Posts tagged ‘blogsherpa’

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

The Women of MCDT

By: Abhishesh Adhikari

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One of the Kiva partner MFIs that I am helping in Uganda is Micro Credit for Development and Transformation (MCDT.)  It is based in Kampala and provides financial services primarily to low-income women who come to Kampala from remote areas of Uganda. Even though the average loan size for a borrower at MCDT is only about $200, it is amazing how impactful the loans have been in helping these women become financially independent.

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8 July 2013 at 16:42

A Kiva Zip Entrepreneur in Chicago

By: Abhishesh Adhikari

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One of the best parts about my Kiva Fellowship has been the opportunity I get to meet and interact with entrepreneurs. During the 4 months that I spent in Kyrgyzstan, I helped Bai Tushum (Kiva’s partner MFI) launch a new Startup Loan Product and met a wide variety of entrepreneurs all across that country. After I got back from Kyrgyzstan in January, I have been working on a new Kiva project called Kiva Zip, trying to expand it here in Chicago.

Kiva Zip is a new initiative to make interest-free, small business loans to entrepreneurs in the United States. This new lending model is based on community relationships whereby entrepreneurs can request interest-free loans (up to $5000 for the first loan) based on endorsements from organizations or prominent individuals in their communities. Lenders can view the profiles of these entrepreneurs on Kiva Zip’s website, and lend $25 or more at a time.

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17 April 2013 at 03:24

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

The Various Forms of Currency of Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe made world headlines over the course of 2008 and 2009 when hyperinflation gripped the country. What is often believed to simply exist in economic textbooks was occurring daily in the streets; the government was printing more and more Zimbabwe dollars, the currency would lose its value, more Zim dollars needed to be printed, new bills had 1, 2 or even 3 zeros added to the end, the currency would further lose value, more printing…

Zimbabwe dollars which are no longer legal tender

Zimbabwe dollars which are no longer legal tender

These events led to peculiar sights such as “starving billionaires” as well as Zimbabweans needing a couple of suitcases full of bills in order to purchase a simple loaf of bread.

Locals even told me stories of million dollar bills lining the streets. No one would “waste their time” picking them up since at one point a million, or even 10 million, Zimbabwean dollars was absolutely worthless.

Starving billionaires in the streets of Zimbabwe a few years ago (source: lilyonthedustbin)

Starving billionaires in the streets of Zimbabwe a few years ago (source: lilyonthedustbin)

As much as such images can appear amusing, the daily reality was painful for the vast majority of Zimbabweans. Even if you managed to amass enough bills to purchase any basic goods, chances were that a grocery store’s shelves were empty since it was too expensive to import any products into Zimbabwe.

Officially transactions in foreign currencies were illegal, but unofficially everyone started operating in US dollars and South African Rand. Eventually the government abandoned the Zimbabwean dollar and officially adopted the US Dollar.

The switch in currencies hasn’t necessarily fixed all issues. Nowadays there simply are not enough small bills and coins in circulation. ATMs spit out crisp $100 USD bills but the only available $1 USD bills appear to date back a few decades earlier.

A fresh Benjamin Franklin between worn-out George Washington and Thomas Jefferson

A fresh Benjamin Franklin between worn-out George Washington and Thomas Jefferson

This lack of available change has led to daily issues as well. For instance I numerously had enough money to pay for groceries, lunch, coffee, taxi ride, etc. but I happened to have a $20 bill when the cost was less than $5 or $10. In such situations you can either skip the purchase, receive a credit receipt for the change you are owed or at times forced to forego the entire $20.

For smaller change, such as coins, South African Rand, and at times other African currencies, are commonly used in daily transactions. At various stores you can also receive candy in lieu of actual change. Unfortunately the candy is just like the $1 USD bills, it’s usually pretty worn out.

South African Rand and Botswanian Pulsa coins, bubble gum and credit receipts for grocery stores

South African Rand and Botswana Pula coins, bubble gum and credit receipts for grocery stores

 

11 March 2013 at 06:30

#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

A Kiva Coordinator’s Community Orphan Care Center in Harare

Pamhidzayi (Pamhi) Mhongera leads all new and existing projects at the MicroKing microfinance institution in Harare, Zimbabwe. As part of her role, she oversees the Kiva program under which Zimbabwean entrepreneurs are given the opportunity to work their way up the socioeconomic ladder.

 Pamhi at the office where she oversees MicroKing’s Kiva partnership

Pamhi at the office where she oversees MicroKing’s Kiva partnership

However Pamhi’s positive impact on her community extends beyond her daily work. She and her husband, Mustafa, launched their very own community orphan care outreach center, Blossoms Children Community in 2005. What started with caring for 26 orphans has grown to serve over 150 children as well as their respective caregivers.

With Pamhi at the Blossoms Children Community Center in Mufakose, on the outskirts of Harare

With Pamhi at the Blossoms Children Community Center in Mufakose, on the outskirts of Harare

Whereas Blossoms started with simply with providing orphan care and support, it quickly grew evident to Pamhi and Mustafa that there was a major need to help other kids living in adversity.

Most of the children’s’ stories are pretty typical; stemming from poor families, one or both parents absent from their lives, under the care of relatives who do not have the ability or willingness in ensuring their health and safety, etc.

Blossoms’ goal is to build relationships that enhance the well-being and development of orphans and other vulnerable children within their communities by:

  • sending the kids to school and paying related school fees
  • providing daily and/or weekly meals
  • mentoring , counseling services and moral guidance
  • talent development (music and dancing, sport)
  • assistance to obtain proper medical services when needed
  • referral services for vocational training and economic empowerment

In short, Pamhi and Mustafa act as mother and father for over 150 children by ensuring that they grow up in a healthy and safe environment.

Lunch time at Blossoms

Lunch time at Blossoms

Recently Pamhi has sought to push the number of children reached with the type of help and support that Blossoms offers.

In October 2012, she launched the UN International Day of the Girl Child, under the theme “Educate Girls – Change the World”, at Glen-View 1 High School, her former school in the suburbs of Harare.

Furthermore, through a partnership with the Brookings Institution, Pamhi has recently facilitated a counseling and trauma healing training program for 49 school teachers from 18 schools from the greater Harare region. The program aims to enable these teachers to provide psycho-social support to over 5,000 orphans and other vulnerable children through their respective school associations.

Pamhi with two girls at Glen-View 1 High School

Pamhi with two girls at Glen-View 1 High School

Pamhi and Mustafa face two main challenges in Blossoms’ operations:

1) They only have legal custody of the children until the age of 18. After that the kids have nowhere to go as well as a difficult time in finding any type of income given the socioeconomic situation in Zimbabwe.

2) Funding for all of the operations comes directly from Pamhi and Mustafa. They are presently trying to obtain funds from NGO sources but have run into all sorts of red tape.

Despite the challenges, Pamhi and Mustafa feel compelled as ever to help kids in need.

I had an opportunity of assisting the wedding of a former Blossoms’ boy who had “graduated” from the orphanage. At the ceremony, Pamhi, as any mother, was extremely proud but also tearful to see “her child” move on to adulthood.

But it is exactly this type of emotional investment that gives these kids the support they need to one day become independent and valuable members of the Zimbabwe community.

4 March 2013 at 06:06 1 comment

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

A Former Kiva Fellow Launches His Own MFI in Zimbabwe

Meet Henry Bartram,

A career private equity professional in London who, about a decade ago, gave up his suit and tie to manage the British Red Cross response in Aceh, Indonesia after the December 2004 tsunami.

Henry Bartram, Founder and Managing Director, with a colleague at Thrive Microfinance

Henry Bartram, Founder and Managing Director, with a colleague at Thrive Microfinance

This experience led him to more social impact opportunities and ultimately to him becoming a Kiva Fellow. Henry was a member a KF15 and KF16, serving in Liberia and Zimbabwe respectively.

Combining his business acumen and his Kiva experience, Henry sought to start his very own microfinance institution. After several months dealing with all the paper work a new venture can expect to face, and after investing a good chunk of his life savings as well, Thrive Microfinance began training in March 2012 on the outskirts of Harare, Zimbabwe and started disbursing loans from September that year.

Thrive Microfinance’s head office and training center in the Willowvale district of Harare.

Thrive Microfinance’s head office and training center in the Willowvale district of Harare

Thrive Microfinance’s goals is very simple: “To be the number one provider of developmental microfinance in Zimbabwe.”  It aims to reach financial sustainability within 2 years of starting operations with all profits retained within the business for the benefit of borrowers.

Thrive focuses on issuing loans to groups of women who can learn from and support each other. But its true value proposition is not in simply handing out loans, Thrive invests enormously into each group by teaching the woman:

  • the fundamentals of running a business,
  • how to save for a rainy day and
  • how to benefit from working in groups.

Thrive does not ask for collateral but focusses on creating strong relationships with its borrowers through a very high level of direct contact.

Only 25% of the groups that apply for a loan actually make it through the 2-month training as there is a considerable drop-off when they come to open their group bank account.  This is intentional as we want them to get a glimpse of the reality of the group guarantee.” says Henry. “We work tirelessly from the onset to make sure that nobody takes a loan until they possess the skills necessary to determine whether is in their own best interest to do so. We only lend when we are sure that the probability of benefit is much greater than the possibility of increased vulnerability.”

Class in progress

Class in progress

The training process takes about 8 weeks and includes the following steps:

1) Group assessment interview 

Prior to starting the training, groups view an information video and attend a short interview in which Thrive assesses whether there is a real business, however small it may be, and whether the members of the group really know each other.  Group members are also given two fact sheets explaining Thrive as well as its approach and the cost of borrowing.

2) Introduction to working in groups

Trainees are asked to their share expectations of their leaders and discuss the advantages of working in groups.  They are shown how to take a regular health check on the strength of the group.

3) Group constitution and election of leaders

The group determines its rules & regulations – where they will meet, subscriptions, penalties etc and then go on to elect their own management committee. The group then goes on to open a group bank account.

4) Leadership training

The group leaders attend a session showing the Treasurer a suggested way of keeping the group’s financial records, a suggested agenda for group meetings and a series of tips from other chairs on how to get the group working well.

5) Financial training 1

Groups are shown how to keep simple daily records summarizing their business income and expenditure.

6) Financial training 2

Groups are taught the importance or regular savings, no matter how small and work through an illustration enabling them to identify examples of both good and bad borrowing.  The costs of borrowing are carefully explained.

7) Financial training 3

This session focusses on developing a shared understanding of the key features, strengths and weaknesses of each business.  Members of the group form mini-groups of 2 or 3 and share their work with the rest of the group.  At this point, Thrive will visit each of the potential borrowers at their place of business.

8) Financial training 4

Group members bring their ‘shopping list’, a summary of what they want to spend the money on and how they expect to benefit.  Members then calculate the cost of borrowing and the monthly repayment amount and determine whether it is their own best interest to go forward.  They discuss how the group guarantee concept works.

Overview of weeks 5 to 8 at Thrive

Overview of weeks 5 to 8 at Thrive

Upon completion of the training program, Thrive considers the loan applications on the basis of probable benefit to the borrower. Thrive reviews both current debt bearing capacity and anticipated benefit from the loan.  Post-disbursement, Thrive meets each group every month to review progress and deal with issues as they arise. To date, Thrive has experienced very high repayment rates.

Since September 2012, when the first loan was disbursed, Thrive has issued loans totalling over $125,000 USD to over 60 groups comprised of 350 borrowers. With 6 groups having graduated to their second loan cycle, Henry is confident that Thrive will have trained and lent to over 1,000 borrowers by the end of 2013. Thrive recently completed a Client Protection Principles Questionnaire and will implement the resultant recommendations by March 2013 and will have undergone a full Social Performance audit by the year end.

You can see the Thrive video at http://youtu.be/In7NuvK-fP0

 

25 February 2013 at 08:09 2 comments

The Filipino Sense of Community

Keith Baillie | KF19 | Philippines

Part I: Construction of a New Community

Following the Sendong typhoon, many Cagayan de Oro residents were displaced. I visited one of the resettlement villages, Xavier Ecoville.  Flood victims are still currently living in temporary wooden accommodation built by agencies like Habitat for Humanity.

Temporary housing:
P1090852

P1090856

But new permanent housing is being constructed, with the philosophy “We are not just building houses, we are building a community”.
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Permanent housing:
P1090853

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Among the first facilities constructed are a church and a community hall. There are also a health and family planning center, day care and preschool facilities, and covered basketball and volleyball court. Housing is in low-rise terraces, enabling neighbors to mingle in the street.

Playground and Church:
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Children’s Study Center:
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Part II: Factors Driving Community Spirit

If I mention that I am visiting or eating somewhere, they always ask “Who’s with you, sir?” I ask myself “What are the factors that drive the strong Filipino sense of community?”  Here are some factors that occur to me:

  1. Strong family bonds. Filipinos typically have large families.  Working children are responsible for helping support parents and younger siblings (including their education). Children will frequently work abroad to accomplish this. Such family obligations imprint a model for shared responsibility in the broader community.
    Note: However, nowadays many Filipino couples separate and many children are born outside of marriage. Nevertheless, parents or grandparents always take care of the children if the mother cannot.
  2. Living accommodation. Single Filipinos typically live with their family until they marry and establish their own family home. Young Filipinos studying or working away from home typically live with colleagues in boarding houses, which provides a community atmosphere in place of the family home. Few Filipinos live completely alone, even when elderly.
  3. Shared religion.  (I have worked in Christian areas but suspect the same holds true in Muslim and indigenous areas.) Almost all Filipinos I have met have a strong, active Christian faith. Although most are Catholic, other denominations are integrated in non-sectarian events, like religious festivals/fiestas and office devotionals. One of the first questions Filipinos ask me is “What is your religion?”
  4. Avoidance of conflict. Filipinos rarely get angry or raise their voices. If I say something critical, a Filipino will ask “Are you mad at me, Sir?” leading me to soften my response. I do not see angry rows or fights even in drinking establishments. When I berated a young girl for pushing in front of me in a grocery line, she just remained silent. And when my motorcycle taxi nearly collided with a motorcyclist who had pulled in front of him, there were no expletives. They both just smiled and chuckled.
  5. Community service. I met a large group of students who were studying a college course in cleaning neighborhoods and planting mangroves. When they graduate, they will be unpaid volunteers. In the cooperatives I have visited, serving the community (especially the poor) is always stressed in the devotionals and board members provide their time for free.
  6. Performances and shows. Church, school, college and office events bring people together to practice for dance performances, beauty contests, sports contests, etc.
  7. Fiestas. Each municipality has an annual fiesta when community members who live away return home. There are family reunions, school reunions, church services, public entertainments, and the roaming meals where people visit a succession of homes to eat.
  8. Texting. Throughout the day, Filipinos text small talk like “Good morning!” and “Have you had your breakfast?” This is an extension of normal social interaction.
  9. Maintenance of local bonds while away. Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) maintain social connections with others from their city or region – for example maids in Hong Kong or workers in the Middle East congregate on particular streets or intersections designated for their home location.

Whatever the reasons, there is no doubt that Filipinos have a strong sense of community – both with other Filipinos and (happily) in welcoming visitors from other cultures.

Afterthought: This may explain why Filipinos so readily ask foreigners for money. When they see financial inequality, it seems only right to share it. However, they don’t seem to resent the rich-poor divide within their own country enough to change it.

22 February 2013 at 17:38

Kiva Zip and Job Creation: Profile of a Kiva Zip Trustee

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By Rachel Davis | KF19 | Denver, Colorado

For the past four months, I have been serving as a Kiva Zip Fellow in Denver, Colorado.  As a fellow in the US I was required to work independently without the comfort of a home office or co-workers.  The Zip fellowship is in and of itself, very entrepreneurial.  First came research, then networking, then meetings, then events, then more networking.  I’ve met so many fascinating people and have come to know so many amazing organizations doing crucial work in my own backyard.

The work of one organization in particular has really resonated with me, that of Mi Casa Resource Center.  Mi Casa was founded in 1976 and has been providing support to ensure the economic success of Latino families in the Denver Metro area.  Mi Casa provides after school programs, business classes, as well as other resources.  The program that Kiva Zip has been working with is an entrepreneurial training program taught in both English and Spanish.  Students are required to graduate from the program, they then become eligible for a Zip loan.

We have lent to three borrowers endorsed by Mi Casa, all of which are starting their own businesses.  One is starting a catering and food cart business, one is opening her own hair studio, and one has launched his own construction company.  These borrowers are self-employed entrepreneurs with skills that provide new opportunity for minorities. With the help of Mi Casa and Kiva Zip they have created readily available jobs to people in their communities.  Instead of a top down approach to job creation, these borrowers are creating jobs from the bottom up.  Jobs with dignity that require specialized skills, jobs that they can be proud of.

A few months ago I had the pleasure of attending one of the classes at Mi Casa.   The classes are held in the evening and every week one of the students provides refreshments for everyone.  I can’t describe how humbling it was to sit in that room.  Every student was attentive and asking questions, participating, eagerly scribbling notes as if the information was about to just slip away and be lost forever.  It was quite the departure from what I experienced at my traditional four-year public university.  For these people, it was real – at the end of the program they will launch their businesses and it’s sink or swim.

Job creation is such a hot button issue these days and there is no universal solution.  But seeing the Zip borrowers in person, seeing their drive and their passion to aim higher is encouraging if nothing else.  With the right resources and bit of direction, creating a job for yourself and those around you is within reach.  I can say confidently that Kiva Zip is giving entrepreneurs in the United States a chance to follow their dreams and it’s giving people an opportunity to find dignity and acceptance among our lenders.  I’m passionate about this work and I am excited to see what the future holds for Kiva Zip and Mi Casa Resource Center.

You can visit Mi Casa’s trustee page at:  https://zip.kiva.org/trustees/136

27 January 2013 at 08:00

Microfinance and Fertility Rates: My Quest for a Correlation

Squished amid the forcibly vertical crowd of 45 some odd people in a Senegalese bus made for “15 maximum!”  (or so the sign read…), arms glued to my sides and modeling a facial expression of utter discomfort, I overheard a jarring statistic shared in conversation between my neighbors:  25% of Senegal’s population is living in .3% of the land in Dakar.

Tried to find empty space -- I dare you.

Try to find empty space — I dare you.

The mind visual these numbers provoked made me pause.

At first my heart sank a bit; “the chaos here in Dakar all makes a bit more sense…” I thought to myself.  My perplexity and distress swiftly morphed into feelings of fear when the busy bus came to a halt.  As I frantically managed to wiggle my way through the dozens of people who stood between me and bus’s doors, I began thinking concernedly about the reality of a population which isn’t growing smaller, and resources which aren’t becoming any more abundant.

Six neighbor boys sharing a 6” sandwich for lunch.

Six neighbor boys sharing a 6” sandwich for lunch.

Poverty wracks the city of Dakar, and the gap between the rich and the poor is as stark as ever.

Using as my lodestar an experiment Jeffrey Sachs shared in The End of Poverty, I began my own personal journey to explore – through an admittedly small sample size — if there may be any relationship between fertility rate/population growth, and microfinance.   Over a two week period in Dakar, I met with three groups of women (groups ranging in size from five to 11).

At one of many informal, outdoor discussion groups.

At one of many informal, outdoor discussion groups.

My conversation and the respective client responses were as follows:

  • How many of you have more than five children?

60%

Some of the kids.

Some of the kids.

  • Before you began having children, did you have an ideal number in mind? 

“Two” – shouted the first anxious participant, followed by many nods of agreement (concur?)

“One” – shouted another.

“Four” — shared one woman, rather timidly.

Many others sat silent, reflecting upon my question, trying hard to recall though to no avail.

  • Why in the end did you have so many? 

The general consensus was as follows:

  1. Hedging their bets out of fear of losing several children to sickness.  (This unexpected response was an especially bitter pill for me to swallow.)
  2. Lack of access to contraceptives.
  3. “Why would I not have?” one woman chimed in with, appearing confused and skeptical.

The quizzical woman above received her first loan four months ago.  I perhaps probed her with too many questions, however enough to reveal some thought-provoking findings for me.

With her own loan, and consequently her own personal income, she demonstrated a limpid sense of newfound empowerment and independence.  At her age of 30 – 45 (I estimated), I imagine she is still in a period of child rearing potential.  Be that as it may, she now uses contraceptives and instead of more children wants to have fewer in hopes of giving each an opportunity at a prosperous, healthy life.

I can’t claim to conclude any findings through this informal, again small scale study, but my hope is that for you – as the findings have been for me – this can be food for thought.

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

28 December 2012 at 17:02 1 comment

Kiva’s Investment in Non-Traditional Loan Products

Water and Sanitation may not be the first issue that people associate with Kiva.

Continue Reading 27 December 2012 at 09:37 1 comment

The End of the World Looks Bright for Kiva

End of the World - Tikal Ruins Guatemala
The “End of the World” is coming this Friday and I couldn’t be more excited about it!

Living in the heart of the Mayan Empire has given me the opportunity to get to the bottom of all the “End of the World” rumors that I’m sure you’ve all heard about by now.

It has been said that the Mayans predicted the world’s demise to be scheduled for December 21, 2012, and just like any international apocalypse talk, marketing schemes and business ploys followed soon after.

I wanted to see if I should start maxing out the credit cards or not, so I went to the Mayan Ruins of Tikal in Peten, Guatemala to ask an expert.

We had a great tour guide at the ruins named Donnie “Speedy” Gonzales, and he broke down the truth behind all the “End of the World” hype.

Here’s what he said…

He said that the Mayans did not predict the end of the world, just the end of an era. This era is a period of 400 years on the Mayan Calendar called a Baktun, and we are completing the 13th Baktun (Not the 14th as it says in the video) this December 21, 2012.

He also said the Mayans predicted a worldly transformation on this date, where the earth and its inhabitants may undergo a positive physical or spiritual transformation, and will “be more conscious of their neighborhood.” In other words, a focus on the greater good!

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for this magnetic shift! Hopefully that means a great influx of lenders to Kiva!

17 December 2012 at 21:00

Magical Moments with Kiva Borrowers in Bolivia

PeterKF19-06-00-Hdr

Any Kiva Fellow will tell you that visiting Kiva borrowers is one of the most satisfying parts of our experience. This is our moment to go beyond the borrower photographs and short biographies on the Kiva website. We greet borrowers by shaking hands and kissing cheeks, we sit in their homes, we walk through their fields, we touch the garments they sew and taste the baked goods from their ovens, we learn the names of their cows, and we try to make their children smile.

These are moments when we transcend the digital world and our Kiva connections become human.

Señor René, Vegetable Farmer, Cochabamba (CIDRE)

With Señor René in his bean field

With Señor René in his bean field

Señor René lives in a high-altitude farming community a couple of hours from Cochabamba. His several small parcels of land are perched on the slopes of the Bolivian Andes that reach eastwards. The views of the surrounding peaks, the nearby farms and the valley below are simply magnificent.

René’s daughter with the family puppy “Shadow”

René’s daughter with the family puppy “Shadow”

He lives in a one-room adobe home with his wife and four children. The Kiva loan helped pay his one-time share in the community irrigation system which allows him to double his agriculture production since he can now grow crops after the rainy season.

René and his family received me and my CIDRE colleagues with extreme generosity. We were served a tasty and healthy almuerzo (the sustaining midday meal) of home-made cheese and hot salsa, fresh steamed broad beans and boiled potatoes that were harvested from their garden that morning.

Enjoying a meal in René's home: fresh beans and potatoes, home-made cheese and hot salsa, yum!

Enjoying a meal in René’s home: fresh beans and potatoes, home-made cheese and hot salsa, yum!

During the meal we talked about his farming. He is genuinely grateful for the Kiva-funded loan and the low interest rate — this goes a long way in helping support his young family.

As we were leaving he surprised us with a fat bag of fresh-picked beans. It was a large gesture that the CIDRE loan officers especially appreciated. He thanked me personally for coming all the way from the United States to spend time with him.

René's thoughtful gift to CIDRE loan officers of fresh beans from his farm

René’s thoughtful gift to CIDRE loan officers of fresh beans from his farm

Pointing over the distant mountain peaks, René asked me to pass along his greetings and thanks to everyone at “home.” I smiled, looking over those mountains knowing that everywhere is home to the Kiva family.

Building Bridges: With Rene’s family and my CIDRE colleagues on a new bridge built recently near his farm

Building Bridges: With Rene’s family and my CIDRE colleagues on a new bridge built recently near his farm

Señora Yelica, Baker, Santa Cruz (Emprender)

Señora Yélica at home with her Kiva-funded oven

Señora Yélica at home with her Kiva-funded oven

The heat of eastern Bolivia can be intense. As soon I reached the shade of Señora Yélica’s backyard she handed me a cold glass of Coca Colla, Bolivia’s coca-leaf enhanced “real thing” soft drink.

Her property on the outskirts of Santa Cruz is filled with flowering fruit trees: orange, mango, papaya, avocado, pomegranate and fig. This is tropical Bolivia and she takes full advantage of the sun, warmth and rich soil to supplement her family’s diet with fresh fruit right from her backyard.

Emprender loan officers admire the mango and pomegranate trees that adorn Yélica's backyard

Emprender loan officers admire the mango and pomegranate trees that adorn Yélica’s backyard

Rising early seven days a week, Yélica bakes dozens of pan de arroz (a bread of yucca meal, rice flour and cheese encased in banana leaves) and cheese empanadas. She sells these to neighbors but with her Kiva-funded larger oven she can now sell in the markets for more income.

"Homemade Bread" sign and baked goods on display at Yélica's home

“Homemade Bread” sign and baked goods on display at Yélica’s home

She offered me samples of all her baked goods, covered with cotton towels to keep them warm. She introduced me to her smiling grandmother who listened intently to our discussion and enjoyed watching this visiting foreigner trying his best to keep the sweat from rolling down his brow. We laughed about her lazy pets, a sleeping puppy in the shade beneath a wheelbarrow and a curled-up kitten.

Yélica's slothful four-legged friends, she's glad they aren't on the payroll!

Yélica’s slothful four-legged friends, she’s glad they aren’t on the payroll!

It was a sublimely pleasant visit. Graciously welcomed by outgoing hosts amid a lush paradise, my thoughts lingered on the joys of being a Kiva Fellow at times like this.

Señor Gustavo, Magician, La Paz (CIDRE)

Señor Gustavo eagerly shows off his Kiva-funded magic kits

Señor Gustavo eagerly shows off his Kiva-funded magic kits

As soon as I stepped into Señor Gustavo’s home workshop, I knew this would be like no other borrower visit. I was surrounded by stacks of boxes, cardboard, playing cards, coins, yarn and CD’s – there were enough Kiva-funded materials to assemble 1,000 Maletines de Magia, the magic kits he sells at fairs throughout Bolivia.

He welcomed me with a huge smile and immediately the show began. He jumped right into performing tricks, explaining the design and manufacturing process, and how he sells these at fairs. Gustavo is a seriously committed to his business. A fan of magic as a child, he has now made it his livelihood. He designs his magic kits to be especially didactic for children, helping them develop cognitive abilities, such as basic math, counting, probability logic and pattern recognition.

As I sat back in my seat, I was amused and awestruck by his magic… and equally impressed at how simple the tricks are once he explained them.

After half an hour of the “Don Gustavo Show” I had to get down to business and verify some key details of his loan. He answered my questions but his mind was clearly on his next Kiva-funded loan as he quickly dove into an enthusiastic pitch of his next “Magic Kit” project.

The CIDRE loan officer wryly explained that he’d still need to stop by the office to fill out the paperwork. He grinned broadly as she told him that Kiva funds can’t simply be pulled from a hat.

Some truly magic moments with Kiva borrowers!

Peter Soley is a Kiva Fellow (Class 19) serving in Bolivia (La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz) with CIDRE and Emprender. Become a member of their lending teams (CIDRE, Emprender), lend to one of their borrowers today (CIDRE, Emprender), or apply to be a Fellow!

12 December 2012 at 08:00 1 comment

On the road less traveled: Kagera region in Tanzania.

Marion Walls | KF19 | Tanzania

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If you prefer the road less traveled, then I have just the place for you: the Kagera region of Tanzania!

You may not have heard of Kagera – even though it’s exceptionally beautiful, and the people here are especially friendly – as it’s not part of the Tanzanian tourist circuit.  And that’s precisely what makes it ideal for those of us who prefer to explore places off the beaten track!  Kagera is tucked away on the western side of Lake Victoria.  The region is bordered by Uganda to the north, and Rwanda and Burundi to the west, and it takes a 20+ hour bus ride (or two flights) to get here from Dar es Salaam.  I’ve come here in my capacity as a Fellow to visit Kiva borrower Gration and his project partner Daeni in the town of Muleba, as well as Andy in the town of Ngara.  They both obtained Kiva loans earlier this year to purchase solar power products from Kiva’s partner, Barefoot Power. The time I’ve spent with them and their Wata na Nuru (Light for the People) teams, resellers, and solar clients has been truly remarkable.   You see, I am here to work!
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I’ve long been fascinated by solar power, so I’m thrilled by the opportunity this Kiva fellowship has afforded to see firsthand the impacts and challenges of providing solar lighting in rural Tanzania.   And I’m looking forward to sharing these Barefoot Power updates with you when I get back to an area with sufficient internet speed to upload the blogs…  Meanwhile, here’s a photo journal of my favorite (non-work) experiences in Kagera over the past two weeks:

1. The dawn chorus of songbirds in a beautiful garden in Bukoba. The birdlife is prolific here; the garden in this video reminds me of the home where I grew up in Zimbabwe; and Bukoba (Tanzania’s second-largest port on Lake Victoria) is a breath of fresh air after my last nine hot and sweaty weeks in Dar es Salaam.  What an uplifting way to start the day!
Flower collage4

2.  Expansive views of Lake Victoria.  It’s called Lweru (The Big White) by the Haya people of this area, and as soon as I saw the lake I knew why.  This is an area of vast panoramas and glorious open skies!  The shoreline of the lake is dotted with granite outcrops, and the surrounding landscape is lush with green grass (good grazing for the heavy-horned cattle in this video!) and trees, thanks to plentiful rainfall and the rich red soil.
Lake Vic collage11

3.  A frenzy of activity as 450 donated bikes – recently arrived in a container from Switzerland – are reassembled and prepped for sale. Daeni is involved at this bicycle center in remote Nshamba, where youngsters learn the skills of a bicycle fundi (expert).  I’m delighted to see the Tanzanian side of this project, because I’m familiar with the donor side of a similar project in my hometown in Canada.
Bike collage3

4. Kagera isn’t called the banana capital of Tanzania for nothing…   Banana plants grow everywhere!  Matoke (plantains, or cooking bananas) are the staple food here, usually eaten with maharage (beans).  The bananas we eat start growing from tiny yellow flowers – initially the size of your thumb nail – hidden under the dark reddish bracts of a large inflorescence known as the banana heart.
Banana collage5

5.  My hilarious bus ride from Muleba to Ngara!  It rains.  The bus leaks.  I am drenched from head to foot!  I balance my little daypack on my knee as water pours down upon me for several hours, relieved that my laptop and camera – the tools of my trade these days – are sealed in a waterproof bag.  I’m sorry when the kid sitting snugly next to me gets off at his stop; I was grateful for his warmth…  And just for the record: I’m beginning to think a ticket agents’ assessment that “it will take 3 hours” is an optimistic way of saying “a long time, maybe even 6 hours”!
BusMuleba collage10

6.  Wandering for hours along a ridge at Murgwanza that overlooks the Tanzanian border with Rwanda.  I’m drawn onward by the tantalizing views from the next rocky outcrop, and the possibility of finding another flame lily swaying in the breeze.  The sounds of distant voices, wood chopping, and the occasional cock-crow drift up to me from the valley below, and mingle with the low buzz of insects and melodious bursts of birdsong.  The African bush is so alive!  Goat herders on the next hillside call mzungu! (the friendly Kiswahili term for foreigner) to catch my attention, and wave.  Could I be any happier?
Ngara view collage7

7.  The harmonious singing voices of a church congregation in Murgwanza stop me in my tracks as I’m passing by.  (The picture quality in this video is poor, so just close your eyes and listen, and you’ll hear birds trilling joyfully too!)

8.  A vibrant market operates under cover of huge white UNHCR tents that have been repurposed in downtown Ngara.  The tents are remnants of the refugee crisis in Kagera that was caused by the Rwanda genocide in 1994.  It’s impossible for me to reconcile the idea of such horror with the normal daily life and tranquility I see around me now.
Market collage6

9.  My 9-hour bus ride through Karagwe region.  Since there are no direct buses for the next 3 days, I’m advised to take a bus from Ngara to Karagwe (it’ll take 3 hours!), from where I can get onward transport to Bukoba.  I arrive at the bus stand before dawn to get a window seat.  The bus fills rapidly (and I do mean fills…), and we set off close to schedule but lose time as we inch our way through the mist and up the steep hills.  The man wedged in next to me buys water at our first stop and downs more pills than I’ve ever seen in one dose; I wonder sadly if he’s one of the many people here infected with HIV/AIDS.  (I’ve visited a sewing class at one organization that cares for 1800 orphans, and met a worker from another that cares for 3700.  The numbers overwhelm me.)

Then the bus halts at a barrier and a man with an automatic rifle, (I recognize it as an AK47; I grew up during the war in Zimbabwe), climbs in next to the driver.  My neighbor explains this is our escort, but I’m a bit disconcerted and text a message to Andy in Ngara in case this all ends badly…  He replies that an armed escort on this route is normal…  I’m still feeling pensive when suddenly there’s great excitement on the bus: Twiga, twiga!  Someone’s seen giraffe, and we all scan the bush eagerly for a glimpse!  I snap a couple of photos, and pass my camera around.  My fellow passengers laugh happily at our good fortune, and my mood lightens!  I can face the rest of this 9-hour bus journey with equanimity now.
Giraffe collage9

10.  Young girls are delighted by their new dresses for Christmas!  I think the dressmaker is equally pleased.   Entrepreneurship is visible everywhere I go – this woman set up shop in front of her house, in the midst of a banana plantation.   And she’s doing a roaring trade as the festive season approaches!
Dresses collage8

And finally: The unlikely Kiva connection. Yesterday I chatted with a charming woman at Bukoba airport as we waited in vain for our flight – the runway too muddy for the incoming plane to land. We met again today, and I showed my new friend the Tanzanian content on Kiva website. Imagine my surprise and delight when we scrolled through the last Update I posted about Tanzania, and she exclaimed “I know her! That woman is an excellent baker!” Who’d have thought there would be a connection way out here in Kagera? It’s a small world, thanks to Kiva!

Barefoot Power loans in Tanzania also went to Martin in Dodoma, and Clive in Moshi. That’s were my travels as a Kiva Fellow take me next! No Barefoot Power loans in Tanzania are currently fundraising on Kiva, but each month you can find loans posted by Tujijenge Tanzania.

9 December 2012 at 12:00 2 comments

A glimpse into Entrepreneurship in Kyrgyzstan

Abhishesh Adhikari | KF19 | Kyrgyzstan

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One of the most exciting things about Kyrgyzstan is the potential for the growth of entrepreneurship. Over the last few months, I had the opportunity to travel all across this country and meet a wide variety of borrowers and potential entrepreneurs. From young college students in Bishkek to farmers in the remote regions around Naryn, shopkeepers in violence affected areas of Osh to livestock owners in Batken. Just twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, there seems to be a lot of enthusiasm here for starting up small businesses.

Looking at the demographics and the challenges involved, I would categorize Kyrgyz entrepreneurs into two major categories. First, there are the young college students and graduates from around Bishkek and other major cities who are interested in starting service-oriented businesses. Second, there are entrepreneurs from the more remote regions who want to start new farms and livestock businesses.

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6 December 2012 at 09:34

Visiting Kiva Borrowers in Siquijor Island, Philippines

Keith Baillie | KF19 | Philippines

I recently voyaged to Siquijor Island to visit the Larena Office of my Kiva partner, Paglaum Multi-Purpose Cooperative (PMPC). I was accompanied by Lysette, the partner’s Kiva Coordinator:

Lysette
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5 December 2012 at 22:31

Driving along the HIV Highway – visiting Kiva Zip trustee CTC International

As you might have heard many times before, meeting with the borrowers is the most rewarding part of the fellowship. It’s always such a great feeling to meet the Kiva borrowers in person and see that the loans are actually making a big difference in their lives. When you work with Kiva Zip you also get the opportunity to meet our trustees, which are fantastic organizations and individuals that all have in common that they want to help low-income entrepreneurs to create a better life for themselves and their families.

During last week’s field visit, me and my colleagues Shy and Alyza visited the trustee CTC International. CTC is based in Maai Mahiu in the Rift Valley, Kenya. Maai Mahiu is a small town located on a major trade route that runs through several countries in Africa, commonly known as the HIV Highway. According to CTC around 1.6-1.9 million people live with HIV in Kenya, and the spread of the disease is particularly high in this area of the country. Prostitution is very common and with thousands of truck drivers stopping by in the small “hotels” that are lining the streets of Maai Mahiu, the spread of HIV has run rampant.

Rift Valley, Kenya

Rift Valley, Kenya

HIV Highway

HIV Highway

CTC International is an amazing organization that works with a variety of projects to fight poverty. One of the projects is called GAPA (Grandparents Against Poverty and HIV / AIDS), where all members have in common that their child has died of HIV / AIDS. These grandparents are all raising their grandchildren, with little or basically non-existent financial resources. CTC is supporting these grandparents through income-generating activities, training and support groups.

CTC also helps the grandparents to get access to microloans, and the reason for our visit was to train one group of borrowers on the Kiva Zip model. All borrowers are working with different income generating projects, ranging from soap making to poultry keeping.

Presenting Kiva

Explaining Kiva Zip to the borrowers

Explaining Kiva Zip to the borrowers

The grandmothers

The grandmothers

Showing a Kiva profile to the borrowers

Showing a Kiva profile to the borrowers

It was so rewarding meeting these women. Even though they all have suffered terrible losses of their children, they didn’t give up on their grandchildren, and they do everything they can to support them. And the best thing is that you can help them too, shortly we will post their loans on our Kiva Zip website and you can help fund their businesses. Click here to get to the Kiva Zip website.

"Happiness GAPA"

“Happiness GAPA”

Read more about GAPA here

5 December 2012 at 11:17

Driving along the HIV Highway – visiting Kiva Zip trustee CTC International

As you might have heard many times before, meeting with the borrowers is the most rewarding part of the fellowship. It’s always such a great feeling to meet the Kiva borrowers in person and see that the loans are actually making a big difference in their lives. When you work with Kiva Zip you also get the opportunity to meet our trustees, who are fantastic organizations and individuals that all have in common that they want to help low income entrepreneurs to create a better life for themselves and their families.

During last week’s field visit, me and my colleagues Shy and Alyza visited the trustee CTC International. CTC is based in Maai Mahiu in the Rift Valley, Kenya. Maai Mahiu is a small town located on a major trade route that runs through several countries in Africa, commonly known as the HIV Highway. According to CTC around 1.6-1.9 million people live with HIV in Kenya, and the spread of the disease is particularly high in this area of the country. Prostitution is very common and with thousands of truck drivers stopping by in the small “hotels” that are lining the streets of Maai Mahiu, the spread of HIV has run rampant.

Image

Rift Valley

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HIV Highway

CTC International is an amazing organization that works with a variety of projects to fight poverty. One of the projects is called GAPA (Grandparents Against Poverty and HIV / AIDS), where all members have in common that their child has died of HIV / AIDS. These grandparents are all raising their grandchildren, with little or basically non-existent financial resources. CTC is supporting these grandparents through income-generating activities, training and support groups.

CTC also helps the grandparents to get access to microloans, and the reason for our visit was to train one group of borrowers on the Kiva Zip model. All borrowers are working with different income generating projects, ranging from soap making to poultry keeping.  

Image

Image

Explaining Kiva Zip to the borrowers

Image

Image

Showing a Kiva profile to the borrowers

It was so rewarding meeting these women. Even though they all have suffered terrible losses of their children, they didn’t give up on their grandchildren, and they do everything they can to support them. And the best thing is that you can help them too, shortly we will post their loans on our Kiva Zip website and you can help fund their businesses. Click here to get to the Kiva Zip website.

 Image

“Happiness GAPA”

Read more about GAPA here

5 December 2012 at 06:54

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

Chai Breaks in Odisha & Manipur (Part II)

By Eileen Flannigan | KF19 | India

Eileen and Irene are both fellows in India.  Eileen is living in Imphal, Manipur and Irene is in Bhubaneswar, Odisha.  While in conversations with one another, we have been struck by how different the cities are.  We’ve compiled these observations to share with you our experiences of the rich and diverse culture of India.  Eileen’s profiled in Part 2 below, while Irene is featured in Part 1.

Relax, get comfy with a cup of chai to enjoy the flavors and hospitality of India.

 

Top 3 things that you notice while roaming your neighborhood?

To some degree, Imphal looks like most Indian cities; colorful clothes laid out on riverbeds, vibrant vegetable vendors, cows grazing in busy streets, sidewalk barbers and active “hotels” (i.e. shops) of meat, rice, and tea.  However, on closer investigation, my curiosity led me to these:

  1. Rickshaw drivers in disguise. I was perplexed why most of the rickshaw drivers were covered from head-to-toe with only eyes showing, even on very hot days. I learned that these educated young men were forced to take this job because of the high unemployment in this region.  It’s considered an act of shame for themselves and their families if their identity was known.
  2. Men with large guns. Sadly, this has been a hotbed for militancy for decades. At any given moment, I’ll see men in combat uniforms jammed into the back of a vehicle or a crew taking a break at a paan shop or a tank slowly cruising down the street with the watchman’s bust out the top.
  3. Kids in uniform. I live right across the street from a primary school and my favorite morning ritual is to watch them all gather with the last bit of wild exuberance before the subdued day ahead. Children arrive scrunched with siblings on bikes, rickshaws, or father’s shoulders. Sisters eagerly tie younger one’s bows, friends connected by sweet hand holding and boys arm and arm while imitating their favorite cricket bowler.
The view out  my window in Imphal, Manipur.

 

When you want the “comforts of home” experience, what do you do?

I live with a family that has two young boys, so I’ve taught them some American card games like Go Fish, Slap Jack and Crazy Eights. On chilly nights we obsessively play with gusto, which always makes me happily nostalgic.

Although, when I’m really longing for home, I head to the best hotel in town to have a cappuccino and baked yogurt, which is a newly delicious discovery that is a cross between a crème brûlée, and American style yogurt.  Although I appreciate the ritual and social nuances of chai time, there’s nothing like the comforts of a cup of coffee or two, to turn my day around. Added bonus is this cafe plays the most wonderfully bad acoustic remakes of American songs. Depending on my mood, I am either really happy or deeply embarrassed that I now know all the lyrics to Rhinestone Cowboy.

 

Describe the people and culture in your region.

Manipur is one of the most northeastern states of India, snugly positioned next to Myanmar, formally known as Burma. Almost all states in the northeast have international borders with countries that include Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and China which has meant a continuous migration of people with strong ethnic identities. The amalgamation of different tribal nations, indigenous traditions, languages and food has left a dynamic imprint on the Manipuri culture.
They have a rich arts heritage, however my favorite pastime is the daily theatre of weaved garments whisking by in the streets, with just the right amount of dramatic flair. Most women don’t wear saris but a long wrap-around skirt that tell a story of the woman, her home tribe and religious lineage through the intricate patterned design, electrified colors and weave techniques.

I love Indian food and its explosion of spices to awaken an exotic, far-away feeling in me.  However, one of my biggest surprises has been with my culinary experiences.  It’s not your typical Indian fare of masala, cardamom, coriander and the like, with the exclusion of turmeric, spices are used minimally here, if at all. Manipuris smother everything with the king chili (the hottest in the world) and say that “rice is always the main course” with something fermented (fish or bamboo) and possibly dried meat as a side.  Thankfully, my host family has been understanding of my western palette and doesn’t try to push the king chili on me, as I think we both know it would end badly.

1) Naga Village skirts 2) Classic Meitei design 3) Kuki pattern called “elephant knees” 4) Very common vertical stripes with border design.

 

 What type of work is common in this region for Kiva borrowers?

I’ve been awed by the way Kiva borrowers work many different, inter-connected businesses to sustain their livelihoods. There is no main industry to speak of, so the women must find creative ways to bring in little bits of income from many different sources, mostly 4, 5 or even 6 businesses operating at once. The Kiva borrowers, all women, live in remote hill areas with fertile land and weaving skills that start at a very young age and are seeded in deep traditions.  They are using these strengths to form business of:

Weaving + Rice Paddy + Garden

All village women will be involved in these three activities. Weaving is done twice daily, at dawn and late night when all the other household chores are completed. Rice harvesting is only once a year and the yield is not only expected to feed the whole family throughout the year but provide a small supplemental income.  A majority of families, regardless of income level, have a paddy field that has been pasted down through the generations. In addition, village families will have anything from a kitchen garden to a full farm. In this region, they typically grow potatoes, gooseberries, ginger, turmeric, cabbage, chillies and will use the harvest for family consumption and market sales.

Piggery + Poultry

“Piggeries”, as pig farms are known here, can reap a good profit, especially around festival time when the demand is high. Ladies will spend about 8-9 months feeding their pigs from scraps from their garden and rice paddies. In most cases, a woman who is raising pigs will be raising chickens,too. This is because chickens, like pigs, are a home based business and can be sold within 4-6 weeks, allowing the Kiva borrower profit to live and pay back the loan while waiting for the income from the piggery.

Clothing +Tea + Paan+ Variety Stores

The resale of used clothing has provided a good living for Kiva borrowers here because of the high profit margins with less time and hard labor then other activities. In addition, tea stalls, paan shops and variety shops are heavily littered throughout India, but in rural areas they are still viable means to respond to village needs.

Weavers (hand loom & loin loom), Chai Wallah, Poultry Farmer, Paan Stall, Turmeric Seller

 

What are the main strengths of your MFI and how have you experienced these in the field?

Kiva’s partner, WSDS-Initiate, has many strengths that contribute to successfully penetrating the remote regions in the northeast.  Manipur has several challenges and complexities that make it difficult for financial institutions to operate. Which of course, compound the effects of social, political, and geographic circumstances by widening the disparities in rural populations by financial exclusion. WSDS- Initiate, has a long history of working in this area, not only in a financial role but a social services capacity and understands the ethnic conflicts and nuances needed to work with many different tribal communities. They operate with an inclusive approach that tribal harmony and peace-building is pivotal to the regions long-term growth. Therefore, they work with the three major tribes (Kuki, Naga & Meitei) in remote and sometimes dangerous regions with a needs-based approach to financial inclusion. This includes, not only providing loans, but financial training and  savings education.
  I’ve personally met hundreds of WSDS clients, in several villages and have witnessed how they work to financially include and educate all women, even those that are considered “too high risk”, such as widows, women over 55 years old and those with little collateral.

In addition, I’ve been particularly inspired by how they continue to strive to make a social impact in this region, which isn’t easy. They have partnered with organizations that are using innovative ways of enhancing their client’s livelihood activities by enabling them to get better access to solar power, education, agriculture and forestry projects that benefit the whole community. It’s clear that WSDS’s investment in these villages are holistic with the overarching driving principle of poverty alleviation.

The incredible WSDS staff hard at work visiting borrowers, collecting stories, group photographs & of course, taking a chai break.

Eileen Flannigan is a Kiva fellow (19th class) serving in Manipur, India with the micro finance organization, WSDS Initiate.  Support our Indian partners herejoin the Indian lending teamWSDS lending team or get a holiday gift card for someone special!

30 November 2012 at 07:00

8 fun facts about Kyrgyzstan

Abhishesh Adhikari | KF19 | Kyrgyzstan

When you live in a new culture for a long enough time, you start to realize subtle cultural norms that you wouldn’t have necessary learned by reading a book about the country. I have now been in Kyrgyzstan for exactly 2 months. Here are some interesting facts about the country and its culture that I have noticed after arriving here.

1) Manas: Manas, a warrior who united Kyrgyzstan, is undoubtedly the most popular folk hero in the country. You see this name everywhere. There are streets, statues, universities, radio stations, national parks, and many other things that are named after him. Even Kyrgyzstan’s main airport is Manas International Airport. During one of my borrower visits, I visited his final resting place, Ala Too mountain, in the northwestern city of Talas. There they have Manas Ordo, a historical park and museum built in his honor.

Manas Ordo, the burial place of Manas. Legend has it that, as a kid, Manas regularly lifted the huge piece of rock shown in this picture (center right)

(more…)

28 November 2012 at 20:00

The San Severino Festival: Rain, Ritual and Revelry in Bolivia

Fiesta de San Severino: A People's Party in the Steets

“Do you know the real San Severino?” asked the inebriated man next to me on the bus back to Cochabamba. “The real San Severino!”

I wasn’t too sure exactly what he meant; the real San Severino died over 1500 years ago. “Well, um, I know he was a saint, from Europe I think, who brings the rains…” I stumbled but tried my best to answer him.

“Bah! No one knows the real San Severino!” he blustered.

After a moment the question came again: “Do you know the real San Severino?” I knew this was going to be a circular conversation making the hour-long ride seem even longer. So I countered and turned the question on him.

“Ahh… ¡si pues!” He raised his right hand emphatically: “San Severino… he was… um… a Christian and a patriot… from the early republic, who… uh…” After an uneasy pause he dropped his hand in exasperation.

Snickering behind us, I spotted a couple of grinning chola woman looking at us. They were swearing those lovely shiny dresses and colorful bonnets typical of the indigenous women here. I smiled at them and asked if they knew who the real San Severino was.

They just shook their heads and laughed.

New friends outside a <em>chichería</em> in the streets of Tarata during Fiesta San Severino

New friends outside a chichería in the streets of Tarata during Fiesta San Severino

Apparently, even the faithful who come to celebrate the festival of San Severino don’t know who the real saint was. I admit there are a lot of Catholic saints to remember, numbering well over 10,000. But at the end of the day, when the processions, fireworks, drinking and dancing were over, here in Bolivia it really doesn’t really matter who the real San Severino was.

What matters is the celebration in the streets. A celebration for the change of seasons and a time to welcome the hot sun and the saturating rains. It is a time to revel with family and friends (and strangers, like myself) with good food and dance. It is a time to rejoice that the rains will bring growth and abundance to everyone.

Old Traditions Die Hard: Lliupacha Yuyaychay (The Andean Cosmovision) + Christianity

Proudly marching with the <em>Wiphala:</em> This Andean flag is eons old but only recently became official in Bolivia

Proudly marching with the Wiphala: This Andean flag is eons old but only recently became official in Bolivia

For thousands of years festivals in Bolivia have celebrated the unity of the physical and spiritual worlds through pagan rituals and dances, centering on the Pachamama, the supreme and life-giving Mother Earth goddess. Natural cycles, especially seasonal change, have long meant party time in the Andes.

The conquering Spanish were intolerant of the local religious traditions and tried hard to erase paganism. But Christian beliefs never fully replaced the existing practices, as is evidenced in the syncretism of such powerful religious icons as the Pachamama and the Virgin Mary. Today most Bolivians practice a combination of both Catholic and pre-Hispanic rituals.

San Severino, Patrono de Tarata

The faithful worship San Severino in the streets of Tarata, others admire his new suit made just for today

The faithful worship San Severino in the streets of Tarata, others admire his new suit made just for today

Enter San Severino, an Italian saint who died over a thousand years before the Americas were known to modern Europe. Some of his remains were allegedly brought to Tarata with the Franciscan missionaries who established a church here during their evangelical march eastward.

It is said that during the first procession on the saint’s feast day (actually in early January), it rained so hard that the locals were convinced that San Severino was responsible.  This milagro (miracle) secured his fame here as the Patron Saint of the Rains.

Members of the marching <em>fraternidades</em> assemble for the processions

Members of the marching fraternidades assemble for the processions

Because San Severino was such a hit with the locals, the Franciscans conveniently changed his feast to coincide with the traditional rainy season welcoming rituals already in place. And tah-dah: the San Severino festival was born. Or born again.

Today thousands flock to Tarata to worship the saint who will bring the all-important downpours needed to replenish wells, dampen fledgling crops and quench the thirst of livestock. Farmers carry pitchers of water blessed in Tarata to sprinkle in their fields, venerating both San Severino and the Pachamama.

Tarata: Small Town with a Big Reputation

The quaint streets of Tarata fill with celebrants for the San Severino festival

The quaint streets of Tarata fill with celebrants for the San Severino festival

Tarata today is a one-horse town with fewer than 3000 inhabitants but it boasts favorite-son Bolivian Independence hero Esteban Arze and three former Presidents of Bolivia. The most infamous being Mariano Melgarejo, a brutal autocrat who is remembered for giving a large chunk of Bolivia to Brazil in exchange for a white horse (he allegedly traced the horse’s hoof on a map of Bolivia to designate the parcel).

Normally a quiet town, the cobblestone streets come alive as the faithful and fun-seekers arrive en masse for San Severino. Events kick off the last Saturday in November with the entrada (inaugural procession) and an evening of fireworks, drinking, dance and general revelry.

Dancing In the Streets: San Severino Sunday

Mass for San Severino in Tarata, the administrative center for the Franciscan colonial missions in the east

Mass for San Severino in Tarata, the administrative center for the Franciscan colonial missions in the east

The following day a solemn mass is celebrated at the church and the San Severino statue is carried through the streets. This ends the Catholic part of the celebration. The rest of the day is spent drinking, dancing and watching the energetic fraternidades (fellowships of marchers) parade through the streets in flashy costumes, dancing, and singing mostly in Quechua (the language introduced by the Incas).

Craziness in the <em>calles:</em> The street processions can get wild and are always full of surprises

Craziness in the calles: The street processions can get wild and are always full of surprises

Chorizo y Chicha: Full Flavors in the Streets

Lots for sale: treats, games, charms and jugs for holy water

Lots for sale: treats, games, charms and jugs for holy water

And of course no Latin American festival would be complete without a vast assortment of street vendors. Hand-cranked ice cream, fresh fruit, fried potatoes, sweet gelatine, good luck charms, handicrafts, ceramic jugs to carry holy water and chicha, games and children’s rides… something for everyone.

Mighty meat on the street... no one goes hungry today!

Mighty meat on the street… no one goes hungry today!

Most conspicuous were the meaty morsels in large cooking vessels that lined the main streets. Tarata is known for its chorizo sausage and there was plenty of supply for San Severino’s feast.

<em>Chicha</em>, the corn-based Andean brew is a favorite in Cochabamba and a must during <em>fiesta</em>

Chicha, the corn-based Andean brew is a favorite in Cochabamba and a must during fiesta

Of course there was chicha, the beloved corn beer that is ever-present in the Cochabamba region. Cooked above huge adobe fireplaces and fermented in oversize terracotta jugs, chicha is served up in buckets and consumed liberally from dried-gourd saucers.

Chicherías are everywhere in Tarata, just look for the little white or red flags hanging outside homes. And one mustn’t forget to spill a little on the ground in honor of Pachamama when it’s your turn to drink!

Finding Friends and More Fun

I find most Bolivians to be warm and especially courteous but today they were overflowing with affability. I enjoyed the many smiles in the streets and I made new friends over shared buckets of chicha while watching the processions pass.

I was happy to run into Mario, a CIDRE colleague of mine. He introduced me to his family and friends and fed me peanuts fresh from his farm. We spent a good time chatting and joking and enjoying the festival.

My friend Mario from <a title="CIDRE" href="http://www.kiva.org/partners/140" target="_blank">CIDRE</a> (one of Kiva's partners) trying his best to stop the parade

My friend Mario from CIDRE (one of Kiva’s partners) trying his best to stop the parade

By late afternoon the processions had ended, the grilled meat stands disappeared and the chicherías slowly became quieter.

And I noticed that the sky was turning a bit darker… it seemed in every way the San Severino festival was a success!

Rain clouds gather over a quieter Tarata as the festival wanes... thanks San Severino!

Rain clouds gather over a quieter Tarata as the festival wanes… thanks San Severino!

Peter Soley is a Kiva Fellow (Class 19) serving in Bolivia (La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz) with CIDRE. Become a member of CIDRE’s lending team, lend to one of their borrowers today, or apply to be a Fellow!

28 November 2012 at 11:28 3 comments

Reinventing the Wheels: UIMCEC’s Mobile Bank

It’s not a path uncharted, per se; in fact, the use of banks on wheels the world over is surprisingly widespread.  The existence of a mobile bank branch with UIMCEC – the bank with whom I’m working – is recent enough, however, to create quite a stir.

Allow me to present you with (drum roll): banks on wheels.  As the name suggests, they’re adaptable, they’re versatile, and they’re… moveable!  The wheels can come in a variety of forms – from cars, to buses, to vans, to RVs – and the impact they have in developing countries is simply immeasurable.

Needless to say the processes and procedures of a bank on wheels varies case by case, bank by bank, but for simplicity’s sake, I’ll stick to exploring and explaining UIMCEC’s bank on wheels.

Parked outside an UIMCEC branch, ready to make the rounds.

Take two: another angle.

How does it work?

At present, UIMCEC has only one van (pictured above) used to service rural areas which surround their 33 branches in four regions of Senegal.  Ideally, the “mobile bank” has a cyclical rotation, visiting “x” town each Monday, “y” town each Tuesday, so on and so forth.  These visits are purposefully scheduled during bustling market hours, and situated conveniently for suitable access to as many clients as possible.

The truck is equipped with nearly everything vital to its business operations otherwise found in a branch location.  This includes but is not limited to: customer account information, a human ATM system of sorts, and a back door access fitted with a service window in the back where all transactions are made.  Clients can make withdrawals, payments, and deposits.  They can also open accounts, inquire about loan acquisitions, and begin any respective applications.

How are clients reacting? 

“I’ve only heard favorable feedback,” explains the enthused agent I was chatting with, appearing at an unusual loss for words.  “I wish I could give you more than that, I’m wracking my brain, I really am…” he promised, with wandering eyes.

“I don’t know, it really seems to work.  In fact, beyond its primary purpose of providing financial transactions, I’ve seen that clients use the presence of the mobile bank in their community as an opportunity to engage in dialogue with whichever agent is present, in a way they would not do in a branch office.  It’s as if it creates a casual setting, which makes people feel more comfortable and at ease.  Not to mention they’re grateful for the convenience.”

I nodded my head and smiled, pleased to agree with all of his opinions.

The only observation I would add from my two hour “tag along” is a small, albeit noticeable, degree of skepticism residing in client’s minds.  While the goal of mobile banking is to increase financial access around the country, in turn further empowering the poor and giving them tools to build a strong sense of participation rather than passivity, users still appear cautious.  “Who am I giving their money to?  In 20 minutes my money will just… drive off?  Can I really get it back whenever I need to back, and how do I ensure the money is properly managed?”

What are the advantages for UIMCEC to join the “mobile banking” bandwagon? 

Because the gains of banks on wheels availability for clients are many, and I risk going on… and on… and on, I’ve decided to create a list of top five benefits as I see it:

  1. Banks on wheels ensure financial inclusion to all socioeconomic levels in all regions.  Geography is among the most significant of problems facing banks in Senegal.  Banks tend to operate in well-off areas, which are often connected by smooth, paved roads to larger cities. It’s often difficult, not to mention too costly, to build banks in rural communities; this consequently requires clients to walk or commute by bus for hours in order to reach their closest bank.  Banks on wheels help to ensure that the country reaches all levels of residents regardless of their location and/or income.
  2. Banks on wheels support other resources aimed to expand financial inclusion. Take mobile phones, for instance.  While the transfer of money through mobile phones is revolutionary and life-changing beyond measure, there remain hurdles to overcome.   Residents of places deemed too small to establish a permanent branch, for instance, receive funds through their mobile phones yet must trek hours to a branch in order to retrieve the funds.  Banks on wheels allow them to cash out much more conveniently.
  3. Banks of wheels strengthen UIMCEC’s social responsibility mission. Social responsibility is always on the minds of UIMCEC’s management.  How best can they reach each and every Senegalese citizens wanting banking services?  How can they provide, to these same individuals, a diverse portfolio of financial options?  Banks on wheels permits UIMCEC to continue working towards this achieving this commendable mission.
  4. Banks on wheels reinforce a targeted mix of modernity and tradition.  It’s a hard balance to strike – a desire to straddle between offering modern, advanced products and adhering to tradition with what has worked best in the past.  Banks on wheels allow banks to find a healthy medium between the two.
  5. Banks on wheels help empower a bank’s clientele. An ideal system for banks is one that is participatory on both ends: where clients openly explain their wants and needs, and the banks provide services and products to fit these demands.  By visiting the centers and hearts of communities, UIMCEC’s bank on wheels has – as my conversation with the UIMCEC agent revealed – allowed clients to feel a more integral role in the banking system.  Banks on wheels enables UIMCEC to devolve power in an efficient, effective, well-received approach.

Candidly, it’s a pretty remarkable development to witness in action.  That’s not to say it’s perfect, it has its flaws and room for improvement, but it is undeniably a tremendous step in the right direction for both UIMCEC and the development of Senegal.

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

23 November 2012 at 05:36

The Illustrated Guide to Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner! (Tanzania Edition)

Marion Walls | KF19 | Tanzania

I’d like to celebrate Thanksgiving with you, the Kiva community!  I’d love to cook dinner for us to share but this is the thing: I’m in Tanzania right now.  (I’m a Kiva Fellow, serving with Tujijenge and Barefoot Power.)  So I’m enlisting your help with getting the food to the table.  It’ll be easy!  I’ve chosen a familiar Thanksgiving menu:

Turkey with Pan Gravy

Nut Loaf (*vegetarian option)

Mashed Potatoes

Roasted Corn

Seasonable Vegetables

Desert

Coffee or Tea

And just to be certain we end up with the same meal as each other, I’ve provided step-by-step instructions (with full-color illustrations from Tanzania!) for you to follow.  You can’t go wrong…  So let’s get cooking!

1.  Set the oven temperature to “moderate” heat, i.e. be sure to let the charcoal burn down!

2.  Cook the Bird till the juices run clear, and the skin is nicely browned.  (Turkeys proved elusive – here’s rooster from Bagamoyo instead…)

3.  Pick, peel, and roast nuts for the nut loaf.  Cashews are abundant here, but feel free to use any nuts growing locally near you.

Oh! I almost forgot to decorate the table!

4.  Peel the potatoes – don’t be shy with the quantities!   (My neighborhood chip-vendor goes through 3 of these 250 lb sacks every day!)

5.  Roast the corn to perfection, then spice it up with peri-peri (chilli) and lime juice.

6.  Finely chop a selection of greens, and saute each individually.

7.  Fix the desert of your choice.  We’re not big on pie here, and the electricity quit (again) so the ice-cream has melted…  but cake is a winner at all celebrations!

8.  Brew coffee or tea – we grow them both here!  Our coffee is world-famous for quality and flavor, but we export most beans to you.  We usually use instant powder ourselves, or more often drink tea.

I hope you’ve cooked up a feast!

Happy Thanksgiving from Tanzania!



Marion has written many pages of operating instructions for polymer manufacturing facilities… You too can apply to be a Kiva Fellow for a totally different experience!

22 November 2012 at 19:00 1 comment

Elusive Cash Cows and Bread Baskets: Challenges Facing Bolivian Farmers Today

Farming in Cochabamba

Agriculture has long been the anchor for the people of land-locked Bolivia. As a testament to the region’s horticultural richness, the number of foods originating here is impressive: potatoes, chili peppers, peanuts, pineapple, kidney beans, manioc, quinoa… foods we all know and should love.

You say potato, I say potahto: Cultivar diversity on display in a Bolivian market

You say potato, I say potahto: Cultivar diversity on display in a Bolivian market

And nowhere else in Bolivia is farming as vital as in the Central Valleys near Cochabamba, an area blessed with ideal climate and naturally rich soils. This is where I have been working with CIDRE, one of Kiva’s partners, and I am learning much from Kiva borrowers (quite literally) in the field.

Maize growing in La Maica, heart of the Cochabamba Valley

Maize growing in La Maica, heart of the Cochabamba Valley

The Incas colonized Cochabamba to help feed its growing empire. Then the Spanish arrived, introduced dairy farming and exploited the Quechua locals with the hacienda system. The conquistadores’ pressing concern was to provision the Potosí silver mines which provided much of the wealth to world-power Spain.

Incan ruins of Incarakay, a pre-Columbian agricultural administrative center, perched atop the fertile Cochabamba Valley

Incan ruins of Incarakay, a pre-Columbian agricultural administrative center, perched atop the fertile Cochabamba Valley

Today much of the land has been redistributed more equitably and farming continues to fuel the Cochabambino economy.

But there are powerful challenges:

Land: Low Supply, Rising Prices and Deteriorating Quality

Typical small Bolivian farm: adobe home, thatch roof, adjacent plot and irrigation canal

Typical small Bolivian farm: adobe home, thatch roof, adjacent plot and irrigation canal

While the 1952 Revolution in Bolivia went a long way in granting farmers their own plots, the last decade has seen land prices increase dramatically due to urbanization, limited turnover since family plots rarely change hands, and increased demand from migrants seeking better opportunities in the Cochabamba area.

Rising prices have encouraged some farmers to sell, usually to larger landholders and cash-flush immigrant Bolivians returning from abroad. This all adds up to great demand for land but low supply for most Bolivians.

Soil degradation is another major problem. Years of deforestation, excess grazing and rapid urbanization cause heavy erosion that washes away valuable nutrients needed to strengthen the soil. Decreased land productivity requires more chemical fertilizers and genetically modified seeds, resulting in higher costs to farmers and arguably less healthy food for consumers. It puts at risk the lives of countless rural Bolivians who depend on the land for their survival.

Water

The large reservoir of <em>Laguna La Angostura</em> provides water for irrigation to Cochabamba Valley farms

The large reservoir of Laguna La Angostura provides water for irrigation to Cochabamba Valley farms

Advances in past decades have greatly expanded farmers’ access to water for irrigation. Kiva’s partner CIDRE did some pioneering work in the 1980’s to introduce wells and canals to under-served rural areas. Most farms now yield three crops per year, an increase from 1-2 previously.

But adequate supply of clean water is still a concern: expanding (and thirsty) urban centers, shrinking glacier-fed sources, and a sharp increase in contamination are limiting factors. Cochabamba’s Water War of 2000 made international headlines when massive popular protests halted the privatization of the public water works.

Kiva borrower with me in his bean farm.  He used his loan to buy a share in the community irrigation system.

Kiva borrower with me in his bean farm. He used his loan to buy a share in the community irrigation system.

Without water there is no growth. Sadly, the water problems facing Bolivian farmers have few real solutions today.

Climate Cycles and Change

Chacaltaya, Bolivia's only ski area, has been closed for years due to lack of snow

Chacaltaya, Bolivia’s only ski area, has been closed for years due to lack of snow (Photo courtesy Cambio Climático/The Democracy Center)

Weather in Bolivia has long been extreme: a long dry season (usually culminating in drought) and a saturating rainy season. Many parts of Cochabamba’s valleys flood during the months of December to March which dramatically reduces available pasture. Moving cattle to higher elevations, pasture rental and additional fodder all increase the costs to farmers during this period when dairy production (and income) is low.

Global factors compound these normal patterns. Bolivia’s glaciers are disappearing. Unprecedented shifts in weather, such as more frequent hailstorms, can wipe an entire crop in minutes. Severe thunderstorms obliterate fields and collapse stables. Gradual warming in the higher altitudes, while allowing for a more diverse crop portfolio, has introduced new pests and other problems that leave local farmers unprepared.

You don’t have to listen to scientists if you don’t want to. Just ask the farmers: climate change in Bolivia is real.

New Demands for Dairy Producers

Corporate giant Pil Andina dominates the dairy market and domineers the farmers

Corporate giant Pil Andina dominates the dairy market and domineers the farmers

As consumer demand for dairy products has grown, so too have the burdens on Bolivian farmers. Few alternative outlets exist so most dairy farmers must sell crude milk at increasingly lower prices to large-scale industrial producers, such as the behemoth Pil Andina. While industrial producers have introduced new quality controls which lead to healthier and safer dairy products, farmers must pay for more expensive production methods which squeeze profits.

A Kiva-funded milk tank allows teams of dairy farmers to better control crude milk quality and fetch higher prices

A Kiva-funded milk tank allows teams of dairy farmers to better control crude milk quality and fetch higher prices

Only farmers who can achieve greater economies of scale are doing well. Smaller farmers face extinction. As a consequence of newer technology (fortified feed, milking machines, and storage tanks) there are fewer manual day-wage jobs which hits landless Bolivians especially hard.

International Barriers

Bolivian delivery truck bedecked with blessings for the dangerous mountain roads

Bolivian delivery truck bedecked with blessings for the dangerous mountain roads

Bolivia faces tremendous hurdles in getting its agricultural products to markets abroad. Stiff competition with far-more-industrialized Argentina, Brazil and Chile (who also control access to ports) puts Bolivia at a distinct disadvantage with regional partners.

Moreover, the recently-expired Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) which favored Bolivia with duty-free status, no longer covers nearly 30% of Bolivian exports to the United States. Several people told me this as yet another uncertainty facing Bolivian farmers today.

Finally, agricultural production is far below optimal levels. Many farmers still till their fields with wooden plows dating from the colonial period. And massive emigration in recent years of able-bodied Bolivians has left many fields fallow. Bolivia doesn’t normally produce a surplus but when it does the transportation costs to ship the goods abroad neutralize its competitive advantage in price.

Despite all this, what seems to work for farmers in the region?

CIDRE loan officer working with a Kiva borrower near Colomi, Bolivia

CIDRE loan officer working with a Kiva borrower near Colomi, Bolivia

Many take out small loans, frequently with the help of Kiva, to help manage the agricultural ups and downs. They invest in feed futures to avoid spiking prices during drought. They use the extra capital to build stables, drainage ditches and sustaining walls to protect their farms from the rains.

Locally produced quesillo cheeses for sale in Cochabamba markets, products that help dairy farmers earn extra income.

Locally produced quesillo cheeses for sale in Cochabamba markets, products that help dairy farmers earn extra income.

Some supplement their income with non-farm work, such as construction or transportation. Others cultivate niche products, such as preserves, honey or quesillo cheese to sell at local markets.

CIDRE loan officers alongside a community irrigation canal which serves Kiva borrowers

CIDRE loan officers alongside a community irrigation canal which serves Kiva borrowers

Others turn to the community and leverage the collective power of farmers. They join farmer cooperatives to purchase storage tanks to aggregate products for higher prices or pay for shares in community-owned reservoirs and irrigation canals.

Farmers are an enterprising bunch and manage to find ways to move forward.

So, what does the future look like for farmers here?

Despite continuing urbanization and many young Bolivians finding work in the cities, there is a farming future here. The national government has few resources to carry the agricultural sector to a profitable and sustainable future, but many NGO’s are working hard to help bridge the gap.

Kiva's field partners excel at bringing much-needed credit to small farmers in Bolivia

Kiva’s field partners excel at bringing much-needed credit to small farmers in Bolivia

Of course, Kiva’s field partners in Bolivia have a strong history of helping farmers grow their businesses and succeed in spite of the environmental and economic challenges. They continue to offer innovative funding options to clients with the help of Kiva loans.

One of the first dairy production projects in Bolivia, the Simón I. Patiño Foundation on the outskirts of Cochabamba offers state-of-the-art research on non-GMO plants, a seed center, and model dairy farm. It eminently influences farmers in the area.

A happy Kiva cow, fed fresh alfalfa grown with locally-produced organic fertilizer

A happy Kiva cow, fed fresh alfalfa grown with locally-produced organic fertilizer

Other organizations are working with farmers to develop soil stability and crop diversification programs, such as planting barrier and cover crops (i.e. supporting grasses and legume “green manures”) to increase soil fertility without chemicals.

Many other groups, such as the Foundation for Sustainable Development, are expanding the capabilities of nonprofit organizations to implement other sustainable solutions that include and empower local communities.

The future of farming in Bolivia may not seem entirely bright. But with steady progress in recent years on increasing environmental awareness in the general public and implementing lasting changes in the agricultural sector, the future promises to be green!

New potato crops enjoying the warm Bolivian sun

New potato crops enjoying the warm Bolivian sun

20 November 2012 at 19:18

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

A walk through Osh Bazaar

Abhishesh Adhikari | KF19 | Kyrgyzstan

Osh Bazaar

It’s crowded, overwhelming, loud, and cheap. And you can find almost anything you need here. Osh Bazaar is a huge marketplace near the center of Bishkek. People from all over Bishkek and the surrounding areas come here to buy and sell.

(more…)

11 November 2012 at 10:17

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