Posts tagged ‘Kiva’

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

Of Baby Animals and Borrowers in Selenge

Spring has arrived in Mongolia! That means warmer weather (afternoons creeping closer and closer to the double digits)… and, of course, baby animals!

I had the opportunity to travel to Selenge aimag (province) last week with XacBank, one of Kiva’s partners in Mongolia. (more…)

13 April 2013 at 04:33

A Glimpse of Microfinance and Urban Poverty in Ulaanbaatar

Kiva loans being promoted at Transcapital

Munkhbayar, the Kiva Coordinator, promoting Kiva loans at Transcapital

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?

Narantuul market, the largest outdoor market in UB

Narantuul, the largest outdoor market in UB (above), and what you’ll find there (below)

vendors at Narantuul market

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.

Bayasgalan and her clothing shop

Bayasgalan and her clothing shop

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

Kharkhorin market (above) and some of the items for sale (below)

Kharkhorin market (above) and some of the items for sale (below)

vendors at Kharkhorin market

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.

Saranchimeg was busy selling her winter boots when we stopped by

Saranchimeg was busy selling her winter boots when we stopped by

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

Batbileg, a taxi driver, in the car he purchased with the help of his loan

Batbileg, a taxi driver, in the car he purchased with the help of his loan

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).

I need a ride, someone... Anyone?

I need a ride, someone… Anyone?

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?

an elderly lady I often see selling gum and candy on the street, even on the coldest winter days

an elderly lady I often see selling gum and candy on the street, even on the coldest winter days

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.

some people sell fruit, others sell services such as the use of a telephone or a scale (like this lady here)

some people sell fruit, others sell services such as the use of a telephone or a scale (like this lady here)

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.

28 March 2013 at 09:00

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

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

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:
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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:
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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

My first everything in Ghana

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

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Mi first sight of Accra

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My first bathroom

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My first coconut

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My first meal

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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.

Captura de pantalla 2013-02-08 a la(s) 21.06.38

The day after the defeat, some supporter demonstraiting their devotion for the national team.

14 February 2013 at 09:00

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

Different beginning and end of the year in Central America

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.

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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.DCIM100GOPRO

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.

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But, ¿How important  is it when the image you see when you wake up is this?

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Captura de pantalla 2013-01-05 a la(s) 09.27.11

From Nicaragua I wish you a happy new year and a lot of Kiva love to all of you!

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5 January 2013 at 07:51 1 comment

24th of December in San Salvador

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:

5:30

Wake up! Don´t ask me why we get up so early, I don´t understand it yet.

6:30

We killed 2 hens, we plucked them and quartered them, with all the preparation they need.

Captura de pantalla 2012-12-25 a la(s) 19.39.14

8:00

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.

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9:30

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!

Captura de pantalla 2012-12-25 a la(s) 19.41.11

11:00

Come back home alone because I lost my mami in the market. We continue preparing the hens.

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12:30

We eat eggs with frijoles.

15:00

My sister Marcia prepares Honduran Torrejas and sanwiches.

Captura de pantalla 2012-12-25 a la(s) 20.11.19

17:00

Everything is ready. Lets prepare and stay with friends and family around the area.

19:00

Papa Chente, mami Valentina, hermana Marcia and me have dinner together. The menu is roast chicken  with thin corn Salvadorean pancakes and pineapple juice.

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21:00

Family members begin to arrive. We talk, dance, laugh, chat, hug…altogether!

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22:00

We go to buy fireworks and start exploding them.

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24:00

We hug every single relative and friend, we wish them merry Christmas and continue exploding fireworks!

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3:00

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.

Captura de pantalla 2012-12-25 a la(s) 20.14.24

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Merry Christmas and happy 2013!

31 December 2012 at 10:00

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

Laura Sellmansberger | KF19 | Uganda

Earth at night

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

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

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

Meet Florence, Solar Sister Entrepreneur

Florence, Solar Sister Entrepreneur

Florence, Solar Sister Entrepreneur

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

Meet Agnes, Florence’s Customer

Solar Sister Entrepreneur Florence and her happy customer, Agnes

Solar Sister Entrepreneur Florence and her happy customer, Agnes

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

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

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

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

Agnes shows us her new light

Agnes shows us her new light

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

Meet Jane-Francis, Solar Sister Entrepreneur

Jane-Francis, Solar Sister Entrepreneur

Jane-Francis, Solar Sister Entrepreneur

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

Meet Jane, Jane-Francis’ customer

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

Solar Sister Entrepreneur Jane-Francis and her customer, Jane

Solar Sister Entrepreneur Jane-Francis and her customer, Jane

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

11 December 2012 at 20:40

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.

(more…)

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
(more…)

5 December 2012 at 22:31

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

Laura Sellmansberger | KF19 | Uganda

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

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

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

My favorite rolex stand in Kampala

My favorite rolex stand in Kampala

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

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

Frying the chapati

Making the chapati

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

Mixing the omelette

Mixing the omelette

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

Cooking the omelette

Cooking the omelette

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

Putting on the finishing touches

Putting on the finishing touches

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

The finished product

The finished product

~~~

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

4 December 2012 at 05:45 4 comments

Costa Rica? …Costa Lot!

my new 'hood

my new ‘hood in San Carlos

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…)

3 December 2012 at 08:00 2 comments

The magic encounter of all Kiva loan participants in El Salvador.

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!

2 December 2012 at 09:00 1 comment

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)

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28 November 2012 at 20:00

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

Giving Thanks for New Opportunities in Benin and Togo

The Kouroumlakiwe Group in Togo received a loan from WAGES to fund their farming activities

The Kouroumlakiwe Group in Togo received a special credit loan from WAGES. This loan does not have to repaid until after their crop has been harvested.

This Thanksgiving I may not be eating turkey and pumpkin pie, but I have many reasons to be thankful. I am grateful to work with two Kiva Partners in Togo and Benin who go above and beyond to provide services to poor clients who previously had no access to formal credit.

Reaching the Poorest of the Poor

In December, 2011, Kiva launched social performance badges as a way to measure and maximize the good created by Kiva partners.  Alidé, a Kiva partner based in Cotonou, Benin, has already earned 5 of the 7 Kiva Social Performance badges, making it one of Kiva’s most socially conscious partners.  For partners to merit Kiva’s “Anti-Poverty focus” badge, they must target poorer populations despite additional costs and difficulties. This week I saw firsthand how Alidé credit agents are driving long distances, in the pouring rain, to do just that.

Visiting Ze, Benin’s Poorest Community 

The Partnership with Alidé is a BIG DEAL for the Ze Community.

Monday morning, it was time to make my last visit to verify client information for Kiva. I headed off to Alidé’s most distant agency in Allada, Benin (a two and a half hour moto ride away from Alidé’s main office in Cotonou). Once I arrived in Allada, I set off with loan officer Aubin to visit the group Titomagba.

During the hour long ride there, Aubin explained to me that the group is located very far from the office in Ze, the poorest community in Benin. The community has no banks (the closest is in Allada) making it very challenging to access financial services.

Aubin uses the red moto in the background of this photo to visit Alidé’s clients. He works with clients in Ze, one of Benin’s most isolated and under-served regions.

When we arrived, we were greeted by the 16 members of the Titomagba group along with various children, family members, friends, including the Chef of the community.

After everyone introduced themselves and I explained why this Yovo (white person in Fon, the local language) was visiting their neighborhood, I began my line of questions to verify information for Kiva.  I asked the group members to rate their satisfaction with their loan on a scale of 1 to 10. One indicates that they are not at all satisfied and ten indicates that they are extremely satisfied. Aubin translated this question into Fon and each group member’s response included the word “DIX” or “OWO” (TEN in French and Fon, respectively).

The Chef explained that before Alidé started working in Ze in April, there had been no way to access loans with affordable interest rates. The women in the Titomagba group are the first members of the community to have the opportunity to receive an affordable loan.

The group members used their Kiva loans to buy food products such as bananas, rice, and palm oil.  The women prepare and re-sell these items for a higher price, increasing their income and earning potential. The group members have paid back 71% of their loan and plan to begin a second loan immediately after the first has been repaid. The women of the Titomagba Group hope to use their increased income to contribute the expenses of their family and provide food and schooling for their children.

Some of the children of the Titomagba Group.

Improving the Lives of Farmers in Togo 

Back in Togo, Kiva’s Partner Women and Associations for Gain both Economic and Social (WAGES) has been increasing its offerings of high-impact loans tailored to support under-served farmers. These agriculture loans offer a flexible repayment cycle which allows farmers to start repaying their loans AFTER their crops have been harvested and they have begun generating income from the sale of their produce. This initial grace period permits farmers to focus on the production of their harvests instead of worrying about their loan repayments.

Adjoa received a loan from WAGES in April to buy fertilizer and seeds.

Learn more about Adjoa and the lives of other farmers in Togo here.

THANK YOU from the Kiva Family! 

This Thanksgiving I am grateful for the Kiva lenders who are helping to alleviate poverty in Togo, Benin, and all over the world.

Give a Kiva Borrower a reason to be THANKFUL:

Click here to make a loan through Alidé in Benin

Or help a borrower through WAGES in Togo

From Kiva, WAGES, Alidé and our family of borrowers, I thank you for your continued support.

On est ensemble!

(We are together)

Holly Sarkissian (KF19) is a Kiva Fellow, working with WAGES in Lomé, Togo and Alidé in Cotonou, Benin.

22 November 2012 at 06:57

Rebuscándose in El Salvador. An obstacle race.

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.

16 November 2012 at 07:35

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

Grameen Foundation and Kiva: Partnering to Bring Life-Changing Agricultural Information to Rural Communities in Uganda

Laura Sellmansberger | KF19 | Uganda

CKWs training for their new roles

CKWs in Masaka practice using their new equipment (photo credit Ravi Agarwal)

Kiva recognizes the unique power of the interest-free capital it provides through its lenders. The zero-interest aspect of Kiva’s loans enables its partners to act boldly and to try new things, to go the extra mile to reach new groups of people, and to fund loans that Kiva characterizes as highly catalytic. Kiva uses the term highly catalytic to describe initiatives that not only help to provide financial independence to the poor, but also produce far-reaching effects that transform the lives of the people in the borrowers’ communities. Such loans may contribute to green energy and solar power endeavors, education initiatives, water sanitation projects or even agro-technology advancements.

Grameen Foundation is an organization that is going above and beyond to bring highly catalytic programs to Uganda. For this reason, Kiva has chosen to make Grameen Foundation AppLab its first nontraditional partner here. Starting this week, participants in Grameen Foundation’s Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) program will be featured on Kiva.org.

The CKW program is made up of a network of peer-nominated “farmer leaders” across Uganda who use mobile devices to share expert agricultural information with their small-holder farmer neighbors living on less than $2 a day. Community Knowledge Workers use the information provided by applications on their smartphones to help their fellow farmers improve crop yields and to reduce the costs of adopting new agricultural practices.

The CKWs also collect information from the farmers in their communities through phone-based surveys. This information is then used to help other poverty-focused organizations that Grameen Foundation works with, including government organizations and NGOs, improve and expand support services for farmers. The CKWs are paid small monthly salaries based on the number of information searches and surveys they complete. These salaries supplement – and sometimes even double – the amount that the CKWs earn as smallholder farmers themselves.

What a CKW might see on his or her phone

As a Kiva Fellow working at Grameen Foundation, I have had the opportunity to observe the mechanisms of this project first-hand, and to see just how much work goes into the maintenance and expansion of this incredible program. Over the course of the past five weeks, I have accompanied Grameen Foundation field officers on multiple trips to the central Ugandan district of Masaka. During these trips, I was able to see the various steps taken while selecting and preparing a CKW for his or her new role.

1. Community Mobilization

During this critical phase, Grameen Foundation field officers first meet with community leaders in the area and explain the CKW program to them, as well as the positive change that it will bring to the community. After obtaining buy-in from these influential people (which is absolutely imperative to the success of the program), a time and place are then identified for a village meeting, which takes place about one week later. The village meeting can last anywhere from a few hours to the entire day. A Grameen Foundation field officer explains the CKW program to the attendees and ensures that the program will have adequate support from the community. After confirming this, a date and time are set for a recruitment meeting, during which a CKW will be selected to serve his or her village.

Grameen field officer Ian explains the CKW program to a group of villagers

Grameen Foundation field officer Ian Mubiru explains the CKW program during a village meeting

2. Recruitment

The recruitment meeting should be heavily attended. If enough people fail to show up to constitute a fair vote, the meeting must be rescheduled (this is quite common since time and information are managed in a very different manner here than you readers may be used to – I must say, the Grameen Foundation field officers are some of the most patient people I have ever met!). If enough people attend the meeting, then the nominations can begin. The Grameen Foundation field officer lists the prerequisites that an individual must have to effectively serve his or her community as a CKW, and also explains what kinds of additional qualities voters should look for in their candidate (someone who has served the community in the past, someone who is reliable and can be trusted, etc.). The nominees each make a speech touting their qualifications, and then the voting commences. Things can become quite heated at this stage, as people may have starkly different opinions on who should be selected for the position. After voting takes place, a winner is announced. A Grameen Foundation field officer then visits the CKW’s home to discuss the details of the position with his or her family, since the role is time-consuming and family support is essential.

CKW candidates make their speeches

CKW candidates make their speeches during a recruitment meeting

3. Training

After the CKWs have been selected by their communities, a training session is held for each district. I went to the four-day training in Masaka, which was attended by 47 CKWs from the surrounding villages. During training, CKWs are shown how to operate and take care of their materials (the smartphone, solar charging device and weighing scale). Innovative farming techniques are discussed and participants are prepped for their new roles as information agents and community leaders. The Grameen Foundation training team is absolutely extraordinary – they spend weeks at a time on the road, teach sessions late into the evening, and never lose their enthusiasm or patience. Since this is the first group of CKWs who are to be funded by Kiva loans, I also had the opportunity to give a presentation on Kiva and its backing of the CKW program. The response was incredible and the CKWs warmly showed their appreciation for Kiva’s support by giving me a wonderful handwritten letter on the last day of training.

CKW training in Masaka

CKW training in Masaka (photo credit Ravi Agarwal)

Explaning Kiva to the Masaka CKWs

Explaining Kiva to the Masaka CKWs (photo credit Ravi Agarwal)

CKWs practice using their new equipment

CKWs practice using the smartphones (photo credit Ravi Agarwal)

Some dedicated CKWs even brought their children with them to training

A few dedicated CKWs even brought their children with them to training                          (photo credit Ravi Agarwal)

Masaka CKWs express their thanks for Kiva's support

The Masaka CKWs express their appreciation for Kiva’s support

On the last day of training. Excitement is in the air!

The last day of training. There was so much excitement in the air!

The CKW initiative is a program that is truly in line with the broader mission of Grameen Foundation: to enable the poor, especially the poorest, to create a world without poverty. Information is power, and by creating access among rural farmers to information, Grameen Foundation empowers them to create better economic conditions for themselves, their families, and their communities. You can be part of these efforts, too – lend to a CKW today on Kiva.org!

~~~

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

12 November 2012 at 10:14 2 comments

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.

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11 November 2012 at 10:17

Group Loans: Filling a Particular Niche

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!

10 November 2012 at 18:00 2 comments

Visiting Kiva Borrowers in Honduras: Why is there a gringo in my house and is he leaving soon?

The roads that lead to Kiva borrowers: this one in good condition.

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.

(more…)

10 November 2012 at 07:00

Dear Lenders, Thank You from Costa Rica

thank you, Kiva

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…)

9 November 2012 at 09:35

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