Posts tagged ‘kiva.org’

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

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

Following a Kiva loan from Calgary to Dar es Salaam!

Marion Walls | KF19 | Tanzania

Marion_1

I’m on a quest to follow a Kiva loan from lender to borrower! How often have I dreamed of this whilst browsing my loans on a frosty winter weekend in Canada?  Now I have an ideal opportunity to do so as the Kiva Fellow in Tanzania, so I’ll take you along for the ride!

My directions are set when a friend emails from Calgary: “I donated to the Jaguar Group.  They’re asking for a loan in support of their beauty salon. I chose that one in honor of you – I figure you might want a haircut or a color given you are there for months!”  Too true; I’ve been in Tanzania since September and this Kiva fellowship has been rich and rewarding, but also tough, so I’m looking a little ragged…  And salons here offer beautifully intricate braids – why not give them a try?

I love the idea of making the personal connection between a Kiva lender in my hometown of Calgary, and a Kiva borrower here in Dar es Salaam!  I had the dubious distinction in KF19 Fellows’ class of traveling furthest to my placement, so this will be an opportunity to reel in some of that distance.  And what fun to report back to my friend on how his loan is working out here on the ground!  I immediately start making arrangements to meet Juliet, the featured borrower of Jaguar Group…

Lender’s city; borrower’s city

You may already be familiar with Calgary – prosperous modern city buoyed by oil wealth; 5th largest metropolitan center in Canada; enviable location at the foot of the Rocky Mountains; renowned for its volunteer spirit; host city of the ’88 Winter Olympics (remember The Jamaican Bobsleigh Team?); 9th largest lender city on Kiva in 2011 (way to go Calgary)!  In short: it’s a privileged city with a lot of heart!

What can I tell you about Dar es Salaam?  The name conjures up exotic images of centuries old sea-trade, sultry summer evenings, and short ferry rides to magical Zanzibar island!

Container ship and fishing boats juxtaposed at the mouth of Dar es Salaam’s famous harbor.

Container ship and fishing boats juxtaposed at the mouth of Dar es Salaam’s famous harbor.

But the reality of daily life is far from tropical paradise for most of Dar’s 3 – 4 million inhabitants; believe me, this is one grindingly hard city in which to eke out a living…  Still, people keep coming, lured by hopes of a better economic future than they face in their hometowns or villages.  Dar is one of the fastest growing cities in the world.  It’s a statistic with unenviable consequences: Dar’s infrastructure is clearly not keeping pace with the burgeoning population.  Unrelenting heat and humidity are exacerbated by almost daily power cuts that mean no fans or air conditioning (in the words of my office-mate: “We are practicing for the fires of heaven!”), and no reliable refrigeration for foodstuff (where do maggots come from anyway?)

It's fitting that the Flame Trees are in bloom!

It’s fitting that the Flame Trees are in bloom!

The dala-dala (bus) system is extensive and was genuinely well designed at inception – but now it’s inadequate and the overcrowding is epic!  Likewise, unremitting traffic on overwhelmed roadways morphs the “5 p.m. rush hour” into the “2 – 8 p.m. standstill”.  (Can traffic officers judge precisely when 64 passengers crammed in a sweltering dala with seating for 32 will finally reach breaking point?  Only then do they signal us through the intersection!)  Admittedly construction is underway to address transportation issues, but I regret the almost imperceptible progress in the 5 months I’ve been here.

Dala-dala: Never thought I’d be the one riding precariously on the bottom step, clinging tightly to the handrail because the door can’t close…

Dala-dala: Never thought I’d be the one riding precariously on the bottom step, clinging tightly to the handrail because the door can’t close…

Yet, in the face of wretched infrastructure challenges and the fact that formal employment is not keeping pace with population pressures either, the people of Dar find ways to get by – they have to.  So the informal economy is bustling and every hot and dusty road is lined with shops and stalls; every opportune space is claimed.  (Note to self: “That’s why Kiva loans to entrepreneurs are so relevant in Dar!”)

Ali, who brightens my walk to work each day with his greetings!

Ali, who brightens my walk to work each day with his greetings!

Dresses for the two-dimensional!

Dresses for the two-dimensional!

And if half of all Tanzanians are getting by on $2 per day per Kiva’s country statistics, it’s surely not from want of trying: it’s common to work long hours here in Dar.

No two ways about it – it’s a hardscrabble life here. But there’s a side to this city that defies all expectations: people in Dar (as in all Tanzania, in fact) are extraordinarily friendly, and helpful, and tolerant!  I know it sounds cliched, but this is truly friendliness, and willingness to help, and tolerance, on a scale I’ve seldom encountered in my travels on any continent. It occurs to me this is the real key to living in Dar!

The expedition across town

Of course you realize Kiva borrowers don’t work in downtown office towers, but still you might be surprised by the widespread locations of their businesses (such as Juliet’s salon).  Greater Dar es Salaam area is extensive, and many Kiva borrowers live and work on the outer fringes – perhaps 50 km away from my base at the main branch of Kiva’s partner MFI, Tujijenge Tanzania.

The road I walk to the office, just outside the downtown core.  Main roads are paved; most others not.

The road I walk to the office, just outside the downtown core. Main roads are paved; most others not.

Off to see a Kiva borrower’s business on the outskirts of greater Dar…

Off to see a Kiva borrower’s business on the outskirts of greater Dar…

I had no concept of the stamina it would require before I started visiting borrowers last September!  My mind boggles when I consider that loan officers from Tujijenge routinely travel across Dar to attend borrower group meetings every week…  (The numerous challenges MFIs such as Tujijenge face in delivering services here in Dar are daunting.  That’s why I admire MFIs for working here - where the need for microfinance is great, where it can make a significant impact on the lives of borrowers, but where it is not easy.)  The loan officers are all busy as bees so I enlist Rita, the star Kiva Coordinator at Tujijenge, to join me on this visit to Juliet.  We set off together, as always.

Rita: Kiva Coordinator, and my invaluable helpmate and friend for the last 4 months.  I couldn’t have made it in Dar without her!

Rita: Kiva Coordinator, and my invaluable helpmate and friend for the last 4 months. I couldn’t have made it in Dar without her!

I use my favorite strategy:  Start early in the morning.  Take a series of “city-bus” dalas to the furthest point at which bajajis (auto rickshaws, named for the pricipal company that makes them) are available.  Cover the final stretch to the borrower by bajaji, because the alternative of switching first to a “mini-bus” dala then risking life and limb on a piki-piki (motorbike taxi) is no fun at all.  Persuade the bajaji driver to wait whilst we visit the borrower. Then do the trip in reverse.  And hope to get home before dark…

Trio of blue bajajis - the fiery decal more indicative of spirit than speed!

Trio of blue bajajis – the fiery decal more indicative of spirit than speed!

(Rita scolds me for excessive expenditure on bajajis, but I can’t help it: I love everything about them!  Bajaji drivers are fearless; they are consummate alternate-route-finders in the face of traffic jams; they are willing to tackle any road.  Bajajis can negotiate all terrains successfully, or at least are light enough for this Kiva Fellow to push out of the sand when stuck…  The open-air design provides sweet relief from the heat (even if the air I’m breathing is laden with diesel fumes, and bugs impale themselves on my camera lens), and I can choose how many of us are on board.  I bet you’d take a bajaji too, if you had the chance!)

On today’s trip to see Juliet, a second bajaji driver dashes up just as we finish negotiating our fare with the first.  “Mama,” he calls to Rita, “you gave me my loan at Tujijenge!”  It means he has a Kiva loan!  “Oh, I wish we could go with you then,” Rita responds.  “It’s alright, you can go with him – he’s my friend,” says the Kiva guy, with characteristic Tanzanian friendliness.  (What a great coincidence!  I told you I love bajajis!)

Meeting the borrower

Turns out my meeting with Juliet is not happening after all…  Instead of Juliet, Prisca is waiting for me at the roadside.  Prisca is Chairman of Jaguar Group, and she tells me Juliet has bowed out today.  Of course I’m disappointed, but I try to imagine myself in Juliet’s position as a borrower.  Is she simply too shy?  Battling a family or business crisis she’d rather not discuss?  Scared because she’s behind on a repayment (even though she’s paid off 5 previous Tujijenge loans successfully)?  Unwilling to have nosy neighbors learn from my obvious presence that she has a loan (out of financial privacy concerns, or because they may press for a share of the cash)?  Unwilling to have her husband learn she has a loan (and thus jeopardize her personal financial stability)?  Or is it something else entirely?  I don’t know, but I’d far rather Juliet refuses than indulges me at her own expense – my visit is purely whimsical and not business related.  It’s an apt reminder that a borrower’s loan is a significant business contract that is not undertaken lightly; it must be managed and paid back in the context of real-life complexities.

Meeting the borrower (Take 2)

Prisca saves the day by inviting me back to her store.  I’m very happy to accept because, after all, the Kiva loan covers Jaguar Group, not Juliet alone.  (Group loans are a mainstay of microfinance.  You can read about their many benefits in Dar in my earlier Kiva post: Group Loans – Filling a Particular Niche.)  Prisca hops aboard our bajaji and we’re off on a roller-coaster ride!

Prisca in her store.

Prisca in her store.

Prisca owns an impressively well-maintained store selling sodas (pop) and beer.  There’s a shady seating area too, so Rita, the Bajaji driver, Prisca, and I settle down to enjoy a cold soda (bonus – Prisca has a fridge!) and a chat.  I show Prisca her Jaguar Group’s loan on Kiva, and she breaks into a wide smile as she sees herself in the photo!  She quickly points out Juliet, as well as Judith who was featured in Jaguar’s previous Kiva loan.  She’s somewhat incredulous when I point out my friend from Calgary in the Lender section…

I ask Prisca about herself.  She’s married, has a young son and daughter, and has always lived in this area of Dar.  Her store used to stock a wide variety of goods but in 2011 thieves broke in and stole pretty much everything, including the scale for weighing goods like rice and dried beans.  It was a cruel setback. That’s when Prisca joined Jaguar Group and started taking loans from Tujijenge to try to get back on her feet.  Yes, the series of loans have helped restore her business – injections of cash every few months are invaluable in buying bulk stock at cheaper prices, and purchasing items like the fridge to draw customers.  Some of the extra profit that is generated helps with household expenses (think school fees) too.  But there’s still a way to go…  That’s why Prisca has stayed with Jaguar Group, and recently become group Chairman.

Closing the circle

I’ve done what I’ve always dreamed of doing: followed a Kiva loan from lender to borrower!  Now I know the people on both sides of the contract, and I’m totally delighted.

I report back to Calgary: “The bajaji ride was one of the best yet!  The rest of things didn’t quite go to plan, but still they ended well.  I met Prisca, not Juliet.  I got a soda, not braids…   Prisca was amazed to see you!  Her business is coming along, and she says the loan is helping.  Here’s the postcard I made you – it was a brilliant day, thank you!  M.”

Marion12

Click here to lend to a Kiva borrower in Dar es Salaam. (Please check back at the start of next month if all Tujijenge Tanzanian loans are currently funded!)

See more of the daily sights I’ve enjoyed in and around Dar in The Illustrated Guide to Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner! (Tanzania Edition).  Or see the complete antithesis in On the Road Less Travelled: Kagera Region in Tanzania.

24 February 2013 at 07:00 2 comments

Microfinance and Fertility Rates: My Quest for a Correlation

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

Tried to find empty space -- I dare you.

Try to find empty space — I dare you.

The mind visual these numbers provoked made me pause.

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

Six neighbor boys sharing a 6” sandwich for lunch.

Six neighbor boys sharing a 6” sandwich for lunch.

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

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

At one of many informal, outdoor discussion groups.

At one of many informal, outdoor discussion groups.

My conversation and the respective client responses were as follows:

  • How many of you have more than five children?

60%

Some of the kids.

Some of the kids.

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

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

“One” – shouted another.

“Four” — shared one woman, rather timidly.

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

  • Why in the end did you have so many? 

The general consensus was as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

28 December 2012 at 17:02 1 comment

The Ticos Who Touched My Heart

just some of the lovely Ticos I met during my fellowship

just some of the lovely Ticos I met during my fellowship

It never ceases to amaze me how you can connect with people who are completely different from you. Maybe you don’t speak the same first language. Maybe you grew up on opposite sides of the world, or you were born in different decades. But somehow, despite all your differences—and perhaps against all odds—you find commonalities. And what’s more, sometimes you realize that below the surface, maybe you’re not actually all that different after all.

Kiva’s mission is to connect people through lending. That happens every day through its online lending platform, http://www.kiva.org. But as Kiva Fellows, we have the opportunity to carry out this mission in the field. Sometimes we get to meet with borrowers, but all of us get to connect with the local people where we work and live. We learn about who they are and how they live, and we share a little bit about ourselves as well. And when you find yourself having a good laugh with them, it’s a pretty amazing thing.

the FUNDECOCA crew

the FUNDECOCA crew

So, the three months of my fellowship are drawing to a close. It’s hard not to get sentimental when I think about leaving behind this beautiful country and the warm, generous people who welcomed me into their homes, their families, and their lives. Some took the time to get to know me, others took the time to share their stories, and others still simply made me feel at home, wherever I was. Many went out of their way to make sure I had a fantastic experience here. Pictured in this blog entry are just some of the wonderful Ticos that I met in Costa Rica.

the folks at EDESA

the folks at EDESA

My time here has been full of adventures, sightseeing, and some notable firsts. Among those have been:

First time seeing toucans. They are too cute for words!

First time riding on a moto, or motorbike, ever. (I think I’ve gained some street cred in Uganda).

First time seeing dressage. One weekend, I chanced upon a big street party that was complete with cowboys and horses getting their horse ballet on. I thought that was pretty fortuitous, since I had recently learned what this sport was all about (courtesy of Stephen Colbert).

First time eating rice and beans for 90 days straight. I’m talking about the famous typical Costa Rican dish, gallo pinto, which is pretty much what everyone here eats every day for breakfast—and sometimes lunch and dinner, too. OK, so maybe I didn’t eat it for all 90 days, but I tell you it was pretty darn close. It’s a good thing I like rice and beans!

First time trying sopilote (vulture meat). Ooops, wait! That was chicken and a couple of colleagues trying to trick me.

First time watching the entire Twilight saga. Oh yes I did! (It made for a fun bonding experience, OK?)

Alejandra and Bryan (and their wonderful families in Pital)

Alejandra and Bryan (and their families in Pital)

But in any new experience, it’s always the people you meet who make all the difference. While I love to travel and see new places, I also love the very different experience of living abroad, because that’s when you really get to know the locals.

People asked me why I wanted to come to Costa Rica for my fellowship. In fact, it’s somewhere I’ve wanted to go for a long time. I have always been intrigued by this country that constitutionally abolished its army in 1949, thus diverting resources towards health and education for the general population. I was curious about the nation with a long history of ecotourism that today remains one of the world’s leaders in environmental protection. I wanted to meet the people who lived in the country that was ranked #1 in the 2012 Happy Planet Index.

Don Manuel and his full house

home sweet home – Manuel and his full house

So here are some things I’ve learned:

Ticos are proud of their country and have a strong sense of national identity. The expression Pura Vida (Pure Life) says it all. It’s something of a national motto here, but it’s more than just words; it’s a way of life. It’s used here in greetings, as an expression of gratitude or satisfaction, and also to describe something or someone who’s generally pretty awesome.

Ticos love to toot their horn. I’m not talking about national pride anymore. I’m talking about the constant beep-beep you will hear as you walk along any road or highway. The pitos (horns) are how Tico drivers communicate, and the beeps can mean very different things. Here’s a little guide to help you decipher the various meanings, should you be traveling to Costa Rica anytime soon:

Beep! Hello!

Beep! Hellooooo there, baby.

Beep! Coming through!

Beep beep! You go first!

Beep! Thanks dude!

Beeeeeeeep! I’m stuck in traffic and mildly annoyed.

Beep! I’m bored and tooting my horn is fun!

Beep! Beep! BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!……………….

Ticos love their coffee. As they rightly should: Costa Rican coffee is really good! Even for someone who’s more of a tea-aholic, two coffee breaks a day will get you hooked in no time. If you search long and hard, though, you will find some tea aficionados, and you might even chance upon a tea store if you’re lucky.

Ticos are incredibly tolerant of rain. I’ve never seen so much rain in my life! It’s true I’ve been here during the rainy season, but I never thought this kind of rain was possible—where a heavy downpour can last 5 hours, or sometimes even two days. But nobody complains. (The cold is another thing, but it’s totally fair game to complain when it’s 12oC and windy, given that buildings are not insulated here.)

Costa Rica is largely rural. Like the diminutive Tico suggests, things here are small-scale. Even the bigger city centres are more like large towns. Many Ticos live in rural areas or have some connection to rural life. For example, quite a few people who work in the city commute some distance from a more rural area, or their family might own a finca (a property in the countryside).

And many Ticos and tourists alike are averse to San José, whose metropolitan area has some 2.3 million people. While it may not be the world’s most attractive city, the Ticos’ dislike for it stems more from the fact that it is a city. I am going to make a bold statement: I like San José. That may be attributed to the great people I met while I was living here, though.

traipsing the country with Carlos and his family

traipsing the country with Carlos and his family

Ticos are quite devout. Costa Rica is fairly homogenous and its population is made up of 70% Catholics and 14% Evangelical Christians. It was interesting trying to explain that my family’s roots are Buddhist, since Buddhism, like many other religions, has had limited exposure in Costa Rica.

It was also interesting being introduced as Canadian to new Ticos. Their eyes always said the same thing: You can’t fool me. A further explanation of my parents’ Japanese origins brought a sort of relief to their faces and often facilitated the conversation that ensued. I was, without a doubt, something of an anomaly to them, although that humoured me more than anything.

The word china means many things in Costa Rica, as it does in other Spanish speaking countries. Hmm… seems like not a lot of thought has gone into the nuances of its meanings. For example:

  • China = the country
  • china = the language
  • china = a Chinese person
  • china = any other Asian-looking person

In addition, there is a type of flower called china and porcelain plates are also called china. To add some variety, I tried to make up my own word, chinesa, to describe the language, but I was corrected. Por favor. It’s china.

That being said, China (the country) has become Costa Rica’s most important ally after the US, as evidenced by the generous gift they sent last year. (A symbol of its former relationship with Taiwan can also be found firmly planted in northern Costa Rica.) So maybe it’s good that, as long as they’re going to use one generic word to capture all these meanings, that the word be china.

Romano and Hannia

Romano and Hannia

Ticos work hard to get ahead, but that’s not always easy. They could use a break. That’s why lending through Kiva’s partners like EDESA and FUNDECOCA can go a long way. (Stay tuned for FUNDECOCA on www.kiva.org—they’re a new partner so their partner page is forthcoming!)

These MFIs are doing a great job of providing opportunities to people in rural areas, where the poverty is often striking, but urban poverty is rampant as well, and sometimes microfinance can overlook this. One of my colleagues pointed out that a person is probably better off being poor in a rural area of Costa Rica, because at least then they can still produce their own food. In the city, on the other hand, if you don’t have money you can’t survive.

Recently, I had the opportunity to get to know a lady here in a similar situation. While she had a job in the city that gave her enough income to support her family, she was in a position where she could not access credit from the regular banks. As such, her daughters would never have the chance to pursue a better education so that they might someday be able to get ahead. As we chatted, I realized that rarely had I met someone so wise and open-minded. She had a lively curiosity, and she had come to grips with her situation in life with laughter and a positive attitude. She left me with a feeling of admiration mixed with heartache.

Rosi and her family

Rosi and her family

Over the past 10 years, I’ve had the fortune to live and work in 7 different countries, and travel to countless others. Throughout those experiences, I’ve met friends who come from over 70 countries, and I’ve come to understand so much about the world thanks to them. Ticos, I’ve learned, are totally pura vida. And hopefully, they’ve learned something about me, too, so that the next time they meet someone really different from them, the differences won’t be as striking as the similarities are.

13 December 2012 at 21:04

On the road less traveled: Kagera region in Tanzania.

Marion Walls | KF19 | Tanzania

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

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

1. The dawn chorus of songbirds in a beautiful garden in Bukoba. The birdlife is prolific here; the garden in this video reminds me of the home where I grew up in Zimbabwe; and Bukoba (Tanzania’s second-largest port on Lake Victoria) is a breath of fresh air after my last nine hot and sweaty weeks in Dar es Salaam.  What an uplifting way to start the day!
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2.  Expansive views of Lake Victoria.  It’s called Lweru (The Big White) by the Haya people of this area, and as soon as I saw the lake I knew why.  This is an area of vast panoramas and glorious open skies!  The shoreline of the lake is dotted with granite outcrops, and the surrounding landscape is lush with green grass (good grazing for the heavy-horned cattle in this video!) and trees, thanks to plentiful rainfall and the rich red soil.
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3.  A frenzy of activity as 450 donated bikes – recently arrived in a container from Switzerland – are reassembled and prepped for sale. Daeni is involved at this bicycle center in remote Nshamba, where youngsters learn the skills of a bicycle fundi (expert).  I’m delighted to see the Tanzanian side of this project, because I’m familiar with the donor side of a similar project in my hometown in Canada.
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4. Kagera isn’t called the banana capital of Tanzania for nothing…   Banana plants grow everywhere!  Matoke (plantains, or cooking bananas) are the staple food here, usually eaten with maharage (beans).  The bananas we eat start growing from tiny yellow flowers – initially the size of your thumb nail – hidden under the dark reddish bracts of a large inflorescence known as the banana heart.
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5.  My hilarious bus ride from Muleba to Ngara!  It rains.  The bus leaks.  I am drenched from head to foot!  I balance my little daypack on my knee as water pours down upon me for several hours, relieved that my laptop and camera – the tools of my trade these days – are sealed in a waterproof bag.  I’m sorry when the kid sitting snugly next to me gets off at his stop; I was grateful for his warmth…  And just for the record: I’m beginning to think a ticket agents’ assessment that “it will take 3 hours” is an optimistic way of saying “a long time, maybe even 6 hours”!
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6.  Wandering for hours along a ridge at Murgwanza that overlooks the Tanzanian border with Rwanda.  I’m drawn onward by the tantalizing views from the next rocky outcrop, and the possibility of finding another flame lily swaying in the breeze.  The sounds of distant voices, wood chopping, and the occasional cock-crow drift up to me from the valley below, and mingle with the low buzz of insects and melodious bursts of birdsong.  The African bush is so alive!  Goat herders on the next hillside call mzungu! (the friendly Kiswahili term for foreigner) to catch my attention, and wave.  Could I be any happier?
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7.  The harmonious singing voices of a church congregation in Murgwanza stop me in my tracks as I’m passing by.  (The picture quality in this video is poor, so just close your eyes and listen, and you’ll hear birds trilling joyfully too!)

8.  A vibrant market operates under cover of huge white UNHCR tents that have been repurposed in downtown Ngara.  The tents are remnants of the refugee crisis in Kagera that was caused by the Rwanda genocide in 1994.  It’s impossible for me to reconcile the idea of such horror with the normal daily life and tranquility I see around me now.
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9.  My 9-hour bus ride through Karagwe region.  Since there are no direct buses for the next 3 days, I’m advised to take a bus from Ngara to Karagwe (it’ll take 3 hours!), from where I can get onward transport to Bukoba.  I arrive at the bus stand before dawn to get a window seat.  The bus fills rapidly (and I do mean fills…), and we set off close to schedule but lose time as we inch our way through the mist and up the steep hills.  The man wedged in next to me buys water at our first stop and downs more pills than I’ve ever seen in one dose; I wonder sadly if he’s one of the many people here infected with HIV/AIDS.  (I’ve visited a sewing class at one organization that cares for 1800 orphans, and met a worker from another that cares for 3700.  The numbers overwhelm me.)

Then the bus halts at a barrier and a man with an automatic rifle, (I recognize it as an AK47; I grew up during the war in Zimbabwe), climbs in next to the driver.  My neighbor explains this is our escort, but I’m a bit disconcerted and text a message to Andy in Ngara in case this all ends badly…  He replies that an armed escort on this route is normal…  I’m still feeling pensive when suddenly there’s great excitement on the bus: Twiga, twiga!  Someone’s seen giraffe, and we all scan the bush eagerly for a glimpse!  I snap a couple of photos, and pass my camera around.  My fellow passengers laugh happily at our good fortune, and my mood lightens!  I can face the rest of this 9-hour bus journey with equanimity now.
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10.  Young girls are delighted by their new dresses for Christmas!  I think the dressmaker is equally pleased.   Entrepreneurship is visible everywhere I go – this woman set up shop in front of her house, in the midst of a banana plantation.   And she’s doing a roaring trade as the festive season approaches!
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And finally: The unlikely Kiva connection. Yesterday I chatted with a charming woman at Bukoba airport as we waited in vain for our flight – the runway too muddy for the incoming plane to land. We met again today, and I showed my new friend the Tanzanian content on Kiva website. Imagine my surprise and delight when we scrolled through the last Update I posted about Tanzania, and she exclaimed “I know her! That woman is an excellent baker!” Who’d have thought there would be a connection way out here in Kagera? It’s a small world, thanks to Kiva!

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

9 December 2012 at 12:00 2 comments

A glimpse into Entrepreneurship in Kyrgyzstan

Abhishesh Adhikari | KF19 | Kyrgyzstan

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

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

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6 December 2012 at 09:34

The Power of a Cellphone: Spotlight on Five Changed Lives

Senegalese cellphone subscribers 2000:     Senegalese cellphone subscribers 2011:

Approximately 250,000                                 Approximately 9.3 million

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

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

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

Hedy Niane

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Health

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

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

Diegnane Ba

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Banking

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

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

Awa Sene

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Agriculture and Farming

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

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

Ndeye Mohamadou

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Client Services

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

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

Amadou Diop

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Commerce

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

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

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

30 November 2012 at 18:00

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

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

Marion Walls | KF19 | Tanzania

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

Turkey with Pan Gravy

Nut Loaf (*vegetarian option)

Mashed Potatoes

Roasted Corn

Seasonable Vegetables

Desert

Coffee or Tea

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

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

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

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

Oh! I almost forgot to decorate the table!

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

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

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

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

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

I hope you’ve cooked up a feast!

Happy Thanksgiving from Tanzania!



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

22 November 2012 at 19:00 1 comment

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

The magnificent Mame.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Example of a garbage can Mame distributes to his clients.

“Garbage truck” and its drivers.

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

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

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

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

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

13 November 2012 at 06:22

A walk through Osh Bazaar

Abhishesh Adhikari | KF19 | Kyrgyzstan

Osh Bazaar

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

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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

A tough day in the office? Microfinance at an inspirational organisation

Alice Reeves – Timor-Leste

East Timor, Timor-Leste, Timor-Lorosaé…

Literal meaning is important here, and names are not chosen frivolously.  Leste means ‘east’ in Portuguese.  In the local language, Tetum, Lorosaé means ‘east’ – literally ‘sunrise’.  For those of you familiar with Bahasa, the main language of Indonesia, the word Timor can be translated as, well, ‘east’.

Just keep heading towards the rising sun, one day you will eventually arrive at the shores of this rocky, dusty, mountainous island just off the northern coast of Australia, at the very tail end of the Indonesian archipelago.  It’s definitely a long way east.

(more…)

7 November 2012 at 15:00

Cognitive Dissonance Following a Weekend in Dakar

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

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

Senegal’s soccer stadium — Dakar, Senegal

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

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

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

Senegal vs. Ivory Coast Soccer Game:

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

This truly frightened me.

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

The least crowded section I could spot.

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

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

The riot begins.

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

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

Ile de Gorée:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19 October 2012 at 07:51

Finding a Kiva lender through a SkyMall pillow

A chance encounter en route to Dakar, Senegal…

I have a strong tendency to read (ok fine, skim) blogs filled with photos. Aesthetically, it’s what I naturally gravitate toward, and I’m sure many readers out there likely do the same. Ironically, this post will defy this preference, as my camera has — unfortunately — found a new home.

It was important to remind myself when my camera went missing (as it is in so many other situations traveling or otherwise) that keeping an open mind and rolling with the punches is vital to staying sane. Had I not done so at the very start of my trip, I would certainly not have the following story, which I’m thrilled to share.

It didn’t start well, as I suppose encounters with strangers – especially on planes, in close quarters – often do not.  I “accidentally” placed myself in the seat to the left (…aisle!) of the one assigned to me. But this arrangement didn’t last long, as the man who was in fact assigned to the seat I was occupying would quickly and abruptly (for the first time, mind you) correct my error.  His method was not your standard gentle nudge, but rather an aggressive wave in my face of his ticket stub, backed up by two flight attendants urging me, “Please, ma’am, you must move.”  Of course I did so immediately, and apologized profusely for my error. The dispute was settled cordially; we gave one another a very forced smile and I carried on with my reading.

The silence lasted about 15 minutes, until our plane began its ascent and the same man to my left pulled out a clearly SkyMall-purchased green blow-up tray table pillow.  Admit it — you know what I’m talking about!  It’s that outrageously oversized item in SkyMall Magazine that, when you’re flipping through the pages, catches your eye and forces you to pause for a few seconds to contemplate:  “Seriously, who on earth would ever need or want this.”  (Photo below if you’re not familiar.)

The infamous SkyMall pillow ad

Well, I’d found my guy, and after 3 minutes of watching him work to inflate his pillow, I simply could not hold back my giggles. He of course noticed, and turned toward me with a glare of sorts.  That’s when our conversation began…

Mo (short for Mamadou) was born and raised on the outskirts of Dakar, Senegal. When he was 13, his family moved to the United States for his father’s work, and he’s lived there more or less ever since. Mo lives and works in Washington D.C., and takes an annual pilgrimage home to Dakar to visit family.   When Mo learned that I was Dakar-bound to work with Kiva, his enthusiasm for was effusive.  Not only was Mo familiar with Kiva, he’s a lender himself! (I should clarify: Mo is a Kiva lender through his niece, who first joined and started an account for “their family”).

Our destination, and Mo’s home country

To me, this was fascinating — an absolutely perfect brain to pick. Not only was I meeting a Kiva lender (awesome…), but moreover I was meeting a Kiva lender who makes loans to individuals and groups from his home country. I was curious to learn more.

Mo explained, unprompted, how powerful organizations like Kiva are: “Kiva successfully illuminates the issues and lives of those in my country for people around the world.” He went on to describe his firm belief in the power of loans. They are, in his mind, a method through which “his people” can escape from a culture of dependency (aid, corruption, trade, debt, etc.), into independence and self-sufficiency while retaining their cultural identities. He also emphasized how fundamental this is to their personal empowerment.

I listened carefully, but was somewhat perplexed. I know that Kiva is subject to the same biases and attacks made by all microfinance critics. It couldn’t possibly be that EVERYONE feels the way Mo feels.

Kiva, bringing people together, even on airplanes

(My questions were incessant. I apologized several times for this, but Mo insisted I continue. If I hesitated to give him time to breathe, he’d probe me with: “So… what else??”)

I asked what his opinion is of those in or from his county who may feel differently, perhaps averse to Kiva or microfinance, particularly when its facilitated through foreign entities. He explained that of course there are individuals who disapprove of the idea of Kiva and other microfinance organizations. But, if they think the obstacles facing their country and communities are surmountable without outside help, maybe it’s instead the idea – their mindset — that needs righting.

Mo had a cool and perspicacious way about him. He was truly pleasant to talk to — the sort of person you can tell is addressing you directly, not looking astray at distractions nor seeking approval or agreement. His speech is soft and unhurried, and as he explained to me, his love for travel comes from chance interactions just like this one. Being both snarky and sarcastic, I pointed to his SkyMall pillow – still inflated — and told him he had “that” to thank.

By the time morning dawned, we were halfway through our 9 hour voyage across the Atlantic, and my eyelids were drooping. That’s when our Kiva conversation ended.

What started off as a seemingly dreadful beginning to my journey ended up being a most memorable encounter for me. Silly purchases aside, I could not have imagined a better person to meet as I embarked on this journey. I have no doubt that the upcoming months will be filled with peaks and plateaus, and at times (as forewarned at our Kiva fellowship training) “troughs of disillusionment.”  My conversation with Mo, however, made me ever more hopeful that I find potential in micro-loans. At the very least, this interaction will undoubtedly make the inevitable frustrations ahead a bit more palatable.

*Mo:  If you’re reading this fellows blog (as I learned you often do) — what a delightful turn of events it was meeting you, and my most sincere thanks for allowing me to share this story. I’m investing in my own green SkyMall tray table pillow immediately upon my return to the States!

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

12 October 2012 at 10:33

Expectations, (harsh) realities, engagement and innovation

Diana Biggs | KF 18 | Burkina Faso

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

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

Ouagadougou street

Walking to work in my first week in Ouaga…

(more…)

9 October 2012 at 08:00

Innovative Teenagers: Feeling Insignificant in Africa

Olivia Hanrahan-Soar | KF18 | Johannesburg, South Africa

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

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

(You may be noticing a theme here)

Kiva Fellows 18th class: now grown up

(more…)

1 October 2012 at 08:00

Cause the money’s all been spent…

Diana Biggs | KF 18 | Burkina Faso

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

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

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

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18 September 2012 at 08:00 6 comments

Higher Education in South Africa: Innovations and Determined Students

Olivia Hanrahan-Soar | KF18 | Johannesburg, South Africa

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

Nokuthula, a student at the Maharishi Institute, Johannesburg

(more…)

17 September 2012 at 08:00

Technology in the Field: the Future of Microfinance

Varick Schwartz | KF18 | Kenya

Kiva profile photo from mobile app

When I applied to the Kiva Fellows program, I knew I’d be spending some time ‘in the field’, but I didn’t know I’d be out there transmitting Kiva profile information from a mobile tablet to Google’s Open Data Kit (ODK) platform!  After writing an automated survey interface and configuring the Android device, next I was on the farm with a loan officer collecting borrower responses, which were uploaded straight to the internet, Kiva photo included. Well done Juhudi Kilimo (my assigned MFI) for the foresight and motivation to put this in play, well done Kenya for providing the comprehensive mobile platform and welcome to the future of microfinance! (more…)

12 September 2012 at 08:00 6 comments

Credit Scoring in Kenya: observations and comparisons from the field

Varick Schwartz | KF18 | Kenya

My Fellowship workplan has been focused a little more on the technical side of things, with more application programming and appraisal analysis than borrower verifications. From such projects, and also because I come from a banking, lending and risk management background, it seems fitting to at least put forth some observations regarding the use of credit scores across the Kenya micro landscape. However, the way we approach credit scoring in the USA is almost opposite from current practices here, where aggregated financial data at the individual level could still be years away. (more…)

30 August 2012 at 09:00 2 comments

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

Julie Kriegshaber | KF 18 | Uganda

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

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

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

BRAC Country Headquarters

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

Spreading Kiva love with the Kiva Coordinator, Sauda

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

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28 August 2012 at 06:00 2 comments

Is Microfinance a boon or bane..? My learnings from the field

With mixed emotions not knowing what to expect from the fellowship I headed to India… A sense of excitement for being a part of the launch, a sense of happiness for being able to be with my family after a long time and a disappointment for not having as much excitement as others who are traveling to new countries. But eight weeks in to the fellowship has completely changed this.

I always wondered how far microcredit actually helped alleviate the lives of the poor especially after the SKS Microfinance crisis in Andhra Pradesh. There has been a lot of criticism that this industry was full of profit motivated rather than socially focused players. So, I always wanted to understand what would make micro finance perform stronger socially.The reason I say my fellowship was rewarding is because I had all these questions answered through my eyes and ears in the process of being Kiva’s Eyes and Ears on field.

Two weeks back I was juggling between profile posting, field visits, group photos, and field staff training. Amidst this time crunch phase, a visit to the local weekly market came as liberation. It was so colorful and vibrant may be because 40% of the vendors were women selling vegetables, bangles, local snacks, cooking utensils   etc…

Bangles of all sizes and colors that must be worn to complete your Indian attire…
Locally popular snacks pakora(onions and batter of gram flour mixed and fried in oil) and wada(lentil doughnut)

The aromas(including of stinking dry fish), haggling noises and  people around did not irritate me somehow.Seemed like a perfect recipe for a break. Every 2 shops that we passed by, the branch manager would introduce me to some woman  telling me that she is their client and started/grew their business with a financial support from them.

Dry fish and Red chilli added a different flavor to the market…

It is when I met people like Lalitha and Bijaya Lakshmi that I started wondering about their livelihood in the absence of microfinance. Would they have had help from traditional banks?

Lalitha going back home happily after her day’s sale

Could Lalitha have started a vegetable business without the intervention of Mahashakti; one of Kiva’s      Indian partners with a strong social focus…? Lalitha was selling vegetables in the market. She started selling vegetables with the help of a micro loan to supplement her husband’s income who works as a daily labor in the paddy fields. The additional income has actually helped them move from a mud house to a concrete house. In the photo she holds some drumsticks(moringa) which she saved from her merchandise to cook for her daughter who loves the curry.

As I walked through the stretch of canvas of colors and aromas , I met several other women who were happy to have received a loan and felt empowered through their business.

Me all smiles with Bijayalakshmi spreading her energy around…

Or would Bijayalakshmi and her husband have been able to sustain their livelihood  without financial support in the form of microcredit..? I went to meet her as we were going to post her loan on Kiva. She spends almost 10hrs a day making local snacks and her husband sells them the next day. They are both in their fifties and have no sons to take care of them in their old age as any other parent who has crossed 50s would have been in India. When I asked her about being on internet, she answered with her infectious smile and energy “I am happy to let people know how hard we are working. This may motivate others to work hard and create opportunities for themselves”.  I had nothing to say but be amazed.

But all microfinance clients do not have a success story to share. If it were so, we would not have had those suicides in Andhra Pradesh and MFI industry in India would not be in such a crisis today. So, I thought to myself may be all of microfinance is not good or all of it is not bad. I was reminded of the “half glass” paradox.

Back in my room in the evening I was wondering how MFIs should evolve their model to not let the critics undervalue microfinance by half its potential. It finally dawns on me that MFIs should look for holistic solutions to poverty and provide innovative services by understanding the needs of the customers like any other industry and not just focus on micro credit.

I learnt from my interactions here that more than 40% of a household annual income is spent for health and it plays a major role in repaying the loan. So, health should be one major area of focus for the MFIs. Some of the MFIs in India like one of Kiva’s Indian partners Mahashakti have now started providing health based initiatives like micro insurance, credit support for safe drinking water, water and sanitation loans etc… As one of Mahashakti’s management staff puts it  “Providing basic needs first and then lending builds a stronger bond and trust between the MFIs and the borrowers.” I think this trusted relation is essential for any MFI’s sustained impact and survival in their strive for the creation of economic independence.

These client focused initiatives are implemented only by 5% of all MFIs in India and need to be more wide spread. It is very encouraging to see this shift in the MFI model in India though and hope to see many more moving in this direction.It is good to see Kiva also increase its focus beyond traditional microfinance and work with such partners.

22 August 2012 at 11:19

Pakistan: A lizard in the hand is worth several in the bush

By Anya Raza | KF18 | Pakistan

My final Borrower Verification trip was to the village of Vehari, visiting Khursheed Bibi. We had attempted to meet her almost a week ago, but the morning of our appointment, her sister had unexpectedly passed away.

Leaving Lahore at 7 a.m., we encountered the first of our two hartals (demonstrations) of the day — tires ablaze, cars overturned and police nowhere in sight.

Protest in Lahore (Image courtesy of Dawn News)

The protest was against the massive electricity cuts, with protestors chanting,“You have forgotten the villages, you have forsaken the villages” and claims of electricity being out for days at a time because officials forgot to turn ‘the switch’ back on. No wonder.

An oil tanker was parked dangerously close to the massive flame, with the driver nonchalantly sitting and watching the spectacle. The ‘highly inflammable’ sign on the tanker’s flank didn’t seem to faze him in the least. I requested our driver to make haste, lest we be caught in the blaze.

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22 August 2012 at 08:00 5 comments

What I Left Behind and What I Took With Me

By Muskan Chopra KF18 Kenya

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

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

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20 August 2012 at 10:00 8 comments

Empowering Women through… Videography?

Julie Kriegshaber | KF18 | Uganda

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

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

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

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14 August 2012 at 08:00 3 comments

Update from the Field: Borrower Feedback on Innovative Products, Sounds from the Field,

Compiled by David Gorgani | KF17 + KF18 | Guatemala

Through motivating stories, informative videos, intriguing sound bytes and interesting first-hand accounts, this week’s update is quite the smorgasbord of stories from the field. Through accounts of first business loans and stories about successful community banks, Fellows in Georgia and Peru show us the effects of our loans; through sights, sounds and narratives, Fellows in Guatemala and New Orleans (among others) show us – and let us hear – bits of their daily lives; and through detailed accounts of interactions with field partners, Fellows in Burkina Faso, Uganda and Bolivia show us the great work Kiva’s collaborators are performing on the ground.

Continue Reading 13 August 2012 at 09:00 2 comments

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