Posts tagged ‘small business’
Here in Mongolia, my top priority with XacBank has been to complete borrower verifications (BVs)—visits to 10 randomly selected Kiva clients to ensure that everything in the field checks out with the information reported to Kiva’s San Francisco headquarters. As it happened, the borrowers in my sample were scattered across the country. Here’s a summary of what my month of April looked like:
- 1 month spent
- 4,872 km covered
- 9 borrowers verified
- 5 aimags traveled to
- 7 branch offices visited
- 10 training sessions delivered
- 35 loan officers and other staff trained
- 13 top Kiva borrowers recognized
- 1 television interview completed
- 67 client waivers checked
- 2 runaway borrowers chased down
- 1 Kiva Coordinator-Extraordinaire
- 2 beautiful lakes and other sights experienced
- 4 items delivered via Mongolian messenger service
- Many kilos of cheese curds (and other nice gifts!) received
I couldn’t help but feel lucky—I knew it would be an eye-opening experience to visit all these different parts of Mongolia. After all, I think most Kiva Fellows are in this as much for the professional experience as for the exposure to new countries and cultures. Why not mix business with pleasure if you can?
I’ve talked before about some of the work that Kiva Fellows do when we visit branch offices during our BVs, but what I didn’t explain was how, in order to successfully complete a BV, the Fellow must meet with every single borrower on the list. If for whatever reason, a borrower is unavaible or nowhere to be found (and that’s happened before!), the sample must be re-drawn and 10 new borrowers must be verified—no matter how close you were to finishing the first set of 10 (and irrespective of how far and long you had to travel to see them). So it’s safe to say that Kiva Fellows sweat it a little when these meetings don’t line up perfectly. And people are often on the move, which can raise some serious logistical challenges sometimes.
Take Aibek, for instance. Batzul, the Kiva Coordinator at XacBank, booked us flights to go see him in Bayan-Olgiy, the western-most province of Mongolia (flying made sense given that Olgiy, the city centre, is a 3 day drive from UB). She also arranged our accommodations and made plans with the Director to deliver training sessions at the branch office. We were all set to leave on Monday morning, but late in the afternoon of the Friday before, she called me up sounding very serious: ‘Aibek is not in Bayan-Olgiy. He’s in UB right now. I just spoke to the loan officer.’
The trickiest part was that he was only planning to be in UB for a few days—which meant that by the time we came back from our branch visits in Bayan-Olgiy and Uvs provinces, he would have left already. We couldn’t change our flights, and flying to Bayan-Olgiy a second time was pretty much out of the question. So the best thing to do was to meet in UB during the weekend. We made plans to meet him on Saturday at 10 a.m. in his neighbourhood. We made our way to the east end of the city and waited… No Aibek.
Batzul called the loan officer in Bayan-Olgiy, who then called Aibek, but he wasn’t picking up his phone. We communicated through his wife, who was at home. We waited and waited. No Aibek. We gave up and agreed to try and reschedule.
Our opportunity came that afternoon. Aibek, the loan officer told us, would meet us by the Wrestling Palace at 1 p.m. When we got there we searched in vain for any passers-by who looked like the man in the borrower profile. An hour passed. No Aibek.
But the third time’s a charm, right? On Sunday afternoon I got a call from Batzul—Aibek had been located! We hopped in a taxi and made our way to the west end of the city. We were driven to a desolate, industrial area surrounded by auto body shops, where random vans were parked and people seemed to be waiting around for something. We waited in the safety of the taxi, but when no Aibek appeared, we cautiously stepped out and started asking strangers if they knew of our man. Eventually, one of them pointed us to a van, and lo and behold, Aibek was there!
Our first stop in our travels was Bayan-Olgiy. Bayan-Olgiy is a special part of Mongolia: This region is home to the country’s Kazakh minority, giving it a very distinct feel from the moment you arrive. The Kazakhs, who make up some 90% of the population of this province, adhere to Islam (rather than Buddhism, like much of the rest of Mongolia), and the predominant language is Kazakh, not Mongolian (though most people speak both). From my hotel window, I could hear the evening call to prayers.
The Kazakhs were first drawn to the high mountain pastures in the region in the mid-1800s, where they let their sheep graze during the summer months. Throughout most of the 20th century, they were an isolated, tight-knit community, and this region is considered even by people in Kazakhstan as the best-preserved example of Kazakh culture. One of the things it’s best known for is the Eagle Festival, which takes place every year in October.
I think my Kazakh colleagues were as curious about me as I was about them. I immediately started learning some words in their language. Instead of bayarlalaa for ‘thank you,’ they say rahmed. Amansasbaa is the common greeting, whereas in Mongolian it’s sain bain uu (or more casually, you can say salem in Kazakh). And learning to say tansganmaa huanshtaman (it’s nice to meet you) came in pretty handy several times later on!
Having finished our work at the branch quickly, our colleagues took us to see the main mosque in town, followed by a hike up a nearby peak to get a beautiful view of Olgiy, the Altai Mountains, and the river that flows from them. Later, the Branch Director and driver took us on a long and bumpy drive to Tolbo Nuur, a freshwater lake about 50km south of the city centre. Though it was still frozen, it was amazing to see a body of water (there aren’t many in Mongolia!).
Next stop: A visit to the Branch Director’s extended family living in the countryside! True to Kazakh/Mongolian hospitality, they welcomed us warmly and prepared a massive and delicious feast for us. It’s customary for people in Mongolia to welcome strangers—locals and foreigners alike—into their homes and feed them. It stems from their nomadic history, in which families would help other people who were passing through the area, or receive visitors from different parts of the country (for example, the capital) and exchange news with them. It’s a beautiful aspect of the culture here.
On our way back to Olgiy, we soaked in the peaceful landscapes of the countryside…
A picnic at Uvs Nuur
By midweek, we were bidding farewell to our new friends in Bayan-Olgiy and boarding another plane, this time bound for Uvs. We were welcomed at the airport by a small crew, and no sooner did we arrive at the branch than we got down to business. Client waivers, visits to borrowers, loan officer training—check, check, check! Then the branch staff treated us to a warm welcome dinner at a nearby Korean restaurant. We were starting to feel like royalty!
The following morning, we had certificates and tokens of appreciation to hand out to 5 Kiva borrowers who had repaid their loans on time (or early). It turned out that the Branch Director had invited the local television crew to film the small ceremony! They asked me to say a few words about Kiva, so I was happy to talk about the good work Kiva and XacBank are doing. It aired on the evening news that night. I guess that makes me famous in Mongolia!
Next on the agenda was a trip to Uvs Nuur, a saltwater lake that is the largest in Mongolia. Lucky us! We followed a road for part of the trek but veered off after a while to avoid muddy areas where our SUV could get stuck. We zigzagged across an open field and eventually made it to the water’s edge, where Mongolians love to come and take a dip in the summertime. It was a cool but sunny afternoon, and we took in the warm rays as we sat idly by the water’s edge and enjoyed the picnic our colleagues had packed for us. We couldn’t have spent a nicer time in Uvs!
Business owners, an ancient monument and a stolen dinosaur
The following week, we hit the road for two more aimags, Arkhangai and Bayanhongor.
There, we had the opportunity to meet some borrowers who told us about their businesses. It’s always rewarding to make the connection between the borrower profiles on Kiva’s website and the people who are actually behind them. It’s also nice to see microcredit working effectively. These lovely ladies passed along their thank you’s to their Kiva lenders… Allow me to introduce them.
While visiting these aimags, we also learned about some of Mongolia’s rich natural history. Not far from Tsetserleg, Arkhangai’s city centre, is Taikhar Chuluu, a large rock formation that juts out in the middle of a wide plain. Legend has it that a snake emerged from the earth one day, many moons ago, and a hero named Bökebilig forced it back and sealed off its cave with this rock. The rock has been revered by various civilizations since ancient times, as evidenced by the Mongolian, Tibetan, and Turkic inscriptions which can be found on it (the latter which dates back to the 6th century AD, although sadly, most of the inscriptions have been overwritten by modern-day graffiti).
And did you know that it’s possible to smuggle a dinosaur out of a country? Luckily, the one that was taken from Mongolia is now on its way home. Bayanhongor, which is part of the Gobi Desert region, is home to some of the incredible dinosaur fossils that have been unearthed since the 1920s. These include many dinosaur eggs and several Velociraptors (which of course you’ll remember from Jurassic Park!). One of the most famous discoveries is of a Velociraptor and a Protoceratops that were locked in battle and frozen in time 80 million years ago. You can also see exhibits such as a nest of newborn baby dinosaurs, and a mother protecting her young at the Natural History Museum in UB—that is, when they’re not out touring the world!
The Mongolian Messenger
I witnessed another curiosity during these BV travels. In a country where there are effectively no street names or real addresses, I’ve been intrigued by how mail gets delivered around here. You may know that the Mongolian Empire had a highly developed mail system at the height of its rule. People have assured me that when they receive mail—that is, anything that cannot be taped to their doors—they are given notices to go pick it up at the nearest postal outlet. Sounds reasonable, right?
But the truth is, Mongolians today have instituted an informal delivery system that would surely do Chinggis Khan proud. My edification began as Batzul and I waited in line at the check-in counter in the UB airport to fly to Bayan-Olgiy. A man was hovering nearby, and finally he approached Batzul. They exchanged a few words in Mongolian; he passed her an envelope, and she took down a phone number. I observed the whole interaction somewhat suspiciously.
‘What was that all about?’ I asked after the man had gone.
‘Oh, he just wants me to deliver something in Olgiy,’ she replied casually. And to my confused stare, she added, ‘It’s the Mongolian Messenger service.’
As if that explained everything! My jaw must have dropped. I started sputtering… What? How? Who?? I was full of questions!
These questions were somewhat cleared up when we arrived in Olgiy. As we stopped for lunch with our branch colleague, Batzul got on the phone and a short while later, a lady walked into the restaurant. Just a few words were exchanged before the envelope was handed over and the lady walked back out. I watched in fascination. ‘How did you know she was the right lady?’ I exclaimed.
‘Because I just talked to her on the phone,’ Batzul answered matter-of-factly.
‘But don’t you need to see her ID or something?’ I persisted.
‘No.’ We resumed eating.
This happened again and again until I finally started to believe in the system. Coming back to UB this time, we walked out of the baggage-claim area of the airport and Batzul delivered another envelope straight into the outstretched hands of a stranger. She knew him by the black shirt he was wearing, she assured me. On the way into the city, our driver stopped along the road from the airport, not once but twice, at seemingly random intersections where our little Messenger hopped out, delivered her goods to waiting recipients, and hopped back into the car. I was blown away.
The Kiva Coordinator-Extraordinaire
Speaking of this Messenger, delivering envelopes isn’t Batzul’s only talent. For the past four months, I’ve had the pleasure of working with her, and for good reason: She is a truly exemplary Kiva Coordinator. We’ve worked closely together, particularly during all of our branch visits for the BVs, and I must say we’ve made a great team. We get our work done quickly and efficiently, and even have time left to have some fun (as you now know).
But it’s not just that. Batzul is an impressive young professional all on her own. She is always on the ball with her Kiva work and manages several other projects on top of that. But the best part about her is that she takes immense pride in her job as a Kiva Coordinator, and also in the fact that her work is impacting the lives of many Mongolians. Whether we are running a training session together, or visiting a borrower, she’s been far more than just a translator. She elaborates by adding anecdotes and lessons from her own stock of experiences, including her interactions with branches, loan officers, and clients, thus adding colour and depth to the messages we deliver. She makes my job as a Kiva Fellow easy!
Just as I had thought, the opportunity to see so many different parts of Mongolia for my BVs was fun, rewarding, and incredibly enriching. And I have Batzul, the Kiva borrowers, XacBank, and all the incredible people at the branch offices we met to thank for that—so from the bottom of my heart, thank you everyone for a truly amazing experience!
Spring may have arrived in Mongolia, but for two Kiva staff who visited me in April, winter gave one last hurrah and dumped the largest snowfall I’ve seen since being here (a whopping 2 inches!).
Spring has arrived in Mongolia! That means warmer weather (afternoons creeping closer and closer to the double digits)… and, of course, baby animals!
By Marc Raifman | KF18 | New York
When I first met the other Kiva fellows, I asked them where they would be working. I heard Kenya, Peru, Indonesia, and many more places I someday hope to visit. I listened and began to share their excitement, worries and curiosities.
Then they asked me where I would be working on microfinance.
“Um, New York.”
“Um, isn’t that where you’re from?”
Indeed it is. Unlike many of my more impressive colleagues, I came back to New York, with all the amenities to which I’m accustomed, to be a Kiva Fellow.
While I don’t have the opportunity to explore a different culture, I find myself on an exciting frontier of Kiva, an organization that is perpetually searching for inspired and practical solutions to financial problems. As my fellow fellows work to expand and strengthen Kiva around the world, I’m working on a pilot project known as Kiva Zip. The lending model we seek to create will facilitate direct peer-to-peer lending, continue expanding access to capital in the U.S. and abroad, and explore untested hypotheses about the nature of borrowing.
Oh, and did I mention that our loans are made at zero-interest?
The traditional Kiva model has already inspired a new understanding of the concept of lending. By connecting people around the country and around the world, Kiva has shown that small groups of individuals can play the role of banker for those whose success would not generate enough profit for larger banks to take an interest.
What Kiva accomplished for lenders, we now seek to accomplish for borrowers.
Since its creation in November, Kiva Zip has sought to prove that in the right context, small-scale borrowers can outperform the expectations placed upon them by traditional lending criteria. We do not believe that credit scores and cash flow projections are the only ways to predict success.
The context that matters here is the community. There is no doubt that one’s community affects his or her behavior. We believe that with the community, friends and family invested in the success of a business owner, no matter how small, their success and repayment rates will stabilize at a high level.
That is why at Zip we are testing due-diligence models that make use of community partners with an established relationship with the borrower. These community partners are known as trustees. We will encourage individuals to play multiple roles, as borrower, trustee, and lender, so the connections among them increase and their investment in one another’s success grows stronger.
We are seeking a broad spectrum of partners, including advocacy organizations, entrepreneurship classes, chambers of commerce, and religious institutions, as well as individuals who understand where there is need and opportunity.
Kiva Zip loans in the United States do not currently exceed $5,000, but as we provide this stepping stone to entrepreneurs in the States, as well as entrepreneurs in Kenya where Kiva Zip is also active, we will be searching for and finding solutions that will eventually contribute to more opportunity for all.
I encourage you, reader, to not just make a loan, but to think about where these ideas can create a positive impact in your communities, and let us know about it!
Marc Raifman is a Kiva Fellow, working in New York and Chicago this summer with Kiva Zip. If you would like to find out how you can get involved with this innovative program, you can reach him at Marc.Raifman@fellows.kiva.org. You can also find out how you can become a Kiva Fellow or find more information on Kiva and microfinance in general on kiva.org.
By Amber Barger, KF14, Mongolia
A borrower verification is a thorough check of ten random Kiva borrowers of a field partner. It’s used to verify the accuracy of the information published on the borrower profiles on the Kiva website. A borrower verification happens several times throughout the course of a partnership in order to assess a microfinance institution’s performance levels. Read below about the ten borrowers I visited through a borrower verification with XacBank.
By Jerry Harter, KF13 Indonesia
During my three months in Bali, I gained an appreciation of people’s resourcefulness here. Typically, families have multiple streams of income. Various small enterprises are cobbled together, depending on the resources and demand in the area. Often some money can be made from the land, a little more is made from small-scale manufacturing, and perhaps some income is derived from providing services. For one reason or another, the following are some of my favorites.
Mongolia is known for its vast amount of open space and beautiful scenery. The population density of Mongolia is just over 1 person per square kilometer. In this post, I’ll share photos from the most rural of businesses to the most urban.
The term “countryside” can be translated into “khuudoo” in Mongolian language. However, the meaning of the word is slightly different in English and Mongolian. The term khuudoo in Mongolian is relative to where you are from in the country and where you are when you say the word.
By Amber Barger, KF12, Mongolia.
Mongolia is a landlocked country spanning 1,564,116 sq km, slightly smaller than Alaska. It’s situated between Russia and China. The main forms of transportation available from international destinations are flights from Russia, China, Korea, and Japan and the train route from Russia and China. Domestic flights, the train route and transport by road are options within Mongolia.
Small business owners normally don’t have the money to fly to and from Ulaanbaatar, this luxury is usually only attainable for government officials, foreigners, and wealthier urban Mongolians.
By Sloane Berrent, KF8, Ahon sa Hirap, Inc, Philippines
“How has Ahon sa Hirap, Inc.” (ASHI and my host microfinance institution) “being here in your barangay or in your town helped your community?”I ask the women from ASHI during each Center meeting that I attend. There are a few variations on this question. I ask how their lives have changed and what the Center means to them.
“My husband had a stroke and couldn’t work anymore. I worked as a domestic in town and had to travel very far every day for not a lot of money. I joined ASHI 7 years ago to start a buy and sell fish business so that I could stay closer to home to take care of my husband and help my children.”
“After my husband died, I was so lonely. My children are all grown up and out of the house. I was sad. I joined ASHI 13 years ago and now my life is so different. I laugh. I come here every week to see my friends.”
“My house was very bad and made from old bamboo. When typhoon season came, my family had to run to our neighbors because we were scared our house would collapse. With my ASHI loan, I was able to move my Sari Sari store to a busier corner where workers pass by on their way to the fields. I open at 4AM and close at 8PM but am very happy. Now 10 years later, we now have a house made of stone and we don’t run from the typhoons anymore.”
But has it changed MORE than that? What about an entire town?
I had heard that seeing microfinance in action could be like watching grass grow. So gradual, so slow. How could I say that there is indeed a larger change in the landscape of where microfinance sets up shop?
I turned to the ASHI staff. It was a Saturday night and we were going to go out to dinner together. The two Kiva Coordinators asked me if we could stop in the new local mall that opened so that could grab a few things.
“Sure,” I said. No problem.
We walked to the end of the drive and hopped into a tricycle and took off towards the mall. There was light traffic, the road wasn’t too bumpy, we arrived to throngs of people gathering outside the mall, in the entrance, more teenagers and families gathered.
“This has been huge for our town,” the one Kiva Coordinator said.
At the fellows training some of my companeros seemed shocked that I’d want to do a fellowship in one of the most expensive cities in the world. I have to admit, I admire the cost of a Terere in Paraguay compared to price of latte in NYC. Regardless, it’s been an incredible experience to participate with Kiva on the US launch.
In many ways the fellowship, the entreprenuers, even New York City itself has at times seemed enormously comparable to a fellowship in a developing country (I mean have you used the subways here!!!???). But about the cause…
Why US microfinance….
By launching in the United States, Kiva is creating a local lending place for global thinkers. By supporting US microfinance and organizations like ACCION USA, you are supporting community.
Kiva lenders want to support individuals around the globe that work hard to support themselves and their families. These entrepreneurs also dream of creating legacies. Kiva is helping to provide equal access to capital for business owners that, regardless of the country they live in, have struggled to obtain the credit elsewhere.
I believe that by supporting a US business on Kiva, we truly understand the goal of microfinance- and we are balancing the scales to open up opportunities for everyone.
Trinidad wanted to start a daycare, a bank turned her away, a loan shark almost lured her… instead a pool of individuals on Kiva helped to make her dream reality.
Sustainability is one of Kiva’s principles. Who can argue that sustainability isn’t needed in the US?
Kiva lenders are supporting sustainable businesses, building communities and helping to create legacies- 25 dollars at a time.
The other day in the Mission district at Kiva headquarters in San Francisco, I converged with three micro enterprises, on just one corner. A young man selling fresh oranges, a Popsicle and ice-cream cart vendor, and another man with a tall stick of cotton candy- $2 each. Although this coincidence is quite novel, it does explain another, larger phenomenon. Perhaps the true impact of small businesses in the U.S. is underestimated. AEO, the association for Enterprise Opportunity, says that 87% of all businesses in the U.S. are microenterprises, businesses with fewer then 5 employees.
As a fellow, Kiva has given me the opportunity to research U.S. microfinance as they look into expanding into the U.S. market. The Mission district for example is one of the most culturally and economically diverse neighborhoods in the U.S. There exists an interconnected community of businesses, many of them reminiscent of microenterprises I’ve seen traveling in the developing world or even on the Kiva website for that matter. It’s made me second guess why I hadn’t come here to study Spanish and Latin American culture- unarguably I would have had the most diverse experience possible.
In San Francisco, Denver, Omaha, Detroit and New Orleans there are all types of fascinating microenterprises. Businesses owners with retail shops, cosmetics sales, arts and crafts, janitorial services, and food vendors- just to name a few. Many of these businesses are using microfinance to get started and to get ahead. The backbone as U.S. businesses are sometimes referred to is asking for some reinforcement in a time of hardship. It may be microenterprise that helps tone the future of business in the U.S. Lets see.
Over the coming months of my Kiva Fellowship, I will continue to research U.S. microfinance on many different levels in several U.S. cities. Take a look at the video I made while in San Francisco’s Mission district. I will be continuing my research in New York City, so stay posted for more on U.S. microfinance.
Link to Video-