could not afford to clothe themselves otherwise, while middle class and affluent Kenyans turn to Mitumba for designer labels and high quality, unique clothing intended for western markets.

Mitumba Supply Chain in Kenya

  • Exporters/Importer: The second hand clothing merchants sort the clothing by condition and category; good/poor quality, women’s/men’s/children’s, shirts/pants, etc. Then, they’re bundled in plastic packaging called bales and shipped to the major East African port city of Mombasa in large containers.   The bales are purchased by the ton.  When they arrive in Kenya, they are stored in warehouses, mostly around the port of entry.
  • Wholesalers: Major wholesalers purchase bales in Mombasa and transport them by truck to Gikomba market in Nairobi, ground zero for the wholesale mitumba trade in Kenya.  Next, medium wholesalers purchase the bales and sell the clothing to retail vendors who travel to Gikomba from all over the country to purchase stock for their businesses.
  •  Retailers: Toi market, an offshoot of Kibera slums, is the largest retail market for used items in Nairobi.  Other vendors fan out to cities and towns across the country.

On the Ground in Gikomba Market

Hop on matatu #7 behind the National Archives in town for the short ride to Gikomba Market, Kenya’s hub for wholesale SHC sales.  This is a thrift shop on steroids.  Gikomba is a labyrinth of rickety wooden stalls, adorned with rows of garments hung like ornaments on a Christmas tree.  Vendors, perched above colorful mounds of clothing, call out to customers, shouting prices from their stalls.  Bales of clothing are hauled through its narrow, muddy corridors on sturdy backs and rickshaws, as customers bob and weave through the chaos looking for quality clothing at the lowest price.

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Bales of clothing waiting to be sold at Gikomba market. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

The sound of “camera, camera” fills the air.  Clothing, both retail and wholesale, are sold in rounds by grade.   Each round is called a camera, first camera, second camera and finally, the third.  Once the bales are opened and sorted, the best quality clothes will be the first to go.  Vendors often build relationships with each other in order to get first dibs on “first camera” clothing.

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Ladies T-Shirt from Australia. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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Used clothing bale from Canada. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Francis, from the Kingara section of Nairobi, supervises a store that sells bales of clothing in the market.  Drivers for the business go back and forth to Mombasa at least twice a week, bringing  back about 70 bales of clothing with them each time.  The drive from Nairobi to Mombasa is about 8 hours one way.  According to Francis, a bale of 1st grade clothing can range anywhere from KHS 9000 (about $100) to KHS 14000 (about $200).

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Francis is seated on a bale to the left. He supervises this wholesale bale business in Gikomba market. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Thomas Wahome, 24, and Samuel Mwangi, 28, have both worked in Gikomba market for 3 years.  They rent a stall for KHS 1500 (about $20) a month to sell men’s and women’s jeans.  At their stall, the cheapest pair costs 100 shillings (about $1.50).

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Thomas Wahome and Samuel Mwangi at their stall in Gikomba market. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Paula Bosire, an accounting student at Strathmore University, likes to mix and match her wardrobe.  Some of her clothes are brand new from local chain stores and others are second hand.  She is a frequent visitor to Gikomba, where she goes to find prices even cheaper than Toi’s.   “I shop at Woolworth’s and Mr. Price for statement pieces and come to Gikomba for really good deals and things that are practically new.  Sometimes the difference isn’t much,” she said.  On this day, Paula left Gikomba with stylish scarves and a pair of slacks and jeans that cost KHS 40 (about $0.50) each.

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Paula Bosire shopping for scarves in Gikomba market. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Geoffrey Messo, 24, is a mitumba retailer at Umoja, an estate in Nairobi.  He has been in business for 8 months and visits Gikomba twice a week to purchase new stock.  He retains customers by building relationships with them, getting to know their styles and taking personal requests for items.   According to Geoffrey, starting off as a mitumba retailer is not difficult because it requires very little capital upfront.  However, like any business mitumba is not devoid of challenges.  Sometimes Geoffrey is stuck with clothing that doesn’t sell.

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Geoffrey Messo in Gikomba. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Gikomba market generates tons of spinoff employment.  It’s like a city within a city.  Security guards are hired to protect stalls and stock.  There are tailors on site to repair clothing and stalls set up exclusively for ironing.  Shoe cleaners wait at the exit of the market with brushes, soap and water to wash off the mud accumulated from a busy day of shopping, and food vendors are on site to fuel the spending.

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(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Naima, is known as ‘mathe’ in the market which means mother in shang, Kenyan slang.  Originally from the coast province, she is the owner of ‘Real Madrid’ restaurant, located at the center of Gikomba’s hustle and bustle.   She’s run her business in the market for 8 years.  In addition to feeding hungry shoppers with typical Kenyan dishes like chapati, samosas and greengrams (lentils), she caters for parties and offices in the Westlands and Hurlingham sections of Nairobi.   “People come from very far to pick clothes for their businesses.  This is a meeting place for them.  They sell, exchange, I let them do whatever they want [here].  They come in the morning, leave their things, I keep them safe while they go to buy.  Then, they come to eat, talk with friends and return home, ”said Naima.

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Naima’s business is more than just a restaurant. It’s a social gathering space for those buying and selling in the market. On a typical day, her establishment is filled with the sound of laughter and friendly banter. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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Since there is no running water, Naima provides plastic gloves for finger food. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

A portrait of Gikomba market would not be complete without mentioning that it is also Nairobi’s wholesale fish market.  Hotels, restaurants, businesses and even individual shoppers flock here to purchase fresh and smoked fish from Lakes Victoria and Turkana.

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(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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Helen is standing to the far left, in front of her fish vending business in Gikomba market. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Geoffrey Messo, the clothing vendor who I met shopping for stock, introduced me to his mother Helen.  She has been selling fish in Gikomba for 10 years.  She sells fresh fish from Lake Victoria.  She receives shipments of fish everyday.  Along with most vendors in the market, she rents a space in communal refrigerators to store her supply.  Her customers, many of whom are restaurant owners, come straight to her in Gikomba.  She also makes home deliveries.

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Fried fish, stew, sukuma wiki and ugali. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

If you’re not in the mood for samosas or greengrams at Naima’s ‘Real Madrid,’ stop by the fish section of the market for freshly fried Nile perch, a side of sukuma wiki, kale, and the Kenyan staple ugali, corn flower cooked with water to a dough-like consistency.

On the Ground in Toi Market

Toi market is located at the outskirts of Kibera slums in Nairobi.   According to Citizen TV Kenya, ”the market, which started in 1992 as a food center, where people could stop for a bite to eat, has become a vast emporium of second hand shoes, shirts, bags, pants and dresses. “  Toi market is the primary retail-shopping destination for the average Nairobean.   It’s less hectic, more spacious and secure than Gikomba market, which is located near the city center.

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(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Boniface started working in Toi in 2005.  He has lived in the adjacent Kibera slums for 22 years.  He was previously employed in the ‘jua kali’ sector making furniture, but left to go into business for himself.  “  I wanted to be self-employed, to rely on myself and my own business, to live my own life, personally.  The business is cheap to start,” said Boniface.  Unlike most vendors in Toi who rent, Boniface owns his stall.  He purchased it for KHS 25,000 (about $300).

Jackline Arunga, 18, is a newbie in Toi.  She has only worked in the market for 1 year, selling children’s clothes exclusively.  She rents her stall along the roadside for KHS 1500 ($20) a month.  Once a month, she travels to Gikomba market to restock her supply of mitumba.  Jackline’s long term goal is saving money to enroll in university.

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Jackline Arunga at her children’s clothing stall in Toi market. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Brisbane John Ndavi owns a stall in Toi market with his wife.  They have worked here for a decade.  Like for many Kenyans, it is difficult to survive on one income alone.  So, Brisbane has more than one job.  He is a full time security guard at an international embassy in Nairobi.   Brisbane and his wife sell mitumba from a great location on the roadside.   The price of owning or renting along paths, well worn from foot traffic, is double that of stalls off the roadside, deeper inside the market.  Brisbane sited land ownership discrepancies as one challenge to feeling secure in this line of work.  Neighboring Kibera and Toi market are both informal settlements, and who exactly owns the land has been a huge point of contention for decades.   There are constantly rumors about developers seeking to gain ownership and wipe out the market.  According to Brisbane, many vendors work with the fear that one-day, they’ll show up to work and find their structures ransacked and torn down.

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Brisbane John Ndavi and his wife at their stall in Toi market. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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Second hand shoes are cleaned, polished and presented like new. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Toi market is not just a hub for clothing.  It is a central location for all kinds of used items.  On any given day, it’s common to see customers, both affluent and poor, Kenyan and expatriate, combing through books, toys, electronics, utensils, accessories, furniture and other items.  According to The Standard, Verah Aboga is one of the businesspersons who sells second-hand kitchenware.   Aboga, who operates from Kitengela on the outskirts of Nairobi, sells the items on order to her customers in the city.  Aboga noted that second-hand utensils are becoming popular because the market has been infiltrated by low-quality items. “Most of the sufurias (cooking pots) sold in the Kenyan market are very light and are not even made of stainless steel. This is what is making people switch to second-hand utensils, especially those who mind about quality,” she said.

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Toi market houses all kind of used items, not just clothing. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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Toi market houses all kind of used items, not just clothing. (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Challenges to Mitumba

Market liberalization, coupled with the low purchasing power of the vast majority of Kenyans, has made the country fertile ground for the SHCT.  It’s wildly popular across the entire societal spectrum.  Nonetheless, there are several factors that could threaten the industry’s future in Kenya.

1) Cheap textiles from Asia are flooding the market.  Although the competition from this onslaught is real, many Kenyans remain loyal to mitumba for its higher quality.

 
2) In 2012, the government raised import duties on SHC shipments.  According to an article originally published in the Daily Nation, “While a container of mitumba used to attract duty of between Sh900,000 and Sh1.1 million before the new taxes were implemented early this year, the new rate is now Sh1.8 million, an increase of more than Sh800,000, they said.”

3) Local textile firms, that hope to stage a comeback, are lobbying the government to impose a levy on SHC shipments.  They’d like the additional revenue to go towards a fund subsidizing cotton cultivation.

Although government policies and the ever-shifting tide of international trade may ultimately have it in for mitumba, the view from the ground doesn’t hint at a demise any time soon.  At an average of 90% off western retail prices, how can you go wrong?  Shop on Kenya!

17 July 2013 at 06:32 7 comments

Young Kenyan Entrepreneurs at the Forefront of Tech Innovation

        Young Kenyans are harnessing their country’s growing tech prowess to go into business for themselves.  For example, Jamila Abbas and Susan Oguya, created a mobile application called M-Farm. The application allows Kenyan farmers to access real time market information, buy farm inputs from manufacturers and find buyers for their produce, all through SMS.  Lorna Rutto started EcoPost, a company that turns plastic waste into durable fencing posts, an environmentally friendly alternative to timber.  At Strathmore University, Kenya’s leading institution for business and accounting, many students are interested in pursuing traditional career tracks like joining the ranks of major financial firms, but quite a few are just as eager to start their own enterprises like Jamila, Susan and Lorna.  On a recent afternoon on campus, I sat down with Asha Mweru to discuss Chochote, an e-commerce platform that she launched with her classmates Ivy Wairimu and Victor Karanja.  Chochote, which is the Swahili word for “anything,” started as a simple classroom assignment.

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The Chochote Team: Asha Mweru, Ivy Wairimu and Victor Karanja
(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

        The team of 4th year Strathmore students sought to connect buyers and sellers on a platform based on excellent customer service, discounted prices and home delivery.  Currently, it targets consumers between the ages of 18 and 48.  Chochote’s tagline is “not just anything.” It’s transitioning from offering a wide range of products like electronics, cosmetics and clothing to a narrower, more particular supply of unique crafts, jewelry and fashion items, similar to Etsy. Ivy explained that, “Kenyans are very specific [about] what they are buying.  So, we [investigated and] found out what the specifics are,” then decided to re-brand.

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        The project has received support from the IDEA Foundation and ilab Africa’s business incubation center at Strathmore.  Currently, they get between 600 and 900 hits a day and hope to reach the likes of popular Kenyan e-commerce sites like Uzanunua and Online Shopping. Their foreseeable goals include increasing their suppliers, expanding to reach consumers across the region and establishing a Chochote mobile application.  After all, Kenyans are just beginning to warm up to the idea of online shopping. “Since everything is going virtual, why should Kenya only shop at Amazon? Why shouldn’t we have our own thing here? Kenyans between the age of 18 and 48 have accepted that the internet is here, it’s here and sure to be used. They’re accepting it, so let’s grow with them,” said Asha.

        Nonetheless, online shopping is a very new concept here.  “Kenyans are still quite skeptical towards e-commerce and this is a challenge we’ve had to take head-on,” said Asha.  Other challenges faced by the team include accessing seed capital, establishing relationships with reliable suppliers and remaining abreast of clients’ changing preferences. On a macro level, the team points to the current state of Kenyan primary and secondary education as a hurdle to overcome too.  In conversations with Kenyans, I’ve personally heard that there’s more of an emphasis on memorization than critical thinking.  According to Victor, “Someone once said that our education system is meant to produce employees not employers.  Notable, however, is the number of Kenyan entrepreneurs that circumvent these challenges therefore making it easier for the rest of us.”

        Despite these challenges, the Chochote team would not have it any other way.  “Honestly, I’ve never liked the idea of being micro-managed, and solving a problem and actually seeing the solution being implemented gives me a thrill,” said Victor. The team explained that the most exciting part of entrepreneurship is the ability to create employment opportunities rather than compete for limited slots that are already there. Ivy’s dream is not only to see Chochote become profitable, but to ensure that it expands enough to generates jobs. “Through our work with Chochote, [we'd like to] build a successful e-commerce model that can be replicated within Kenya and Africa at large.”

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The Chochote team at Strathmore University Business School
(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

        Perhaps, the team’s experience will have them avoiding 9-5′s forever.  They’re part of a new generation of Africans who are inspired by the likes of Muhamed Yunus, public intellectual Dambisa Moyo and the founder and CEO of Open Quest Media, June Arunga, among others.  Both women were chosen by Forbes Magazine to be among the 20 Youngest and Most Powerful Women in Africa.  In addition to the rise of visible role models that they can relate to on the global stage, their immediate environment is more conducive to innovation than ever.  In Kenya, sky’s the limit.

5 April 2013 at 09:57 1 comment

#KenyaDecides 2013: Election Coverage from the Field

On March 4th, 2013 over 12.3 million Kenyans headed to the polls to elect their next parliamentarians, senators, governors and their fourth president since independence 50 years ago. In the weeks prior to the big day, Kenyans urged one another to become registered voters, consequently breaking all of its election records to date. Over 14.3 million people registered to vote, 86.1% of which turned out on election day. Many voters woke up before dawn, queuing as early as 1:00 am, and waited more than 10 hours to cast their ballots.

Kenyans queue at a polling station in the Nairobi slum of Kibera, the biggest in Africa.

(Photo Credit: The Guardian)

The atmosphere leading up to the elections was one of caution and optimism. The 8 presidential candidates participated in two nationally televised policy debates, the first ever to take place in East Africa, during which they personally pledged to spearhead peaceful campaigns. All recent YouTube clips have been prefaced with advertisements of young athletes urging Kenyans to vote peacefully. The presidential candidates joined hands and posed for pictures that splashed across the front pages of newspapers, symbolizing their collective commitment to preventing a repeat of the post-election fallout in 2008. Last week, Kenyans across all ethnic lines joined together in a prayer vigil for the upcoming vote in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park.

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(Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times)

Kenyans held their breathe and waited  five days for the results.  The delay was caused by the toll of high voter turnout on election infrastructure.  The new electronic counting system crashed and a row broke out over whether spoiled ballots would be included in the official count or not.  On Saturday, March 9th, the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) finally announced that Uhuru Kenyata cleared the 50% threshold required by the new constitution and beat Raila Odinga by .07%.   According to the New York Times, “The second-place finisher, Raila Odinga, Kenya’s prime minister, has refused to admit defeat and plans to appeal to Kenya’s Supreme Court to overturn the results.”   There is also a tenuous cloud hanging over the winners, Uhuru Kenyatta and running mate William Ruto, who have been accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of crimes against humanity for their alleged role in stoking the violence during the last election.   Consequently, many Western nations have issued statements that commend the “Kenyan people” for exercising their democratic right peacefully, but stop short of congratulating Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto. 

Although Raila Odinga plans to contest the loss of his third presidential bid and there is some apprehension about Kenya’s standing within the international community, Kenyans have had their say.  Nairobi is calm and people seem keen on accepting the results and moving on with their daily grind.  The biggest winner in this election is peace.   There is a deep seated commitment to maintaining law and order across the entire societal spectrum that began in 2010, when 67% of Kenyans approved a new constitution, in direct response to the policies or lack there of that framed the fallout in 2008.  For example,  the new constitution requires that candidates cease campaigning 24 hours before the voting day and that the winning presidential candidate garners 50 percent plus one of the votes.

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President elect Uhuru Kenyatta (Photo Credit: http://www.news.yahoo.com)

All election summaries aside, you’re probably curious about what Kenyans have been thinking and saying in the days before, during and after the election. One of our favorite ways to pass the time while riding in vehicles or walking with others is to conduct informal polling. We’ve asked everyone, but we especially liked asking taxi drivers and the people we work with. Everyone seems to agree that they want politicians who are not corrupt to move Kenya forward. They also seem to think that this election is a formality, and that they will have better candidates to choose from, who offer a greater deviation from the political status quo in 2017.  We started the polling with a variant of “Do you mind if I ask for whom you are voting?” Here is a glimpse of election buzz from the field.

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Mural on the corner of Muindi Mbingu and Biashara Streets, downtown Nairobi
(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

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Mural on the corner of Muindi Mbingu and Biashara Streets, downtown Nairobi
(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

How have the recent elections impacted your life?

“I’m here on the coast making money for my family because the safari mzungus have dried up.” Joseph lives in Masai Mara, which is the most tourist visited reserve in Kenya and about 610km from where I met him. He explained that over a month ago the tourists (mzungus) stopped coming because they were fearful of violence and robbery due to the elections. According to Joseph, there’s been no violence in his home region, however he still plans to make the long trek back to Masai Mara this week to protect his land and his family from “inter-tribal disputes” that he thinks may occur if people don’t like the results. -Joseph [Mombassa, Kenya

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Joseph in Mombasa, Kenya (Photo Credit: Eileen Flannigan)

What is the difference between election 2013 and the last election in 2008?


“I work as a fundraiser [at a University in Nairobi]. I think the only difference [between this time and the last] is the fact that everybody is preaching peace.  Until a certain power hungry, pre- independence group of families passing down the political seat like a monarchy fades away, then I think change is not happening any time soon. I voted for Raila, because I think he is not angry for power. During the last general elections, he clearly won, but in the outbreak of violence, for the sake of Kenyans, he was ready to take the back seat. That convinced me that he gives a damn about my life. A true patriot. I voted at Nairobi Primary, I went at 10:30 am and was done at 12:30 pm. The atmosphere was really good and I actually made friends with someone on the queue. Nobody was talking politics and so we were just a bunch of happy Kenyans, with the furious sun above us laughing at people trying to jump the queue and we had fun voting. And yeah, we shared candy when sugar levels started going down.” -Development Professional [Nairobi, Kenya]

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Kenyans queue to vote, downtown Nairobi. (Photo Credit: Pete Muller)

What issues would you like addressed by the next administration?

Transport is a major problem and I would love to see my next leaders install a railway system that works and is affordable to all.”
- Development Professional [Nairobi, Kenya]

“I hope that whomever gets elected continues with infrastructure development. I would hope that our economy grows, that the health
sector is addressed (meaning everyone gets basic health care) and unemployment is tackled.  The best way forward would be by encouraging foreign investment rather than foreign aid, encouraging investment in our micro, small and medium enterprises, definitely investing in our so called informal sector and growing our East African trade block.” -Architect [Nairobi, Kenya]

How did you prepare for the election?


“My family and I and a few friends [prepared for the elections by reading] through the new constitution, looking at how the new government is to be structured, seeking to understand how it will work and what our rights are.” -Architect [Nairobi, Kenya]

“All we can do during this election is pray for peace and that the best leader to take Kenya forward will win.  I’m leading a prayer service every weekend and ask that you too pray for our country.” -Microfinance Professional [Nairobi, Kenya]

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Billboard on Mbagathi Highway, Nairobi.
“Every Kenyan is as much of a Kenyan as you are. When sick any doctor can treat you. Why employ, elect or live with someone on the basis of race, tribe, ethnicity or religion. “
(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Who did you vote for?

“I voted for Peter Kenneth because I believe he stands for change in our country. He is new blood, unshackled by generational family ties
to political elitism and stands for a progressive paradigm shift  - a shift away from tribalism and elitism and towards gains based on
merit. How great the day when Kenyans can stand tall, confident that they can get ahead, not based on family name, or tribe or bank
balance, but on how hard they work and how good they are at what they do.” -
Architect [Nairobi, Kenya]

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(Photo Credit: Peter Kenneth Campaign, Facebook.com)

“I’m a full Kikuyu but am not voting based on tribal affiliations this year.  The Kikuyus have ruled this country for years now and I think it’s time for a change so I am voting for Raila Odinga.” -Mountain Porter [Mt. Kenya, Kenya]

“I’m still trying to decide between voting for Raila or Kenyatta.  I think Raila is the safe option, he would lead our country as it has been led until now and I know what I would get from my vote.  But Kenyatta has the potential to bring more change to Kenya.  It’s a hard decision.” -Taxi Driver [Nairobi, Kenya]

“A run-off election would be really expensive for Kenyans so many voters who might otherwise vote for one of the less popular candidates might instead align with Raila or Kenyatta in order to avoid a run-off.  I too think Peter Kenneth and Martha Madaraka are the best candidates to take our country forward one day but they are not ready for this election – it’s not worth voting for them yet.” -Microfinance Professional [Nairobi, Kenya]

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Former presidential candidate Raila Odinga
(Photo Credit: news.ripley.za.net)

Well, you see, I am voting for the candidate most likely to win, who also happens to be the best leader: Uhuru Kenyatta. And it is not because I am Kikuyu; he is the best politician…I do not care about the ICC issue because, you see, that was just a plot by his enemies. There are many who share the blame for the violence” -Taxi Driver [Nairobi, Kenya]

My husband says my vote won’t count since we are going to cancel each other, but I want to send a message that I do not like corrupt politicians, so I will vote for Peter Kenneth.” -Microfinance Professional [Nairobi, Kenya]

“Ah! Of course you can ask! But I cannot tell you yet. I am watching the debates tonight, and I will see who is the strongest, who it is that I want to lead our country. It is one thing to hear them giving a speech, and another to hear them answering questions without someone whispering the answer in their ears.”n -Taxi Driver [Nairobi, Kenya]

I am voting for the best leader. A leader who will be the most thoughtful and has a proven record—that is Peter Kenneth! He will not win, no, but it is my privilege and responsibility to vote for who is the best for me and for other women and children.” -Microfinance Professional [Nairobi, Kenya]

I am Kikuyu, but I want a man who can change things; I am voting for Raila.” -Microfinance Professional [Nairobi, Kenya]

*This post was written and arranged by Duda Cardoso, Jada Tullos Anderson, Eileen Flannigan and Katrina Shakarian

11 March 2013 at 03:53 1 comment

All Mobile Everything: The Hottest Tech Happenings in Kenya

Although there is a growing middle class in Africa, the lack of basic services, adequate infrastructure and access to banking are still pervasive. Rather than completely stifling growth, these deficiencies have become fertile ground for innovators whipping up solutions and products customized for the continent. In Africa, developmental challenges can be synonymous with opportunity. “We thank God for giving us many problems so that we can find solutions,” joked Kenyan Information and Communication secretary Bitange Ndemo to the Daily Nation at an IBM forum in February. Here’s a glimpse of a few of those innovations, both homegrown and imported by global entrepreneurs, that are putting Nairobi on the map.

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National Archives, Nairobi city center (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

M-PESA: Mobile Money Transfers

It’s impossible to drive through Kenyan towns and cities without seeing the token M-PESA kiosk radiating bright green through the comings and goings of daily life. In 2007, Kenya’s leading mobile network operator, Safaricom, revolutionized the movement of money in the country with M-PESA; an SMS based banking system that now accounts for millions of shillings in money transfers everyday. Prior to M-PESA, the average Kenyan did not have access to financial services and money had no means of moving around the country fluidly. Since 26 million Kenyans have become mobile subscribers, M-PESA usership has also grown. According to South African writer, Joonji Mdyogolo, “M-Pesa processes more transactions in Kenya than Western Union does around the world.” Low, middle and high income Kenyans have all adopted the most distinguishing feature of Kenya’s new era in cellular technology, mobile money. Since it’s SMS based; even a simple cell phone without internet capabilties will due. “Kenya is the undisputed world leader in mobile money (bankless transactions via cellphones), a development introduced in 2007 by cellphone operator Safaricom, which now handles more than half the world’s mobile money transfers. As Kenyans leapfrogged from no bank accounts or Internet into cellphones and mobile money, the transfers took off,” said Robyn Dixon of the Los Angeles Times.

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National Archives, Nairobi city center (Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

InVenture: SMS Based Accounting

Safaricom is not the only business tapping into the unbanked and designing products that circumvent some of the developmental challenges on the continent.  CIO just named InVenture one of the 7 Hot Mobile Start Ups to Watch in 2013. InVenture is a California based start-up. Their product, Insight, is a simple SMS based accounting tool that enables low to middle income businesses to track their finances and better manage their money. The product, first launched in India and now entering Africa via Kenya’s mobile application scene, compiles customer data and generates a standardized global credit score. Once Insight takes off, low to middle income Kenyans, with previously no way of building a credit history, can do so. No internet? No smartphone? Inventure says, that’s no longer a problem.

Kiva Zip: SMS Based Crowd Funding

Kiva is no stranger to Kenya’s burgeoning mobile technology scene either. One year ago, the non-profit launched Kiva Zip, an SMS based micro-lending pilot that connects lenders and borrowers through M-PESA. Since no banks or micro-finance institutions are involved, the loan is administered at 0% interest. Lenders from the world over are contributing to loans in Kenya , which are received and repaid entirely on mobile phones.

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Kiva Zip borrower Wilfrida (Photo Credit: Lwala Community Alliance)

Ushahidi: Real Time Information Aggregate

Ushahidi, which means ‘testimony’ in Swahili, is a social media platform on which users can map out eye witness accounts of crisis, violence and protests in real time. Ushahidi is a non-profit tech company that develops free and open source software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping. Users send reports of trouble through e-mail, text message or twitter that are inserted into an interactive map online.

In 2008, a group of Kenyan developers and bloggers created Ushahidi in response to the post-election violence sweeping their country. According to the Daily Nation, “Ushaidi maps crisis using a combination of Google mapping tools and crowd-sourced information.” Currently, the platform is used in 159 countries and has been translated into 39 languages. In 2010, for example, residents of Washing D.C. residents and New York utilized Ushahidi’s platform to report on and respond to the clean up effort surrounding major snow storms that hit both areas.

The Ushahidi staff launched an alternate website, Uchaguzi, specifically for the Kenyan election on Monday, March 4th. Kenyans are encouraged to text their reports and locations to Uchaguzi at ’3002.’ In addition to documenting citizen reports, the site offers a comprehensive guide to governmental policies and procedures related to the election.

uchaguzi

(Photo Credit: https://uchaguzi.co.ke/)

Kopo Kopo: M-PESA Merchant Accounts

Kopo Kopo allows small and medium business owners to set up separate merchant accounts to receive mobile payments from customers using M-PESA. The platform enables customers to send payments to vendors without the fee that is normally attached to a mobile money transfer. The added value includes increased security because of less dealings in cash, as well as unqiue opporunitiesto for business owners to interface with clients, like sending them SMS based advertisements. Kopo Kopo piloted their platform in Sierra Leone and Kenya. They’ve officially launched here in Kenya because of Safaricom’s M-PESA platform.

World Reader: E-readers for All

Former Amazon.com executive David Risher is the founder and CEO of World Reader, a non-profit whose mission is to make e-readers widely available in the developing world. World Reader’s most recent figures indicate that it has distributed more than 428,000 e-books to 3,000 children across Kenya, Uganda and Ghana. The organization has also launched Worldreader Mobile, an application that provides access to a large range of literature on mobile phones.

world reader

(Photo Credit: worldreader.org)

Open Data: Government Transparency

In addition to bringing high speed internet to Kenya, Communication Secretary Bitange Ndemo persuaded President Kibaki to add Kenya to the ranks of 25 countries participating in Open Data, a platform that makes non-classified government information available online for free. Although Kenya is officially on board, government officials haven’t quite warmed up to the idea of divulging their records. According to the Daily Nation “The Ministry of Information is currently developing a policy document to oblige government agencies to give up all non-classified information collected using tax-payer’s money.”

open data

(Photo Credit: govtech.com)

9 March 2013 at 07:45

Africa’s Silicon Savannah: Why Kenya? Why now?

Kenya Map

There is no shortage of articles documenting Africa’s position on the cusp of global development, with Kenya as a particular harbinger of those expectations. The Economist has reneged on writing off Africa as a “Hopeless Continent” several times since it featured the headline a decade ago. In 2011 it published “Africa Rising,” in which it identified 6 of the fastest growing countries in the world as African, with GDP growth surpassing East Asia. Last August, it dubbed Kenya Africa’s “Silicon Savannah,” bringing an onslaught of attention to the burgeoning technology scene here. Its March 2nd issue includes the article “Aspiring Africa,” that describes the continent as the fastest growing in the world.

The fan fare around African growth is not limited to sporadic shout outs from The Economist. Recently, Johnathon Kalan of the Huffington Post published an article that describes the fusion of “Potential, Poverty, Politics and Parties” that draws American college graduates to social enterprise start-ups in Nairobi. More important, however, is the current generation of young, educated Kenyans who are tired of the status quo. They feel entitled to jobs and livelihoods that are fulfilling and afford them some degree of social mobility. They are joined by Kenyans abroad, some of whom have been away for a decade at least, pursuing degrees and jobs, who are now choosing to return to Kenya for opportunities that did not exist when they emigrated. Together, these young professionals understand the role Kenya can play in spearheading growth for the entire continent. They are prepared to role back their sleeves and play a role.

As much chatter as there is surrounding Kenya’s burgeoning technology scene, most articles stop short of explaining why it’s happening in Kenya and why it’s happening now. This week, I’m digging a little deeper into the context behind the phenomenon.

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Urban-Rural Dynamics

Until rapid urbanization began after independence, Kenya’s population was predominantly rural. In 1963, only 8% of the population lived in ‘towns’ or cities. Nairobi’s population was 267,000 and Mombasa’s was 180,000. Of those ‘townspeople,’ most were Arab, Indians and Europeans; not Africans, who typically worked in town for short or long periods, then returned to their rural homesteads where their families remained. Today, Nairobi’s population has grown to approximately 3 million people.

Although people are flocking to cities, their ties to the countryside are still strong. Often, one or a few family members migrate to cities and the rest of the family stays behind. A taxi driver I’ve used frequently is from the Naivasha area in Rift Valley. His wife and children remain in the country side, where he farms fruits and vegetables to sell at Nairobi bound markets. During the week, he leaves his family behind and comes to Nairobi to drive a taxi. This is a common arrangement in Kenya; city work during the week and village life on the weekends.

The movement from rural to urban by one or a few family members created the need for domestic remittance transfers. Family members are making money in the cities and need a way to send it back home. In other countries, like Mexico, where many family members work abroad, the opposite is true, the demand for external remittance flows are greater. Hence, Kenya’s unique rural-urban dichotomy set the stage for the internal funds transfer explosion that we’re amidst now. Once cheap mobile phones flooded the market, Safaricom filled the need with its SMS based money transfer platform, M-PESA, making Kenya the global leader in mobile banking technology. All of the subsequent innovations here have been inspired and made possible by the widespread use of cell phones and M-PESA.

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Government and Infrastructure

The government is promoting the use of mobile money and technology development in Kenya. Bitenge Ndemo, who became minister of Information and Communication in 2005, is credited for spearheading the initiative. He bypassed ceaseless discussions between 23 African countries about launching a joint fiber optic cable, by linking right into a cable from the United Arab Emirates instead. It’s been his priority to lay down additional cables ever since. “When the cable was switched on in 2009, Ndemo made sure universities got unlimited internet capacity.” said Robin Dixon of the Los Angeles Times.

Bitenge Ndemo’s push for Kenya to become a regional technology hub does not end there. Most recently, he’s spearheaded the Konza Technology

City project, which broke ground on January 23rd. Fifteen kilometers outside of Nairobi, the $10 billion investment will be a public-private venture that includes a business district, science and technology parks, a university, conference facilities and residential areas. The government of Kenya anticipates that the project could yield 200,000 jobs in 20 years, along with sizeable investments in other sectors like health, education, manufacturing, financial services etc. Executives behind the project have already received 250 applications from local and international firms who would like to invest in Konza. Some of the multinational corporations seeking a piece of the pie include Samsung, Google and China’s Huawei Technologies.

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Minister of Information and Communication, Bitenge Ndemo

Critics of the project have serious reservations about the government’s ability to bring such a large-scale project into fruition, when it has not yet managed to gain hold of municipal issues in the capital like traffic, electricity, water and drainage that fester under expansion. Nonetheless, the proposition and ground breaking of Konza represents a clear vision that policy makers and business executives have for Kenya as an ICT hub in the region.

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Artist Impression of Office District Konza Techno City

Research Labs and Business Incubation

M: Lab East Africa at the University of Nairobi: Key to Kenya’s growing role in IT and mobile application development are its research labs and business incubation centers, where techies and entrepreneurs gather to collaborate, network and implement projects. In 2011, the University of Nairobi established M:Lab East Africa with the help of iHub, a local technology center. First funded by the World Bank InfoDev grant, the lab was founded to facilitate the innovation of low-cost, high value mobile applications.

iLab Africa at Strathmore University: Just on the other side of town, Strathmore University, Kenya’s premier private institution for business education, has its own research and incubation center called iLab Africa. At iLab, faculty and students have teamed up to develop mobile applications that overcome development challenges in health and education. ILab boasts a few high profile partnerships. For example, Strathmore and Safaricom offer a masters degree in mobile application development. Samsung has established an innovation lab there and Google funds IT education for girls in rural schools, in addition to sponsoring mobile application boot camps at Strathmore and elsewhere in the region.

With support from the Clinton Foundation and Ministry of Health, iLab has generated an application that tracks pre and post natal care of mothers and their babies in rural areas. They’ve also created one that sends the HIV status of newborns to doctors and clinics for treatment. On the education front, they’re mobile application development is centered around digital rights management and the provision of learning materials.

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The view from iLab Africa in Strathmore University’s Student Center

Climate Innovation Center (CIC) at Strathmore University: In addition to ilab Africa, Stathmore University hosts Kenya’s Climate Innovation Center, a climate technology innovation hub, established with the World Bank’s infoDev program. The center is poised to accelerate growth and innovation in renewable energy, agriculture and clean water by providing entrepreneurs with the funding, mentorship and facilities needed to innovate.

 iHub: iHub is a physical nexus for the tech community in Nairobi. Established in 2010, it is an open facility for young entrepreneurs, programmers, designers and researchers. Free membership is offered to anyone with a demonstrated involvement in technology. Ihub provides access to facilities, networks for funding and opportunities to collaborate. You can become a member of its online community remotely, have physical access to the work space or pay a monthly fee for a semi-permanent desk.

Ihub’s very own research team is engaged in projects like their collaboration with Refugees United, an organization that helps refugees track missing family members. The team has upgraded the organization’s paper based sign up form to a WAP enabled sign up on mobile phones. They’ve generated easy to consume info-graphics about trends in East Africa and launched Spider M-Governance in 2011 to identify gaps in water governance transparency in Kenya.

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iHub

1 March 2013 at 16:38

Solar Sister and Kiva: Helping Women Entrepreneurs to Bring Solar Light to Rural Uganda

Laura Sellmansberger | KF19 | Uganda

Earth at night

Roughly 1.6 billion people in the world do not have access to reliable electricity. Lack of power is a complex issue that results in countless other problems, and it is both a cause and an effect of unremitting poverty. Without light, children are unable to do their homework and study. Midwives must perform deliveries in the dark. Children, especially girls, often spend hours a day collecting firewood to be used for light and heat instead of going to school. Mothers are forced to cook with kerosene, which is expensive, toxic to the lungs, and a major cause of fires in the home.

Solar Sister, Kiva’s newest partner in Uganda, is a social enterprise committed to tackling energy poverty as well as creating economic opportunity for women. Using an Avon-style distribution system, Solar Sister sells solar lamps through local women in remote parts of Uganda. These entrepreneurs are provided with training and marketing support, and use their own networks of friends and family to distribute solar lighting products throughout their villages, providing their communities with clean energy, empowering themselves, and providing their families with additional income.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to accompany Solar Sister on a trip to the villages of Central Uganda, where we met two Solar Sister Entrepreneurs and their customers.

Meet Florence, Solar Sister Entrepreneur

Florence, Solar Sister Entrepreneur

Florence, Solar Sister Entrepreneur

Florence is 38 years old. She has four children under her care (two biological children and two whom she adopted after their own mother passed away). She runs a small computer center in the town of Buwama where she teaches computer literacy courses and also provides typing services. Since becoming a Solar Sister Entrepreneur, she has enjoyed brining light to others in her community.

Meet Agnes, Florence’s Customer

Solar Sister Entrepreneur Florence and her happy customer, Agnes

Solar Sister Entrepreneur Florence and her happy customer, Agnes

As a small-holder farmer, Agnes grows vegetables and raises cows. She is also community nurse and runs a small health clinic in her home. Her biggest challenge as a nurse has been lack of light. Without electricity, she is unable to work after dark – even though health emergencies do not become any less common after nightfall.

Agnes purchased a simple solar light system from Florence and now has light in a few rooms in her house. Since she installed the lights, she has been able to begin seeing patients at night.

Florence demonstrates the lighting system that was installed in Agnes' home

Florence demonstrates the lighting system that was installed in Agnes’ home

Agnes shows us her new light

Agnes shows us her new light

Agnes understands the dangers of kerosene more than most people. A few years ago, her teenage daughter was studying in bed by the light of a kerosene lantern. Her mosquito net caught fire, causing severe burns to most of her body. She feels very lucky that her daughter survived, and she is glad that her children can now read at night without having to worry about potential accidents.

Meet Jane-Francis, Solar Sister Entrepreneur

Jane-Francis, Solar Sister Entrepreneur

Jane-Francis, Solar Sister Entrepreneur

Jane-Francis is 48 years old. She has eight children. She primarily earns the income with which she supports her family through farming. Jane-Francis became a Solar Sister in order to earn extra money that she puts towards school fees for her children.

Meet Jane, Jane-Francis’ customer

Jane is a mother and smallholder farmer. She is also a village nurse. Since purchasing a lamp from Jane-Francis, she has been able to continue seeing patients after dark. She also says that having light at night helps her stay awake for her favorite radio show, which she likes to listen to on her battery-powered radio every evening at 10:00 pm. She is currently saving money to buy another lamp for her home.

Solar Sister Entrepreneur Jane-Francis and her customer, Jane

Solar Sister Entrepreneur Jane-Francis and her customer, Jane

Jane shows us the lamp that she uses when she treats patients at night

Jane shows us the lamp that she uses when she treats patients at night

A lamp is left to charge in the sunshine during the day

A lamp is left to charge in the sunshine during the day

Lend to a Solar Sister Entrepreneur today on Kiva.org, and help her not only to increase her own income, but also to bring light, hope and opportunity to her community.

~~~

Laura Sellmansberger is a member of the 19th class of Kiva Fellows, working at Solar Sister and Grameen Foundation AppLab in Kampala, Uganda.

11 December 2012 at 20:40

The Rolex that You Can Eat (…and it tastes oh so good)

Laura Sellmansberger | KF19 | Uganda

Uganda offers its visitors a wide variety of foods to sample, but many would agree that the most delicious of these is the rolex. What is a rolex, you ask? I have heard many people describe the Ugandan rolex as something similar to the “breakfast burrito,” a peculiar food item that can be found at a number of American fast food chains. For purposes of basic mental imagery, this description may not be too far off; however, I personally believe that this comparison fails to give the rolex the credit that it deserves. That’s why I have decided to dedicate an entire blog post to this uniquely Ugandan culinary delight.

A rolex costs 1,500 Ugandan Shillings ($0.60) and is available on almost every street corner in Kampala. The name “rolex” has nothing to do with the luxury Swiss watch company, but rather relates to the ingredients of this scrumptious delicacy and the way it is made: roll + eggs = rolex.

The rolex first appeared about a decade ago in the Kampala suburb of Wandegaya near Makerere University, Kampala’s oldest institution of higher education. After appearing in Wandegaya, the late-night student snack took the region by storm and has since become a staple street food throughout all of Central Uganda.

My favorite rolex stand in Kampala

My favorite rolex stand in Kampala

Here I will outline the basic steps in the creation of a rolex.

1. First, the chapati is made. Chapati is a tortilla-like flatbread made from flour, water and salt. Chapati was first brought to Uganda by Indian migrant workers in the early 1900s. The dough is rolled thin, placed on a circular frying pan, and cooked until it has reached a solid yet soft consistency.

Frying the chapati

Making the chapati

2. Next, the omelette is mixed. Two eggs are blended together with pieces of fresh tomato, cabbage, onions, bell peppers and salt.

Mixing the omelette

Mixing the omelette

3. On the same pan where the chapati was cooked, the omelette is fried.

Cooking the omelette

Cooking the omelette

4. The omelette is placed on the chapati and is topped with cold tomato slices and salt. The chapati is then rolled into a burrito-like form.

Putting on the finishing touches

Putting on the finishing touches

And that’s how a Ugandan rolex is made. I can’t think of a more delicious way to spend $0.60. Bon appétit!

The finished product

The finished product

~~~

Laura Sellmansberger is a member of the 19th class of Kiva Fellows, working at Grameen Foundation AppLab as well as two other nontraditional Kiva partners. 

4 December 2012 at 05:45 4 comments

The Power of a Cellphone: Spotlight on Five Changed Lives

Senegalese cellphone subscribers 2000:     Senegalese cellphone subscribers 2011:

Approximately 250,000                                 Approximately 9.3 million

The numbers are jarring, and the widespread presence of cellphones is palpable.

Before coming to Senegal, a friend encouraged me to keep an eye out for the radical, drastic, and constant changes cellphones are having on the lives of those around me.  She was right in advising me not to blink: the pace of change and developments is so rapid it’s simply exhausting to try to keep up with.

What follows is a spotlight on five individual’s stories (their lives pre-cellphone and at present) which I feel best reflect the greater population.  I’m of course grateful to each individual for allowing me to share their photo and their story; per their request, however, aliases have been given.

Hedy Niane

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Health

Past:  When Hedy or her son were ill, she would commute 45 minutes to the nearest hospital for a check-up.  This was time consuming and expensive (both commute and appointment, as well as lost income from taking time off), and oftentimes a consultation proved futile after revealing no trace of a worrisome diagnosis.  If a malady was spotted, medicine was prescribed, and Hedy would frequently forget to take it on time if at all.

Present: Hedy now uses her cellphone to call her brother-in-law, a doctor, in a town 80 miles away.  Through their conversation she is able to ascertain if a hospital visit is necessary.  If either she or her son is prescribed medecine, Hedy now uses her phone as an alarm clock of sorts to remind her to take the medication as advised.

Diegnane Ba

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Banking

Past:  If Diegnane owed money or was owed money, he was forced to travel to the location of his debtor or debtee.  This trip could take hours or days.

Present:  Diegnane uses Wari, a service provided by his branch of UIMCEC to transfer or recieve funds via his cellphone.  There is always a nominal fee associated with the transfer, but: “Well worth it!  Every cent!” exclaimed Diegnane.

Awa Sene

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Agriculture and Farming

Past:  Awa has a vegetable stand near her home, and also sells her products in larger cities 40 miles from her town.  Awa would make trips to Dakar (40 miles away, often a 1/2 day-long journey) to check market prices.  Awa would also try to sell her vegetables while in Dakar; sometimes these efforts were successful, more often than not it would leave her returning home with a full supply of produce not capable of surviving the commute’s wear and tear.

Present:  Awa now uses her cell phone to send text messages to family, friends, and business partners living in Dakar.  Through communication with her contacts, Awa learns within minutes the market price of her vegetables, as well as if there’s a demand for her product in Dakar.  If there is, she carries the appropriate requested amount of produce with her leaving the rest to be sold in her home town.

Ndeye Mohamadou

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Client Services

Past:  Ndeye makes and sells leather shoes.  His client base spans a 10-15 mile radius of his shop.  Especially around Holiday seasons, when demand is high, it is hard for Ndeye to predict when his products would be ready.  He would give clients an arbitary date, at which point they would make the trek into town to visit his shop.  Time and again clients would leave empty-handed forced to return days later.

Present:  Ndeye is now able to receive orders over the phone, as well as follow-up with clients once an order is ready.  “I’m able to much more effectively meet my clients’ needs,” Ndeye explains.  And it certainly is a time-saver for every party.

Amadou Diop

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Commerce

Past:  Amadou sells hair extensions and other beauty products in a suburb of Dakar.  In the past, when his supply was low, he would close down his shop for one or two days in order to replenish his inventory.  This was required bi-monthly at minimum.  He also explained to me his ritual of eating lunch every day with his family.  His wife is not exactly “punctual” (he tactfully commented), and many a time he would wait for lunch at his home – with his shop closed — for north of two hours.

Present:  Amadou now calls in an order for products every third day, for which he pays a small delivery fee.  As such, he is able to keep his shop open every day of the week.  Additionally, his wife now calls once lunch is ready!

Anna Forsberg (KF19) is a Kiva Fellow, working with UIMCEC in Dakar, Senegal.

30 November 2012 at 18:00

Meet Mame Aly Laye: Two Time Kiva Borrower and Entrepreneur Extraordinarie

The magnificent Mame.

Mame Aly Laye had an anchoring presence and glow that pulled me in.

I typically acknowledge the clients stopping by whichever branch I’m working at with a head nod, a soft smile, and a swift return of my gaze back down to whichever activity I’m absorbed in.  It’s my imperfect way of acknowledging that we both have busy days we must carry on with.

There was something different about Mame.  The moment I spotted him walking through our office entrance, I couldn’t help but shoot a wider-than-usual smile and stares of interest.  To my luck, the enthusiasm was welcome and reciprocated.

Mame was an energetic and articulate conversationalist who wanted to know just as much about my life as I wanted to know about his.  He had stopped by our office to provide my partner agent and me with a “journal update” – more of less a check-up report on his business and life circumstances since taking out his Kiva loan.  After responding to all of our required questions, Mame graciously offered to share more through not only an additional hour of his time, but a ride through town to his different “offices.”

Trying to appear tough – in reality, I was trembling.

Break stamping time. I immediately retracted my comment of “what a surprisingly smooth and enjoyably ride!” when we came to this road.

Mame took out his first loan three years ago, at which point his business was floundering.   He used the funds from his first loan to purchase grain to sell in the city and consequently grow his business; his second loan was used to invest in durable products for his “garbage pick-up” business, a start-up on the side.  Mame now employs three workers, with high hopes to increase this number to six with his next loan.

Example of a garbage can Mame distributes to his clients.

“Garbage truck” and its drivers.

In addition to his businesses, Mame also runs a local branch of “ASC,” an association which sponsors sports events for their community’s youth.  “If I want to do good, the change has to start where I know what’s best for whom, and from there I can navigate how we can best accomplish our mutual end goals,” Mame explained, as he juggled client calls and client visits with my presence.

I listened with rapt attention as he went on to explain to me how important it is to him to encourage the hard work of others around him, and his fervent belief that we all must be teachers in life.

“Teaching is far more than just imparting facts.  It’s shaping the way those around us perceive the world and the opportunities in store for them.  There’s nothing more rewarding than being part of the jolt of pleasure one gets when they work hard, when they encounter setbacks, and then – ah ha — when something clicks.”

Ablaye had an unmatched combination of wit, sagacity, altruism, and guileless sincerity.  I found his views auspicious and fearless, and his ambitions – with a slew of new and innovative projects in the pipeline – even more impressive.   I join many others in his community in hoping that his example spawns many followers.

Anna Forsberg (KF19) is a Kiva Fellow, working with UIMCEC in Dakar, Senegal.

13 November 2012 at 06:22

Expanding Access to Higher Education in Kenya

Expanding Access to Higher Education in Kenya:

In January of 2012, Kiva, a microlending platform that aims to alleviate poverty by connecting lenders with borrowers who do not have access to traditional banking, partnered with Strathmore University, Kenya’s premier, private college, to launch a groundbreaking partnership in the financing of higher education.  They joined forces to expand educational opportunity across socioeconomic lines and mitigate the absence of sufficient financial aid options for Kenyan college students.

Strathmore University Student Center

Tuition at Kenya’s overcrowded and under-resourced public universities is heavily subsidized by the government. Students apply to the government’s Higher Education Loan Board (HELB) for loans to cover the remaining cost. HELB loans are about 60,000 Khs or $700. A HELB loan covers only a fraction of private tuition fees at a University like Strathmore, where tuition is not subsidized by the government and costs about $16,000 for four years of enrollment. For more than half of the country’s population that lives below the poverty line, on less than $2 a day, a Strathmore degree is unattainable, and reserved for rich, upper class Kenyans.

Together, Strathmore and Kiva are trying to change that. They offer students three low-interest loan products: full tuition, partial tuition and laptop loans.  Currently, there are 34 Kiva beneficiaries at Strathmore, 9 of which receive full tuition loans. Students who receive the full tuition loan, are young men and women who would not  be able to attend Strathmore without the assistance. You can refer to the Kiva-Strathmore partnership page for more details about the loan products.

Meet the Borrowers:

As a Kiva fellow at Strathmore, I am helping to expand the University’s credit limit, so that these loans can be extended to a new group of students.  I’ve had a chance to meet the current Kiva beneficiaries at Strathmore and work with them through Campus Kiva, a club for loan recipients to support each other and engage in community outreach projects. Watch this video created by Strathmore University and read on for in depth biographies of two full tuition loan recipients, Lydia and Jackline.

Lydia:

Lydia is a first year student at Strathmore University.  She is studying for a Bachelors of Commerce and plans to pursue a career in accounting upon graduating with her degree. She is part of the first group of students to finance their Strathmore degrees with full-tuition Kiva loans. Lydia is from Lodwar, a small town in the remote, northwestern district of Turkana in Kenya.  Lydia’s journey to Strathmore University begins with a 5 hour trek through dry, arid bushland from her mother’s home in Lorengelup village to Lodwar.  From there, she hops onto a bumpy, 12 hour matatu ride through Kenya’s unpaved hinterland to Kitale City on the Ugandan border.  Finally, she transfers to a second matatu for the last leg of her journey, an 8 hour ride to Nairobi. 

Lydia

Lydia’s presence at Strathmore is groundbreaking.  Economic opportunities in Turkana are sparse, centered mostly on the rearing and trade of livestock and weaving.  95% of the population lives below the poverty line.   Most girls in the region cannot afford to complete secondary school, and are instead married off as young as 12 years old for dowries of livestock. Against most odds in the region, Lydia completed secondary school.  Her primary and secondary school fees were sponsored by local charities and organizations.  Lydia was amongst the top ten, highest academic performers in her graduating class, and the only student selected by her principle to travel to Nairobi to interview for a Kiva loan. 

Lydia is very grateful for the opportunity to study at Strathmore.  The University’s mentorship program has helped her make a smooth transition from rural life in Turkana to the fast pace of Nairobi.  She loves the cosmopolitan nature of the capital, where she is interacting with Kenyans of all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds for the first time.  Lydia is an avid football fan.  On her free time, she plays football on a team of Strathmore students.  In the future, Lydia is looking forward to returning to her community and inspiring girls to follow in her footsteps by completing their education.  She would eventually like to sponsor a student’s schooling as hers was, and spread awareness about organizations like Kiva that can help finance their education. 

Jackline:

20 year old Jackline is a first year student at Strathmore University.  She is studying for a Bachelors of Commerce and plans to pursue a career in accounting upon graduating with her degree.  She is part of the first group of students to finance their Strathmore degrees with full-tuition Kiva loans. Jackline and her siblings grew up adjacent to Beverly Flower, a flower exporting factory where her mother was employed in Nairobi.  Her mother died when she was a child.  Jackline and her sisters moved with their Aunt, a domestic worker for an upper class Nairobi family, and her brothers left Kenya to seek employment elsewhere. 

It was at this time that Jackline said she began to see “God working in me.”  After completing primary school, her Aunt’s employer insisted that she continue her schooling at a good provincial school in Nyeri, rather than attending a local one.  In agreement with her Aunt, he began deducting a portion of her salary each month to create a savings account for Jackline’s education.  Since he established that fund, she has always been able to cover her school fees.  

Jackline

Upon graduating from Secondary school, Jackline considered applying to a public University.  She planned on raising money for tuition by spending a few years cleaning houses as a domestic worker, and working as clerk in a supermarket.   She went to work as a domestic worker for Mrs. Irene Kiai, who saw Jackline’s potential and took her under her wing.  When Jackline expressed an interest in taking computer classes to prepare for University course work, Mrs. Kiai encouraged her to enroll in the best program and covered the cost.  Not long after, Mrs. Kiai saw an advertisement for Kiva loans at Strathmore University printed in “The Daily Nation.”  They both attended the information session, where Jackline submitted her application for the full tuition loan.

Jackline is very grateful for the opportunity to study at Strathmore University.  She has already begun thinking about how to make repayments on her loan, the first of which is due 5 years from now.  She started a fund to collect donations towards repayments in case she cannot find a job immediately after graduating.  On her free time, she enjoys listening to Swahili artists like Rose Muhando and gospel music.  She is a member of Strathmore Unviersity’s church choir.  On most mornings, you’ll find her awake as early as 5:30am going for a morning run.  Jackline recently participated in a marathon organized by Strathmore University and Standard Chartered Bank’s 10th annual Nairobi Marathon.

Jackline feels a strong obligation to create the same kind of opportunities that were afforded to her for others.  “If I’m not in a position to give materially, because of what I’ve seen in my life, I may be able to inspire someone.  If I am in a position to give materially, I will.  Outside there, there are very many people who are suffering.  Maybe there are those who don’t have school fees and have to drop out. Or maybe they don’t have a person to inspire them to continue and have hope.  I will do my best to give back to society.” 

28 October 2012 at 14:16

Cognitive Dissonance Following a Weekend in Dakar

A Recap of My Visits to a Senegalese Soccer Game and Île de Gorée (Island of Gorée)

Among the first pieces of advice I was given by a local upon arriving in Senegal was: “If you’re to do only two things while here in Dakar, make them a trip to the Senegalese soccer stadium (watch a live game, too, “if you’re lucky”), and an afternoon visit to the emblematic Île de Gorée.”

Senegal’s soccer stadium — Dakar, Senegal

Île de Gorée (Island of Gorée) — Dakar, Senegal

Feeling as though I had no time to waste, I arranged my schedule for this past weekend to accommodate both aforementioned hallmarks of Dakar.  Having witnessed how my host family’s schedule revolves inflexibly around African soccer games, I was able to glean ahead of time the extent to which this country is filled with sports zealots.  As for Île de Gorée, I had followed prominent political figure’s trips to Senegal in past years, and noticed that they always included a visit to Île de Gorée.

Even with some prior knowledge of what was in store for me, never did I imagine the unsettling juxtaposition that these two excursions would create in my mind: one playing to the skepticism I still at times harbor, the other offering promise and optimism for the country I am now calling home.

Senegal vs. Ivory Coast Soccer Game:

I should have known that my wish to have a rather innocuous Saturday afternoon would not be achievable through a 2013 Africa Cup qualifying soccer match.

This truly frightened me.

Khalifa, my host father, and I arrived at 4:15pm for the 6:30pm game, at which point the stadium was already overflowing with fans.  As places are not assigned, it took a fatiguing 20 minutes of searching to find what he considered suitable seats. (This hunt was especially exhausting for me – we found ourselves in a “Senegalese only” section and the crowd was not shy about reminding me of this.  My smiles of “yes, yes, I know, I’m with him –> host father, I’m not leaving :)” did not help calm their indignation). Khalifa and I finally squeezed in a few rows below colleagues of his, and quickly joined the chitchat of our neighbors.  Abdou, the man to my left, had traveled 6 hours by bus to attend the game.

The least crowded section I could spot.

Shortly after the second half began, and the score was 1 – 0 in favor of Ivory Coast, an anxious fan sprinted onto the field.  “Streaking exists here too!” was my first thought.  No, no, I was wrong; he was clothed, and just wanted a midfield player’s signature.  Poor choice of timing for an autograph request, I agree.   The brave soul was briskly “ushered” (tackled to the ground by 6 police officers and dragged…) off the field.

Senegal still scoreless, Ivory Coast’s second goal (note: there was no question from either side of the field that there was an unfair call resulting in a unmerited penalty kick, and subsequent goal) engendered a shift from well-behaved fans enjoying the typical banter of any sports event, to an irascible crowd displaying frighteningly noisome behavior.  Bottles and soccer ball sized rocks were being tossed on the field, flags were being burned, Ivory Coast fans were running down onto the field to seek some sort of refuge from the tumultuous reactions of the Senegalese crowd.

The riot begins.

Nice to know I wasn’t the only one seeking shelter.

What surprised me more than anything was that to me this response seemed befitting a country beset by violence and instability, not the peaceful and calm Senegal I knew.  To my pleasant surprise, shameful apologies in days to come were unending.  Though these apologies were no panacea, they were a step in the right direction towards helping rid me of any lingering cynicism.

Ile de Gorée:

Feeling glad to have made it out of Saturday’s events unscathed, Sunday morning I packed my travel gear and joined my host sister and her son for a day trip to Île de Gorée.

Île de Gorée is a 30 minute ferry ride from Dakar.  Its photo adorns any type of souvenir paraphernalia – stickers, mugs, t-shirts, stuffed kangaroos, etc. – you can imagine.  According to my host family, “if you haven’t been to Île de Gorée, you haven’t been to Senegal.”

Should the stars align, your host sister’s uncle will coincidentally be the ferry’s captain, and you’ll get to ride in style with the cutest co-captain (whose attire may also happen to support your country of origin) around.

The island is only 3,000 ft by 1,500 feet, and thankfully over the years – as visiting the island has become a more popular tourist destination– it has managed to retain its authentic, tranquil, historic appearance.  The island has a slew of well-reviewed restaurants, internet cafes, hotels, gorgeous ocean views, and is even home to the most elite Senegalese school for girls.

Pausing to enjoy the scenery (i.e. catch my breath)

The main attraction of Île de Gorée is Maison des Eslcalves (House of Slaves).  Though a bit funereal, as I suppose most memorials all, the Maison des Esclaves – often considered the final passage point of African slaves during the Atlantic slave trade —  was beautiful, powerful, and an overall breathtaking site to see.

Photo of La Porte Sans Retour (Door of no Return) at UNESCO’s World Heritage Site Maison des Esclaves.

In a small 6 foot by 6 foot room transformed from what used to be a bedroom for upwards of 45 men to now the greeting center, I couldn’t peel my eyes away from the photo below:

English translation: “It is here [image depicted above] that we find an explanation for the long delay that Africa has taken on the track of development.”

When I finally stepped back outside, I saw my host sister who had accompanied me on the tour holding tightly to her son (my “co-captain”), her eyes swollen with tears.  I joined in and gave them a long hug.  Though I’m still not sure if they were enduring it or savoring the hug, I got the impression (confirmed by later conversations) that our embrace was a mixture of grief over the reality of what used to be and hope for what now is and can be.

Anna Forsberg (KF19) is a Kiva Fellow, working with UIMCEC in Dakar, Senegal.

19 October 2012 at 07:51

Expectations, (harsh) realities, engagement and innovation

Diana Biggs | KF 18 | Burkina Faso

I’d like to think the title of this post sums up my experience in Burkina Faso – perhaps even both professional and personally. I’ll focus on the former here and try to take you through my journey.

Expectations: As a Kiva Fellow, it’s likely you’re a Type A (if on the quirky end), dedicated, well-traveled, highly educated young person, perhaps an experienced professional looking to Pivot (see Patrick’s post for more on that) or mid-studies in a Masters program. Whilst maintaining the flexible state of mind necessary for the field – many in our class were paired with new Field Partners, some in countries where Kiva staff had yet to visit – there are naturally certain expectations or goals set for this commitment. For me, having done research and proposals from a London office, I wanted to see how microfinance programs were actually implemented on the ground.

Ouagadougou street

Walking to work in my first week in Ouaga…

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9 October 2012 at 08:00

Innovative Teenagers: Feeling Insignificant in Africa

Olivia Hanrahan-Soar | KF18 | Johannesburg, South Africa

I recently ran a quick survey of my fellow Fellows to find out what we were all doing at the age of 17. We generally consider ourselves a pretty ambitious, well-travelled, well-read bunch; these days, at least. Responses I got spanned the following:

‘I was sneaking into bars in Costa Rica, where I was studying abroad. Upon my return, I was plotting my next escape from my boring hometown.’
‘Slowly slowly subbing all the liquor in my parents’ cabinet for water’
‘I was at Miss Porter’s School for Girls, sneaking off in day students’ cars to smoke cigarettes and ride with the top down in a convertible.’
‘I used to sneak out of school and go to London at weekends to smoke furiously and go clubbing at the Ministry of Sound, the Fridge or alarming Nigerian places’.
‘Bartending in a bar just in front of the beach’
‘Working as a pool boy and smoking BTs in Post Park, and driving around listening to Green Day and Weezer’s début albums’
‘I was the ultimate Canadian groupie and spent half the year on exchange in the South of France, where my host mom worked doggedly to transition me from skater chick to tight trousers and high heels. I never looked back’
‘Getting my first job as a dishwasher in the UK and then a bakery (Greggs!), and discovering how attractive I find Japanese girls’
‘I’d just moved to Amsterdam to start my undergrad, and was discovering the freedoms of passing out at strangers’ apartments, drinking beer from the pitcher and knowing no boundaries. I have never looked back.’
‘Pretending to be 20 so I could date South African bartenders’.

(You may be noticing a theme here)

Kiva Fellows 18th class: now grown up

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1 October 2012 at 08:00

Cause the money’s all been spent…

Diana Biggs | KF 18 | Burkina Faso

The words of Arcade Fire’s song Lenin, “cause the money’s all been spent” took on a new meaning as I sat writing this blog. Savings has been on my mind a lot over the past two months of my fellowship — most prominently, in the context of the field and the role that microfinance plays in both teaching and facilitating savings for the poor.

This topic brings a lot of difficult questions: With such extremely small amounts of money available, how does one manage to put anything aside? And yet, without this, what happens when you child falls ill with malaria? How does one get together a sum large enough to pay their school fees? How do you put a roof over your head when your hut has been washed away in a flood? If the money stays in your pocket, the little costs of the day-to-day could quickly add up until “the money’s all been spent”…

A group of women count their savings for a payment in Burkina Faso

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18 September 2012 at 08:00 6 comments

Higher Education in South Africa: Innovations and Determined Students

Olivia Hanrahan-Soar | KF18 | Johannesburg, South Africa

In January of this year, a fatal stampede occurred at the University of Johannesburg while students and parents waited at the University’s gates, anxious to secure one of several hundred last-chance places. The stampede left one dead and several injured, and is a tragedy emblematic of the societal difficulties engendered by lack of access to education in South Africa. Last year, About 85,000 students had applied for the roughly 11,000 seats available at the University of Johannesburg; 20,000 more than the previous year. While access to education is tough to come by, there are organisations in South Africa working to meet the demand for education shown by the country’s youth, and students determined to succeed in getting their education.

Nokuthula, a student at the Maharishi Institute, Johannesburg

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17 September 2012 at 08:00

Silicon Valley’s got nothing on Yaoundé

Raphael Ferry | KF18 | Cameroon

I’m not thinking in terms of number of patent filings, amount of venture funding, or angel investors by square foot (or meter), but on many other metrics, Yaoundé, Cameroon far outpaces the more obvious entrepreneurial hubs of London, Tel Aviv, Singapore, and Silicon Valley. Everyone here is an entrepreneur. That spirit is palpable. From papaya sellers, to cell phone credit merchants, to self-proclaimed podiatrists selling shoes, the streets of Cameroun’s capital are swarmed with people dealing in every product you can imagine.

The diversity of enterprises is impressive. You’ll find jeans, q-tips, phones, tomatoes, ties, boiled peanuts, soccer cleats, and grilled corn all on one block. And every seller is somehow creating value. From purchasing ginger in bulk to sell individually to preparing and grilling fish (a delicious meal but with obvious risks for delicate expats), these entrepreneurs are doing everything they can to provide for their families. It’s in busy streets like these that microfinance still has tremendous potential.

Outside ACEP Cameroun's downtown office on Avenue Kennedy

Outside ACEP Cameroun’s downtown office on Avenue Kennedy, Yaoundé

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6 September 2012 at 11:36 1 comment

The Largest Development Organization in the World (and you probably haven’t heard of it!)

Julie Kriegshaber | KF 18 | Uganda

On my seemingly endless journey from NYC to Kampala, Uganda, I barely slept at all.

Free movies on the plane, my recently updated Spotify playlists, even SkyMall – none of it appealed to me.  Why?  I was so engrossed in my book, Freedom From Want, that tells the story of BRAC and how it evolved from a small, temporary solution to a devastating cyclone that hit Bangladesh in 1970 to today being the largest development organization in the world by many counts.

We all are familiar with Bangladesh’s other major development export, the Grameen Bank, but what shocked me is how relatively unknown BRAC is outside of development circles in the west.

BRAC Country Headquarters

This year marks BRAC’s 40th anniversary -after growing for 30 years in Bangladesh, BRAC in the past 10 years has expanded to 10 other countries, including Uganda, where it is (no surprise here!) the largest NGO in the country. With operations reaching 2.8 million Ugandans, BRAC Uganda is a true all-in-one development organization with specialized programs from education to health to empowering young women to improving small businesses through microloans.

Spreading Kiva love with the Kiva Coordinator, Sauda

From what I have seen as a Fellow at BRAC Uganda, I think there are 3 distinct features in many of their programs that make BRAC as an organization so successful.  In light of Kiva’s monthly theme “A Global Feast”, I am going to highlight these features in regard to BRAC Uganda’s agricultural development programme.  (This is also convenient for me since I am preparing to roll out BRAC Uganda’s agricultural loans on Kiva!)

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28 August 2012 at 06:00 2 comments

What I Left Behind and What I Took With Me

By Muskan Chopra KF18 Kenya

Sitting in the Virgin Atlantic flight to London after 10 weeks in the field, I knew of one thing with absolute certainty – Kenya will rightfully own a piece of me forever.

Never have I found myself in a new country, expecting it to change me. But Kenya surpassed all unreasonable expectations. Seeing such diversity of nature, living in local communities, soaking in the culture, meeting small people with big dreams… I transformed myself.

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20 August 2012 at 10:00 8 comments

Empowering Women through… Videography?

Julie Kriegshaber | KF18 | Uganda

There is good reason why past Kiva Fellows at BRAC Uganda have been impressed with BRAC’s Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA) program.

I am not going to rehash what has been already been thoroughly covered – instead, I want to highlight a small group within the ELA program that is doing amazing work.

Visiting the “PV girls” of BRAC Uganda’s ELA program!

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14 August 2012 at 08:00 3 comments

Savings Accounts make me way too excited!

Team Building Exercises

Obviously, as a Kiva Fellow, I’m always excited to hear about how our field partners offer savings to their clients.  While I was unaware of the agenda of this last weekend’s UGAFODE-wide training, I was pleasantly surprised to be a part of personal Savings Account utilization and client mobilization!  The whole weekend was not only necessary but also fun and interesting.  While the first day focused on team building with trust games and group coordination exercises, the second day was designated to Savings Account mobilization.

This savings aspect of UGAFODE has only recently been a possibility and after much hard work and restructuring of the organization.  This field partner only became a Micro Deposit Taking Institution (MDI) on September 23, 2011, but they are moving quickly to utilize this capacity in the products they offer to their clients.

Now, back to the training we received on Savings Mobilization.  I was impressed that the first half of the training was dedicated to training all ~135 employees in personal savings practices and recommendations.  The reason being, “How can you tell a client to save when you yourself don’t know how?”  Although, some of the tips were quite basic they were good reminders of how and why we save.

All employees from Credit Officers to Senior Management in Training!

Next, we split into groups to discuss the different forms of savings that clients utilize and why they do this.  I knew that micro business clients use often unorthodox forms of savings, but this really opened my eyes to other barriers that institutions have to encourage and educate people toward savings.  Although, saving in a bank is not always the best option, many times it is a far better option then the alternative.  In Uganda, with an economic history of bank closures and untrustworthy institutions, many people are hesitant to trust their money with an organization.  One of the facilitators shared a story that he had a group of woman that he was helping open savings accounts for.  When he filled out the paper work and took their cumulatively substantial amount of $6,000 he brought back passbooks (small ledgers recording account activity) that were worth $0.25.  The women were confused and angry that they gave him all that money and they only got a cheap book to replace it.

I have learned that this is the kind of context that many of the rural branches of UGAFODE deal with on a daily basis. When improving the financial literacy of low-income clients it is not telling them that saving is a good habit, but rather how will they directly benefit from savings. The credit officers’ job is to not only to disburse loans and savings accounts, but to educate clients on the benefits of savings.  What they call customer sensitization was heavily emphasized in training, to not only explain the benefits, but also the step-by-step deposit and withdrawal terms of any given account.

Don, a credit officer with UGAFODE talks business with a new Kiva client, James. Let’s get these people some savings accounts!

I was somewhat unaware of the marketing aspect of savings accounts, but now totally understand that savings accounts not only benefit the borrower with safe and secure savings but also with interest.  And while this is a great social mission for UGAFODE, it makes sense for them to increase their clients’ savings portfolio, so that they have access to this cheaper form of capital that they can then lend to other borrowers.

I love these win-win situations for all parties involved!  Now, I’m currently compiling a report to propose to UGAFODE to give back to their Kiva borrowers by opening a fixed deposit savings account for 3-6 months that would be given to Kiva clients who make all their repayments on time.  Therefore, only clients with good repayment histories would receive a reward by a portion of the interest charged by UGAFODE deposited into this account at the loan-end date. The fixed term of 3-6 months would inherently teach clients the benefits of savings and hopefully encourage continued utilization.

Please share with me any ideas or recommendations for this!

Jon is a second-term Kiva fellow volunteering in Kampala, Uganda with UGAFODE. From the desolate plains of Mongolia to the lush jungle and mountains of Uganda, Jon has been experiencing much of the amazing world of Micofinance. If you like what he has said about UGAFODE, make a loan to any of their clients here

11 August 2012 at 09:00 4 comments

Selling stoves in Burkina Faso, a humble field guide

Diana Biggs | KF 18 | Burkina Faso

Last week I was lucky enough to join my Entrepreneurs du Monde (EdM) colleagues on a field mission in the Ioba province of Burkina Faso, a rural area that borders Ghana. There, in the town of Dano, is a small EdM office manned by Benoit Some, who covers EdM’s Burkina Faso social enterprise arm, Nafa Naana, in the area.

The small, roadside office doubles as a storage hub and retail outlet for energy-efficient and gas cookstoves (as described in my last blog post).

EdM's Dano office

Cookstove display outside the EdM branch in Dano.

Here, this March, four rural shopkeepers were given training in the Nafa Naana model — the product offering, environmental protection, stock management, cash management and sales techniques. Then in April, EdM set them up for the sale of the cookstoves, providing them with simple management tools, such as receipts and sales lists, posters and an informational leaflet to show interested customers. The organization also installed grills produced by local iron workers to lock up the cookstoves and organized four promotional events in the area to drum up interest. Then of course there were the actual cookstoves, which are supplied to the shopkeepers with interest-free advances.

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7 August 2012 at 08:00 4 comments

Update from the Field: Going the distance in Pakistan and putting Kiva Zip together. Plus, a word on the Olympics.

Compiled by Isabel Balderrama | KF17 + KF18 | Bolivia


It’s once again time for an update from our Fellows in KF-18. This week we have three posts from four fellows, all of whom are busy learning from and making a difference in their respective assignments. From looking for potential Kiva Zip borrowers in Kenya, to crossing a wide swatch of the South Punjab region in order to visit clients, these fellows will do what it takes to get the job done. And best of all, they are willing to share their unique experiences with us all.

Continue Reading 6 August 2012 at 08:00 2 comments

Feeling truly connected: Kiva Fellows meeting their “own” borrowers in person

Luan Nio and Olivia Hanrahan-Soar |  KF18 | Nicaragua and Zambia

Kiva works hard to facilitate a connection between lenders and borrowers, through photographs, video interviews, and email updates from the borrowers themselves. Nothing compares, though, to the experience of being able to meet that borrower in person and see how your funds and the funds of others have had a tangible impact on his or her life.

Two Kiva fellows recently got the extraordinary opportunity to visit a borrower they had personally lent money to.

Luan from Rotterdam, The Netherlands <-> Alejandro Jose from El Sauce, Nicaragua

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27 July 2012 at 08:00 5 comments

Explaining Kiva Zip from a Whitewater Raft

By Muskan Chopra KF18 Kenya

I lived the life of a Kiva Zip borrower for a day as I rafted down the Nile in Uganda. It all started last weekend when the brave expats of Nairobi and Kampala decided to meet in Jinja. Jinja is a quaint city in Uganda serving the best Rolex, and is also the place where the Nile originates. With every natural wonder of the world comes some adventure – a full day Grade 5 rafting trip at the Source.

As a first-timer to extreme action sports in the water, I decided to tune in to every emotion – the anticipation of a class 5 rapid, the heightened fear every time a swirl of rough water came in to sight, the alertness to what the guide was saying, the effort with which I rowed when it felt like the water was taking over, and the huge sigh of relief when you realize you came out on the other side with all your body parts intact.

Looking back, I couldn’t help but wonder – what could I relate this experience to? What does this cycle of emotions remind me of? I instantly drew a connection with Kiva Zip – a revolutionary microfinance model testing the possibility of lenders giving loans directly to borrowers at 0% interest, as long as the borrower has a trustee that Kiva has vetted.

Let me explain the correlation from the eyes of a Grade 5 rafter…

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25 July 2012 at 05:00 6 comments

On Dedication, Adversity, and Not Being a Whiner

Micaela Browning | KF17/18 | Sierra Leone

Let’s face it: If you are a foreigner in rural Sierra Leone during the rainy season, you will invariably find yourself engaged in a game of what my friend Ryan once referred to as Tropical Disease Roulette. While you may be unsure whether the bullet contains typhoid, malaria, or the alphabet soup of the hepatitises, you can be absolutely certain that – probably sooner rather than later – you are going to come down with something.

Continue Reading 21 July 2012 at 08:00 13 comments

Now you’re cooking with gas…

Diana Biggs | KF 18 | Burkina Faso

As mentioned in my previous posts, the Field Partner I’m working with, Entrepreneurs du Monde (EdM), is not a microfinance institution in itself – however, the use of microfinance is key to its mission, as it allows EdM to distribute their socially focused projects in a way that can become financially sustainable.

The focus of Kiva’s partnership is EdM’s cookstove project, newly named “Nafa Naana” which can be understood both in Moré and Dioula – the two local languages most spoken in Burkina Faso – roughly translating to “the benefit has come,” “that which you easily win” or “the facility is there.” (Read about it on EdM’s West Africa Blog – and , if you’re really keen, starting picking up some Moré!).  Nafa Naana’s mission is to make environmentally-friendly energy products – such as gas and energy efficient stoves – available in Burkina Faso, even to the poorest and most remote households.

Projet Nafa Naana

Nafa Naana team with the improved cookstoves

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20 July 2012 at 08:09 6 comments

Mobile Money: Where’s Kiva’s Role? Transactions, Travels and Zebras in Zambia

By Olivia Hanrahan-Soar | KF18 |  Zambia and South Africa

Borrower Annes with her baby Ebby in Chirundu, Zambia

Right now, I’m in the middle of a Zambian road trip. I’m working with one of Kiva’s newest non-traditional partners, Mobile Transactions Zambia (MTZ): a business which provides funds to entrepreneurs who want to own mobile money kiosks all over Zambia. This is Kiva’s first foray into mobile money, and it’s proving to be extremely valuable for the borrowers as well as their communities. Msanide, for instance, wants to become an MTZ agent: instead of transporting cold, hard cash, people will be able to use Msanide’s shop to send money quickly, safely and cheaply all over the country.

Check out Mundia and Muyoyeta for more : I’ve visited both of them this week, via a small odyssey involving a two-day drive through a nature reserve, home to the Zambian cheetah, and a mosquito-infested swamp crossing. These guys are great examples of how mobile money technology is connecting rural communities to the rest of the economy: like M-PESA in Kenya, MTZ has the potential to be a real catalyst for change in Zambia. (more…)

13 July 2012 at 08:00 2 comments

Nairobi – Where Development, Social Enterprise and Kiva come to Party

By Patrick Seeton | KF18 | Kenya

I’ve been in Nairobi for just over two weeks (and more importantly three weekends!) and what has struck me most, beyond the friendliness of the people and the ever-present dust and diesel fumes, is the social scene and its social enterprise scenesters.

Kenya has undergone a transformation in recent years – the removal of long time president Daniel Moi in 2002 and subsequent democratic election of current president Mwai Kibaki was the start in a chain of events that has led to a resurgence in Kenya’s standing in the region.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki’s inauguration, Uhuru Park, Nairobi, 2002 (Looks like it was a pretty good party)

Recent Fellows’ blogs about Kenyans’ sense of hope (see Muskan’s “Trough” Blog) and the region’s innate entrepreneurial spirit (see Julie’s “How to Make it” Blog) demonstrate how these attributes, combined with political freedom and technological advances, have made Nairobi an emergent hub for development agencies and fledgling social enterprises alike.

These development professionals, social entrepreneurs and Kiva are all here Nairobi trying to figure out what the region’s future could look like…

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12 July 2012 at 07:00 6 comments

Kiva = 1, Trough of Disillusionment = 0

By Muskan Chopra | KF18 | Kenya

During our week of training in San Francisco, we were warned about the ‘trough of disillusionment’, where all will not be smooth in the field. Whether we were going to Kenya, Cambodia, Armenia or Peru, we will wake up to tough days where hot water decides to take a holiday or mosquitos find a way through the bed nets.

I often thought to myself – shouldn’t we instead be worrying about our borrowers’ ‘trough of disillusionment’? What’s a day of cold water baths and mosquito bites when thousands of people in the bottom of the pyramid don’t have access to water at all or can’t even afford malaria pills?

Three weeks of meeting these people has taught me that micro-borrowers don’t know what disillusionment is. They only know of hope and optimism, constantly planning for brighter futures.

How can they not when over 22,000 Kiva lenders made a loan to a borrower just this week.

Welcome to the world of Josphat – school principal, teacher and aspiring entrepreneur…

(more…)

11 July 2012 at 06:00 10 comments

How to Make it in Kampala

Julie Kriegshaber  KF 18  Uganda

Ahh, Kampala. So charming, so dusty, so chaotic.

Due to a bit of poor planning on my part, I had about 32 hours between landing in Kampala and starting my Fellowship, so my first week here was a bit of a blur.  Somewhere within the disorder of my first days, I met two Ugandans with inspiring stories that stuck out to me, and I want to share their stories here.

Walter

Destreet

 

 

 

 

 

So, meet Walter and Destreet.  They don’t know each other and their only common link (aside from meeting me!) is that they both had a vision and decided to make it a reality.  Oh, and they are both young – Walter is 25 and Destreet is only 24!

(more…)

10 July 2012 at 08:00 11 comments

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