Posts tagged ‘Kiva’
By: Abhishesh Adhikari
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.
Spring has arrived in Mongolia! That means warmer weather (afternoons creeping closer and closer to the double digits)… and, of course, baby animals!
Last week I started visiting some of Kiva’s borrowers with Transcapital, one of Kiva’s field partners that I’m working with here in Mongolia. While it was really encouraging to see Transcapital’s enthusiasm for Kiva at the head office as well as its various branch offices around Ulaanbaatar (UB), the new insights I’ve gained on urban poverty—both from these visits as well as just day-to-day life here—have left me perplexed so far, with far more questions than answers.
A short term solution?
Our visits began with a stop at Narantuul market, the largest outdoor market in UB where a number of Transcapital’s clients have retail outlets. At a first glance, Narantuul is a colourful and vibrant marketplace where vendors sell everything from food and candy, to winter coats, scarves, belts, jeans, baseball caps, cardboard, and more. It’s the place where Mongolians often go to find cheaper wares, which makes sense considering some of the staggering prices I’ve seen at Ikh Delguur, the State Department Store. We spoke to Bayasgalan, the proud owner of a shop selling winter coats and clothes, a long time client of Transcapital’s, and a Kiva borrower.
Other vendors watched us with curiosity as we chatted with her, and the mood at the market was lively despite the cold. But my translator friend, whose family had sold candy there, explained to me as we left that pretty much all the vendors there need continual loans to in order to sustain their businesses. Without loans, they can’t operate; but even with loans, they struggle to get ahead… which is anything but encouraging.
Harsh working conditions
The next day, we visited Kharkhorin market, UB’s second largest outdoor market, located on the other side of the city. The wares there were slightly different: I saw lots of shoes, but also an eclectic collection of hardware parts, sinks, ropes, tools, and other random second-hand items.
We had trouble locating one of the two borrowers we had to meet, so we wandered around for some time looking for her. In the meantime we met and chatted with Saranchimeg, who had used her loan to increase her supply of winter boots. We had been outside for about 45 minutes by the time we finished chatting with her, and I thought my fingers and toes might fall off. It must have been around -25oC that day with the sharp wind whipping through the stalls. But my thoughts were with the market’s vendors who stand out there all day long, day in and day out. My translator friend assured me that, just because they’ve lived in Mongolia their whole lives, it doesn’t make the cold is any easier for them to bear. I was humbled by how hard they work.
The reality for taxi drivers
We also visited with some taxi drivers. While a male taxi driver may not be one of the sexiest loans on Kiva’s website, you should know how hard these people work to support their families, just like anyone else. And for what? Being a taxi driver is a tough way to make a living in UB: A one-kilometre ride will earn a driver about 1,500 Tugriks (or 1.07 USD).
Moreover, the competition is stiff. Since cars have become ubiquitous in Mongolia’s capital, everyone has become a taxi driver. It’s an overhang from the early days of capitalism, when cars were not that common and the city’s residents would help each other out by giving rides. Now, you see people on the streets with their hand out all the time, and it usually only takes a few minutes for a car to pull over.
Another borrower we met lived in one of the outer ger districts, the slums of the city which lack basic services like running water and sanitation. He was middle-aged and had taken out a housing loan, but he told us that he had been a driver under the socialist regime. He explained that he had had much difficulty in finding employment in his profession. Recently, though, he has started applying for driver jobs again. It’s a mystery to me how he has managed to make ends meet over the years.
Survival of the fittest?
It’s easy to think that people don’t work because they’re too lazy, or because they simply refuse to accept lower-paying positions. This may be true in some cases. But there may also be more to the issue than meets the eye. Mongolia had its Revolution and transition to a market economy in the early 1990s and it seems the transition was difficult for those who were brought up and educated in the socialist era: Many of their skills and experiences have not translated well in the new economy. While a lot of the leadership I’ve seen in white collar jobs are shockingly young—in their late 20s or early 30s—street and market vendors tend to be in their 50s or older. And for many of them, their wares include no more than a couple handfuls of gum and candy, which can’t possibly bring in that much at the end of the day.
Maybe skills training is needed to support these people… or maybe it’s not that simple. Imagine being in your 40s or 50s and getting trained (or competing for jobs) alongside people who are a whole generation younger than you. And the longer you stay out of the workforce, the less confidence you generally have to return to it. One colleague of mine surmised that perhaps self-employment is the way to go for these people.
The fork in the road
Of course, this reflects only one facet of urban poverty here. Another, and perhaps larger, driver is the massive migration of traditional nomadic herders to the capital, as zuuds—extremely harsh winters—have killed off the millions of animals on which they depend for their livelihoods.
Mongolia has gone through some incredible changes over the past several years, thanks to the discovery of the largest unexploited reserve of copper, gold and silver in the world. Roads have appeared where they previously didn’t exist; herders have disappeared from the streets of UB; shiny new buildings have gone up; inflation has gone through the roof. It’s poised to be one of the fastest growing economies in the world in 2013.
There is immense potential for large-scale economic development and poverty alleviation in Mongolia. Microfinance is helping to tie things over, but how the country handles big issues such as corruption will ultimately determine whether the spoils will be shared by many. So far, everything I’ve taken in only seems to have raised more questions. I’ve only scratched the surface in terms of grasping the complex economic factors at work in this country, much less understanding the solutions.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?”
- 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.
- 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.
- Performances and shows. Church, school, college and office events bring people together to practice for dance performances, beauty contests, sports contests, etc.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
After an easy trip. I arrive to Accra, Ghana. The first feeling you have when you step out of the plane is an intense hot an humidity, and this in when you miss the snow at home.
It is 8 PM and the Ghanian national football team is playing the semifinals of the African Cup against Burkina Faso. The whole country is mobilized. I can hear the screams all along the airport. For the moment they are drawing, but with good opportunites. Maybe it is because of the macth that taxi drivers are behaving in a foolish way. I asked one of them about a hostel I knew, and he answers me he takes me there without any problem. I jumped on the taxi with all my stuff, we move forward few meters and he starts asking everyone where the hostel is. I ask him if he truly knows where it is, and he answers me no.
I make the same process with another taxi and it happens completely the same, till a kind woman called Evelyn, offers me her help. She told me she knew a hostel not far from her home. I relied on her and her little son John.
After a few minutes drive we arrive to the hostel. It was not as cheap as I expected, but it is 10 am, I am exhausted and the last thing I want to do is wandering in an African city of 3,5 million habitants. I go straight to bed.
The day after everything is the first time for me.
My first bedroom
Mi first sight of Accra
My first bathroom
My first coconut
My first meal
My first defeat.
I realize Ghana lost in penalties. It is in that moment when I remind they almost are the first African country in reaching Worldcup semifinals. An Uruguayan player´s hand and the latter missed penalty of a Ghanian player impeded it.
Bad luck in football continues for me. In El Salvador I attended with Fundación Campo Microfinance the qualifying game between Costa Rica and El Salvador. Of course, they lost.
But this event do not remove the smiles from them. They know what is suffering in the field and out of it. This is why they give thanks for reaching so far and they will try again harder than ever next year.
The day after the defeat, some supporter demonstraiting their devotion for the national team.
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
When I hear the words “Christmas” and “end of the year” my mind quickly thinksabout Christmas trees, baby Jesus, cold, family, presents, snow and many more. When I ask the people from Centroamerica whatcomes to their mind with these same words they mostly answer the same, the only thing they change is they don´t say cold neither snow, and they normally include beach or river instead of them.
1st January in Rivas, Nicaragua
After tough 3 months of work in El Salvador with Fundación Campo, Padecomsm and Integral I have just taken deserved holidays. Destination: South of Nicaragua. The reason for choosing it is because of its amazing beaches full of waves, its economic price, its cultural wealth and its proximity. And one more reason. Because it is close to the border with Costa Rica. My 3 months visa expired on 1st January. After seeing the endless points required by the Salvadorean government I decided to leave the C4 (EL Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala) in order to extend my days in El Salvador without being fined.
It was not an easy trip to destination. I waited for 5 hours to thebus that took me from El Salvador to Costa Rica (the engine broke before picking me up), 15 hours trip, 4 borders crossed (El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica) with payments in all of them and an unforgettable night with 1000 ants in a room in the border of Peñas Blancas. Without doubts, the worst room I have ever slept in. I highly recommend not to sleep in a border, it is not a good atmosphere to sleep in.
But, ¿How important is it when the image you see when you wake up is this?
From Nicaragua I wish you a happy new year and a lot of Kiva love to all of you!
Salvadorean people are strict Christians and their most important date in their calendar is Christmas Eve. They celebrate the Birth of baby Jesus. They live this day quite similar to American people: meeting the whole family and sharing together.
This is how 24th December was:
Wake up! Don´t ask me why we get up so early, I don´t understand it yet.
We killed 2 hens, we plucked them and quartered them, with all the preparation they need.
Go to the bank to withdraw the present our brothers & sisters that live in USA has made us in form of remittances. Long queue and slow employees. We wait for an hour.
Go to the market with mami Valentina to buy the last things me need to prepare the dinner. It is crazy how busy was the market!
Come back home alone because I lost my mami in the market. We continue preparing the hens.
We eat eggs with frijoles.
My sister Marcia prepares Honduran Torrejas and sanwiches.
Everything is ready. Lets prepare and stay with friends and family around the area.
Papa Chente, mami Valentina, hermana Marcia and me have dinner together. The menu is roast chicken with thin corn Salvadorean pancakes and pineapple juice.
Family members begin to arrive. We talk, dance, laugh, chat, hug…altogether!
We go to buy fireworks and start exploding them.
We hug every single relative and friend, we wish them merry Christmas and continue exploding fireworks!
We go to bed after good dances of Cumbia, bachata (my favourite one) merengue, salsa…I get lost with dance names and I don´t distinguish them very well.
Merry Christmas and happy 2013!
Laura Sellmansberger | KF19 | Uganda
Roughly 1.6 billion people in the world do not have access to reliable electricity. Lack of power is a complex issue that results in countless other problems, and it is both a cause and an effect of unremitting poverty. Without light, children are unable to do their homework and study. Midwives must perform deliveries in the dark. Children, especially girls, often spend hours a day collecting firewood to be used for light and heat instead of going to school. Mothers are forced to cook with kerosene, which is expensive, toxic to the lungs, and a major cause of fires in the home.
Solar Sister, Kiva’s newest partner in Uganda, is a social enterprise committed to tackling energy poverty as well as creating economic opportunity for women. Using an Avon-style distribution system, Solar Sister sells solar lamps through local women in remote parts of Uganda. These entrepreneurs are provided with training and marketing support, and use their own networks of friends and family to distribute solar lighting products throughout their villages, providing their communities with clean energy, empowering themselves, and providing their families with additional income.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to accompany Solar Sister on a trip to the villages of Central Uganda, where we met two Solar Sister Entrepreneurs and their customers.
Meet Florence, Solar Sister Entrepreneur
Florence is 38 years old. She has four children under her care (two biological children and two whom she adopted after their own mother passed away). She runs a small computer center in the town of Buwama where she teaches computer literacy courses and also provides typing services. Since becoming a Solar Sister Entrepreneur, she has enjoyed brining light to others in her community.
Meet Agnes, Florence’s Customer
As a small-holder farmer, Agnes grows vegetables and raises cows. She is also community nurse and runs a small health clinic in her home. Her biggest challenge as a nurse has been lack of light. Without electricity, she is unable to work after dark – even though health emergencies do not become any less common after nightfall.
Agnes purchased a simple solar light system from Florence and now has light in a few rooms in her house. Since she installed the lights, she has been able to begin seeing patients at night.
Agnes understands the dangers of kerosene more than most people. A few years ago, her teenage daughter was studying in bed by the light of a kerosene lantern. Her mosquito net caught fire, causing severe burns to most of her body. She feels very lucky that her daughter survived, and she is glad that her children can now read at night without having to worry about potential accidents.
Meet Jane-Francis, Solar Sister Entrepreneur
Jane-Francis is 48 years old. She has eight children. She primarily earns the income with which she supports her family through farming. Jane-Francis became a Solar Sister in order to earn extra money that she puts towards school fees for her children.
Meet Jane, Jane-Francis’ customer
Jane is a mother and smallholder farmer. She is also a village nurse. Since purchasing a lamp from Jane-Francis, she has been able to continue seeing patients after dark. She also says that having light at night helps her stay awake for her favorite radio show, which she likes to listen to on her battery-powered radio every evening at 10:00 pm. She is currently saving money to buy another lamp for her home.
Lend to a Solar Sister Entrepreneur today on Kiva.org, and help her not only to increase her own income, but also to bring light, hope and opportunity to her community.
Abhishesh Adhikari | KF19 | Kyrgyzstan
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.
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:
Laura Sellmansberger | KF19 | Uganda
Uganda offers its visitors a wide variety of foods to sample, but many would agree that the most delicious of these is the rolex. What is a rolex, you ask? I have heard many people describe the Ugandan rolex as something similar to the “breakfast burrito,” a peculiar food item that can be found at a number of American fast food chains. For purposes of basic mental imagery, this description may not be too far off; however, I personally believe that this comparison fails to give the rolex the credit that it deserves. That’s why I have decided to dedicate an entire blog post to this uniquely Ugandan culinary delight.
A rolex costs 1,500 Ugandan Shillings ($0.60) and is available on almost every street corner in Kampala. The name “rolex” has nothing to do with the luxury Swiss watch company, but rather relates to the ingredients of this scrumptious delicacy and the way it is made: roll + eggs = rolex.
The rolex first appeared about a decade ago in the Kampala suburb of Wandegaya near Makerere University, Kampala’s oldest institution of higher education. After appearing in Wandegaya, the late-night student snack took the region by storm and has since become a staple street food throughout all of Central Uganda.
Here I will outline the basic steps in the creation of a rolex.
1. First, the chapati is made. Chapati is a tortilla-like flatbread made from flour, water and salt. Chapati was first brought to Uganda by Indian migrant workers in the early 1900s. The dough is rolled thin, placed on a circular frying pan, and cooked until it has reached a solid yet soft consistency.
2. Next, the omelette is mixed. Two eggs are blended together with pieces of fresh tomato, cabbage, onions, bell peppers and salt.
3. On the same pan where the chapati was cooked, the omelette is fried.
4. The omelette is placed on the chapati and is topped with cold tomato slices and salt. The chapati is then rolled into a burrito-like form.
And that’s how a Ugandan rolex is made. I can’t think of a more delicious way to spend $0.60. Bon appétit!
Laura Sellmansberger is a member of the 19th class of Kiva Fellows, working at Grameen Foundation AppLab as well as two other nontraditional Kiva partners.
A road trip with FUNDECOCA
It’s hard to believe it’s been a month since I arrived in San Carlos and started working at my second MFI. FUNDECOCA is one of Kiva’s newest partners… and they are really excited about working with Kiva!
My fellowship here started off with a bang as I was whisked off on day trips (more…)
Few days ago, an American couple that collaborate with Kiva translating loans sent me an email. The team of volunteers they belong to is one of the most important pieces in Kiva (there are nearly 400 volunteers around the world). They make possible all loans, no matter where they come from, are accessible in English.
This couple not only translate loans but also lend money to entrepreneurs through Kiva, especially to El Salvador. Few years ago, they lived for two years in a little Salvadorean village working as volunteers. When they went back to the USA, they did not want to lose contact with this region and they were looking forward to keep helping in the distance. This is how they found in Kiva the best way to do it. They told me translating loans is easy to combine with their current jobs and you control how much you can do.
They told me they would stay for a week in El Salvador visiting some friends they left in the past and they asked me if it was possible to visit any of the borrowers they translated or invested in. The idea of an encounter between borrower and lender captivated me, and we started to work on it. (Not as easy as it may look: transport, communication and logistics is a different story in deep El Salvador).
After some steps we managed to make the challenge of putting borrowers, Mr and Mrs Luehm, and lender, Mrs Delfina, together. It was one of the best moments I have had in El Salvador. Seeing the encounter among these people and the conversation they had was wonderful.
Photo taken by Carlos, credit advisor from Padecomsm, on 23rd December 2011, when Mrs Delfina asked for a loan.
Photo taken on 22nd November 2012. The encounteer.
Nowadays, with initiatives like Kiva ´s, it is not possible to say either “ I want to help , but I don´t know how nor who” or “I dont want to help because I don´t know where my money goes to and the impact it creates”.
In Kiva, you can find more than 2400 stories and pictures of people/families in need, from every sector and from more than 60 countries. Every euro you lend through Kiva reaches the person you choose, and because it is a loan, not a donation, it bets on the sustainability of the project and consequently his life.
Your small amount, 25 dollars, it´s a lot for them.
Kiva, loans that change lives…
…And brings people´s lives together.
Here are all participants in the process of a Kiva loan: Borrower (Mrs Delfina in the center),Microfinance organization, Padecomsms (Rubidia, Kiva Coordinatos, and Carlos, credit advisor, in the left) and Kiva (represented by KF19 Juan).
Thanks Lehm couple and Padecomsm for this magic encounter!
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
Eileen Flannigan is a Kiva fellow (19th class) serving in Manipur, India with the micro finance organization, WSDS Initiate. Support our Indian partners here, join the Indian lending team, WSDS lending team or get a holiday gift card for someone special!
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
There is a famous song that defines Salvadoreans as people that eat everything, enjoy everything and do everything. I have checked these lyrics are right. There is a word usually used for referring to Salvadoreans, this is “rebuscados”. If someone is “rebuscado” it means he does the impossible to achieve what he needs: paying back a loan, help a relative or feed his family. As they say, they can even sell rocks to find a way to survive.
Like many countries in the American continent, poverty affects great part of the population and a job is extremely difficult to find. This is why many people decide to be entrepreneurs, because the only opportunities they find are the ones they create.
But even if they want to start a small business it is extremely difficult to do it. Most of the people don´t have enough money to begin and they have no access to banks. These institutions normally require having a job, presenting an electricity bill, having properties to set as guarantees, etc and the majority of these humble people do not satisfy these requirements. And even if they do, the high interest rates they have to pay makes the business unprofitable. The other day one woman told me she had a one-year loan with a well-known bank and she had to pay back the same amount of interests and capital. Crazy.
One more thing Salvadorean entrepreneurs face are maras, or also known in the USA as gangs. It is the cancer of El Salvador. They are groups of young people (10 years to 30) that control the areas where they live. They oblige businesses to pay a rent, arguing that they will protect them from other people. If they don’t pay the amount, they can end badly.
There are several options:
1. Paying the rent.
2. Not paying, close the business and move to another area.
3.Not paying and continue with the business. If they do this, there will probably be a death in their family.
And this is real live in El Salvador. Yesterday we were visiting a client that had one of the most successful businesses in “Puerto del Triunfo”. Gangs required her to pay a rent that was higher than the amount of the loan she received few months ago. She paid what she could (the same amount as the loan,1000$) , but this was not enough for the gangs. Her son started to receive serious threats to kill him. She had no option. She closed the business and moved to a different area. Now she and her family hardly live with a small pupusas business.
Not easy the life they have and the risks they face. But despite all these difficulties, they continue fighting for their families and dreaming in a better future. Thanks to organisations like Fundación Campo, Padecomsm and Apoyo Integral that collaborate with Kiva, they receive those opportunities they were looking for.
These are loans that change lives.
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 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.
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.
Abhishesh Adhikari | KF19 | Kyrgyzstan
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.
By Marion Walls, KF19, Tanzania
There’s a buzz about Group Loans here in Dar Es Salaam! And now that I see them in action every day, I’m sold too! I’m volunteering as a Kiva Fellow at Tujijenge Tanzania where all Kiva loans are Group loans, so I’ve learned considerably more about them in the last six weeks. It’s become clear why Group Loans are a mainstay of microcredit: they fill a particular niche for borrowers.
Let me show you what I’ve learned…
Borrower groups at Tujijenge are made up of around fourteen members who know each other, though there may be as many as twenty or as few as eight. Groups choose their own names – and names run the gamut from the practical “Mt Rungwe”, to the motivational “Breakthrough”, and confident “Top Class”. Their names are just the first indication that each group is unique… It’s been immediately apparent when I’ve met them that each group has it’s own personality: some are shy and quiet, others cheerful and full of energy!
Group members don’t necessarily operate the same type of business as each other. One may have a fruit stall in a market;
another may own a general store;
while a third raises (inquisitive) ducks!
Group members don’t all borrow the same amount as one another either – each member’s loan amount is dictated by both the amount they requested and their personal loan history at Tujijenge.
I’ve participated in a number of Group loan disbursements at Tujijenge’s main branch. I’ve been delighted to meet members on their tenth loan cycle, borrowing Tsh 1,800,000 (about US$ 1125), because it confirms for me that the loans provide genuine benefit. I’ve been equally happy to meet members who’ve only recently joined a group and are on their first loan cycle, borrowing Tsh 80,000 (about US$ 50). Wait a minute…. surely that can’t be right? $ 50! I’ve never seen an Individual loan for $ 50 on Kiva. And this is precisely the point: Group Loans are special. They enable borrowers to start borrowing.
This thrills me – I’m here, seeing borrowers stepping onto the first rung of a ladder that could lead upward out of poverty! New group members are borrowing $ 50 to boost their fledgling business, or to make a lump sum payment on an item such as school fees. The main reason these borrowers join a Group is that members guarantee each others’ repayments, so small loan amounts are accessible to those who don’t yet have physical collateral. (Tied to this fact, too, is that members don’t need spousal approval for participation in a Group loan – an important consideration in a culture where gender equality has not been the traditional norm.)
Group loans also provide a good environment for nurturing new borrowers. Established group members can help new borrowers learn the skills and discipline associated with repaying a loan, all within the safety-net of the group guarantee. And, I was fascinated to learn, a Group is a self-regulating mechanism against the scourge of over-indebtedness. Group members actively discourage each other from taking out simultaneous loans from multiple organizations because they know they’ll personally be on the hook for paying back the Group loan if a fellow member cannot.
Then there are the intangible benefits to a Group loan that I’ve discovered while attending Group meetings!
Groups meet on a weekly or bi-weekly basis in a location convenient to them (but that entails several hours’ journey on a hot and supremely overcrowded dalla dalla for the Tujijenge loan officer and Kiva Fellow…), to register repayments with their loan officer. At one meeting, I ask the Group Chairman if hers is a tough job and she sighs: “Yes, following up with members who haven’t repaid is the hardest part.” I ask her why she’s persevered in the role for five years, and she answers without hesitation: “Leadership!” She’s referring to leadership within her group, as well as within her community. It’s her very practical way of bettering the community in which she lives.
Likewise, the young Treasurer is demonstrating her accounting skills and acting as a role model to new borrowers within the group, whilst also developing her status outside it.
And another group member, (an irrepressible character who offered me a two-week home stay to get my Swahili vocabulary up to scratch!), has the opportunity for the group interaction she so obviously thrives on. It’s a big part of the reason she was a founding member of the group five years ago…
But it’s not just idle chit chat at a Group meeting; the support members gain from one another is so highly valued that many well-established borrowers choose to stay in a Group long after they are eligible for “graduation” to an Individual loan. In this case – and in a nice paradox – the Group loan enables borrowers to access some of the largest loan amounts on offer. So chalk up one more winning attribute: Group loans empower the borrowers that started with them to keep moving upward!
If you’d like to loan to Tujijenge’s Group borrowers, you can do so here.
As we say in Tanzania: Karibu sana! You are very welcome!
With few exceptions, Kiva borrowers have greeted my visits to their homes and businesses with the sentiment captured in the blog title, that is to say with skepticism and unease. Visits can start awkwardly and end awkwardly. But sometimes they inspire; borrowers graciously share their story – their successes and struggles, their hopes and fears – with a complete stranger.
Trekking to La Danta
Two weeks ago I headed out for the last of my borrower verifications with EDESA, the microfinance institution where I’ve been working. All week long I anticipated my trip to Golfito, which is way down in southern Costa Rica, in the Puntarenas province. I asked my colleagues about our portfolio there and peppered them with questions like: ‘Have you ever been to Golfito? How far is it from the Panamanian border? I heard it’s raining hard in Golfito now, do you think it will clear up by the time we go?’ (more…)
Alice Reeves – Timor-Leste
East Timor, Timor-Leste, Timor-Lorosaé…
Literal meaning is important here, and names are not chosen frivolously. Leste means ‘east’ in Portuguese. In the local language, Tetum, Lorosaé means ‘east’ – literally ‘sunrise’. For those of you familiar with Bahasa, the main language of Indonesia, the word Timor can be translated as, well, ‘east’.
Just keep heading towards the rising sun, one day you will eventually arrive at the shores of this rocky, dusty, mountainous island just off the northern coast of Australia, at the very tail end of the Indonesian archipelago. It’s definitely a long way east.
Luckily I’m here in Bolivia for one of the most important celebrations of the year so I jumped at the chance to witness the Todos Santos holiday up close and personal. My previous knowledge was limited to piecemeal notions imported from Mexico, but here in Bolivia this special celebration takes on its own particular traditions dating back centuries and is deeply rooted in Andean cosmology.
Life and Death: A Revolving Door
Long before the Spanish arrived, the Andean people viewed life and death as a continuum. Each spring these two worlds converge — the dead return from the underworld (ukhupacha) to momentarily enjoy the pleasures of life and to deliver happiness and abundance to loved ones in the living world (kaypacha).
This intersection of life and death is the Day of the Dead; its celebration coincides with the Catholic All Saints’ Day holiday in Bolivia.
Todos Santos ceremonializes the never-ending succession of arrival and departure, of renewal and disintegration, of the changing cycles in the natural world around us. It accompanies the coming wet season, known in Quechua as Aya Markay Killa, when the rains return after the annual period of drought to nourish the dormant crops and begin a new season of growth.
In Andean society, Todos Santos is a celebration of reciprocity. Knowing the returning dead will be famished and very thirsty after a year in the dry earth, family members prepare the mast’aku, an offering of favorite foods and beverages to be shared during the festivities. This feast nourishes the bones of the deceased, who in turn bring rains that will ensure abundant crops and livelihood for loved ones.
Receiving the Dead: A Feast for All
Todos Santos begins on November 1st with almuerzo, the filling midday meal, when the dead are welcomed home. The family meal is celebrated in style with rich flavors, prayer, amusing recollections and tales, music and togetherness.
The celebration turns public on November 2nd when farewell festivities move to the burial grounds. Streets leading to the cemetery host a lively fair.
Flower vendors, milliners, clowns, artists cram the sidewalks. Food stalls offer ice cream, orange juice, grilled snacks and colorful candies to celebrants en route to the burial grounds.
Flowers and Food
As families gather in the cemetery, the first order of business is to spruce up the grave sites. Vases are washed while trash bins overflow with faded flowers and the stems of their replacement bouquets.
Next, another mast’aku (offertory table) is arranged with sentimental items such as a photographs, flowers, toys and personal mementos. The main contribution is food: dried fruit, pineapples, oranges, sodas and chicha (fermented corn beer) – an appetizing tribute to the dead.
Plentiful masitas (baked goods) adorn every mast’aku: sweet breads in the shape of ladders (representing the Catholic tradition of ascending to Heaven), animals (such as llamas, snakes and birds) and doll-like t’antawawas (literally “bread children”) which date back to Incan times.
Earlier in the week the markets of Cochabamba were brimming with vendors selling these masitas. I watched buyers busily fill their shopping bags in preparation for the Todos Santos festivities.
I found the heaping stacks of baked goods a marvel, more interesting than the synthetic aisles of manufactured Halloween candies found back home. I now understand why Señora Celestina (A Kiva borrower in La Paz) has been so busy with her baking business!
Supplication and Song
Reverence imbues the entire cemetery despite the outward and celebratory nature of Todos Santos. Everywhere families join in prayer as children’s voices are heard around every corner: “…pray for us now and in the time of our death…”
Santa María, Madre de Dios,
ruega por nosotros pecadores,
ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte.
Partnered with prayer, of course, is music: guitar players and groups of roving mariachi bands play Andean folk tunes, trumpeters blow a mournful rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”, and children with pan flutes sing rueful melodies before bowed families.
Bidding Farewell to the Dead
All these ceremonial elements are crucial to the Todos Santos parting ritual that takes place on November 2nd. The abundant food, music and prayer energize the spirits as they return once again to the underworld. Nourished and adored by loved ones, the dead bid farewell to their families and leave the world of the living, ending the precious reunion.
In another year, a new cycle of growth and abundance will again join the two worlds of kaypacha and ukhupacha. Todos Santos will be celebrated once more with all the beauty and vitality that Bolivia inspires.