Posts tagged ‘www.kiva.org.’

Kiva Fellows: Mixing Business with Pleasure

a job that lets you travel across Mongolia... AND play table tennis while you wait at the airport?!

A job that lets you travel across Mongolia… AND play table tennis while you wait at the airport?!

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?

Runaway borrowers

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.

Kiva borrower Aibek - what a relief it was when we finally caught up to him!

Kiva borrower Aibek – what a relief it was when we finally caught up to him!

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 plane we took to Bayan-Olgiy

the plane we took to Bayan-Olgiy

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!

Bayan-Olgiy

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.

visiting the main mosque in Olgiy, where 90% of the population practice Islam

visiting the main mosque in Olgiy, where Islam is the main religion

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.

even the houses in Bayan-Olgiy look different than the rest of Mongolia

even the houses in Bayan-Olgiy look different than the rest of Mongolia

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!

with a couple of the colleagues who treated me to lunch

with a couple of the colleagues who kindly treated me to lunch

delivering Kiva training to the staff at the Bayan-Olgiy branch

delivering Kiva training to the staff at the Bayan-Olgiy branch

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!).

taking in the landscapes on our way to the lake

taking in the landscapes on our way to the lake

the driver, the Branch Director, and Batzul at Tolbo Nuur

our driver, the Branch Director, and Batzul at Tolbo Nuur

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.

the Kazakh family who welcomed us into their home

the Kazakh family who welcomed us into their home

the feast that they prepared for us (top) and our driver carving up 4 different types of meat (bottom)

the feast that they prepared for us (above) and our driver carving up 4 different types of meat (below)

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a horse and its foal that the family owns

a horse and its foal that the family owns

On our way back to Olgiy, we soaked in the peaceful landscapes of the countryside…

wild swans taking flight

wild swans taking flight

cows grazing by the water

cows grazing in the quiet evening

IMG_7078

the moon rising over 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 Kiva borrowers who were recognized by XacBank

the Kiva borrowers who were recognized by XacBank

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!

Batzul with the Branch Director (left) and two staff members from the Uvs branch

Batzul with the Branch Director (left) and two staff members from the Uvs branch

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!

Lake Tolbo

Uvs Lake

Business owners, an ancient monument and a stolen dinosaur

The following week, we hit the road for two more aimags, Arkhangai and Bayanhongor.

driving along a Mongolian superhighway

driving along the Mongolian superhighway from Arkhangai

some stretches of the road where you don't want to get stuck!

some stretches of the road where you don’t want to get stuck!

seems sturdy enough for our SUV, right?

seems sturdy enough for our SUV, right?

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.

Byambahuu, who runs a produce and variety stand at the local market in Tsetserleg - and the recipient of a 9% interest incentive recognition award

Byambahuu is standing in front of her produce and variety stand at the local market in Tsetserleg. She was recognized by XacBank for her efforts to repay her loan on time, getting back 9%  of the amount she paid in interest deposited back into a savings account.

Oyunchimeg has a dairy stand at the local market in Tsetserleg, where she sells cheese curds and other milk products. She makes some of these products herself, while the rest she purchases from nomadic herders in the countryside.

Oyunchimeg has a dairy stand at the local market in Tsetserleg, where she sells cheese curds and other milk products. She makes some of these products herself, while the rest she purchases from nomadic herders in the countryside.

Munhdelger sells a variety of housewares and other goods at the outdoor section of the local market in Tsetserleg.

Munhdelger sells a variety of housewares and other useful household goods at the outdoor section of the local market in Tsetserleg.

Gerelmandah is a tailor who takes custom orders to make beautiful traditional Mongolian clothing, such as deels (below). It's a trade that was passed on to her by her mother, and one which she is now passing on to her own daughter.

Gerelmandah is a tailor in Bayanhongor who takes custom orders to make beautiful traditional Mongolian clothing, such as deels (below). It’s a trade that was passed on to her by her mother, and one which she is now passing on to her own daughter.

IMG_7756

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).

one has to wonder how this got here... if not for the legend

one would have to wonder how this got here… if not for the legend

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 dry and dusty desert climate of Bayanhongor is also evident in the main city centre

the dry and dusty desert climate of Bayanhongor is also evident in the main city centre

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.

a typical plane which carries private messages across Mongolia... and a typical messenger who delivers the service

a typical plane which carries private messages across Mongolia… and an example of a messenger who delivers the service

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!

Batzul, the Kiva Coordinator-Extraordinaire (left) and the lucky Kiva Fellow who works with her

Batzul, the Kiva Coordinator-Extraordinaire (left) and the lucky Kiva Fellow who works with her

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!

2 June 2013 at 10:30 1 comment

What Green Means in Mongolia

a massive silver statue of Chinggis Khan looms 40m high on a site where, as legend has it, he found his golden whip

a massive silver statue of Chinggis Khan looms 40m high on a snowy spring morning at Tsonjin Boldog, east of UB

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!).

If you’ve had a chance to read some of my past blog posts, you’ll already know that winter in Mongolia is a big deal—even for a Canuck like me. (more…)

31 May 2013 at 16:45

Of Baby Animals and Borrowers in Selenge

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

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

13 April 2013 at 04:33

Kiva’s Investment in Non-Traditional Loan Products

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

Continue Reading 27 December 2012 at 09:37 1 comment

Hard Workers and the Spirit of Entreprise

En route to San Carlos for some BVs

Visiting borrowers in rural Costa Rica

By all accounts, borrower verifications (BVs) have been a highlight for all Kiva Fellows who have had them on their work plans. I started mine last week, but I have to admit I went into them feeling apprehensive—especially since not all borrowers fully understand how Kiva works or how Kiva is even related to them. (more…)

24 October 2012 at 10:15 1 comment

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

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1 October 2012 at 08:00

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

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.

(more…)

20 August 2012 at 10:00 8 comments

Savings Accounts make me way too excited!

Team Building Exercises

Obviously, as a Kiva Fellow, I’m always excited to hear about how our field partners offer savings to their clients.  While I was unaware of the agenda of this last weekend’s UGAFODE-wide training, I was pleasantly surprised to be a part of personal Savings Account utilization and client mobilization!  The whole weekend was not only necessary but also fun and interesting.  While the first day focused on team building with trust games and group coordination exercises, the second day was designated to Savings Account mobilization.

This savings aspect of UGAFODE has only recently been a possibility and after much hard work and restructuring of the organization.  This field partner only became a Micro Deposit Taking Institution (MDI) on September 23, 2011, but they are moving quickly to utilize this capacity in the products they offer to their clients.

Now, back to the training we received on Savings Mobilization.  I was impressed that the first half of the training was dedicated to training all ~135 employees in personal savings practices and recommendations.  The reason being, “How can you tell a client to save when you yourself don’t know how?”  Although, some of the tips were quite basic they were good reminders of how and why we save.

All employees from Credit Officers to Senior Management in Training!

Next, we split into groups to discuss the different forms of savings that clients utilize and why they do this.  I knew that micro business clients use often unorthodox forms of savings, but this really opened my eyes to other barriers that institutions have to encourage and educate people toward savings.  Although, saving in a bank is not always the best option, many times it is a far better option then the alternative.  In Uganda, with an economic history of bank closures and untrustworthy institutions, many people are hesitant to trust their money with an organization.  One of the facilitators shared a story that he had a group of woman that he was helping open savings accounts for.  When he filled out the paper work and took their cumulatively substantial amount of $6,000 he brought back passbooks (small ledgers recording account activity) that were worth $0.25.  The women were confused and angry that they gave him all that money and they only got a cheap book to replace it.

I have learned that this is the kind of context that many of the rural branches of UGAFODE deal with on a daily basis. When improving the financial literacy of low-income clients it is not telling them that saving is a good habit, but rather how will they directly benefit from savings. The credit officers’ job is to not only to disburse loans and savings accounts, but to educate clients on the benefits of savings.  What they call customer sensitization was heavily emphasized in training, to not only explain the benefits, but also the step-by-step deposit and withdrawal terms of any given account.

Don, a credit officer with UGAFODE talks business with a new Kiva client, James. Let’s get these people some savings accounts!

I was somewhat unaware of the marketing aspect of savings accounts, but now totally understand that savings accounts not only benefit the borrower with safe and secure savings but also with interest.  And while this is a great social mission for UGAFODE, it makes sense for them to increase their clients’ savings portfolio, so that they have access to this cheaper form of capital that they can then lend to other borrowers.

I love these win-win situations for all parties involved!  Now, I’m currently compiling a report to propose to UGAFODE to give back to their Kiva borrowers by opening a fixed deposit savings account for 3-6 months that would be given to Kiva clients who make all their repayments on time.  Therefore, only clients with good repayment histories would receive a reward by a portion of the interest charged by UGAFODE deposited into this account at the loan-end date. The fixed term of 3-6 months would inherently teach clients the benefits of savings and hopefully encourage continued utilization.

Please share with me any ideas or recommendations for this!

Jon is a second-term Kiva fellow volunteering in Kampala, Uganda with UGAFODE. From the desolate plains of Mongolia to the lush jungle and mountains of Uganda, Jon has been experiencing much of the amazing world of Micofinance. If you like what he has said about UGAFODE, make a loan to any of their clients here

11 August 2012 at 09:00 4 comments

Selling stoves in Burkina Faso, a humble field guide

Diana Biggs | KF 18 | Burkina Faso

Last week I was lucky enough to join my Entrepreneurs du Monde (EdM) colleagues on a field mission in the Ioba province of Burkina Faso, a rural area that borders Ghana. There, in the town of Dano, is a small EdM office manned by Benoit Some, who covers EdM’s Burkina Faso social enterprise arm, Nafa Naana, in the area.

The small, roadside office doubles as a storage hub and retail outlet for energy-efficient and gas cookstoves (as described in my last blog post).

EdM's Dano office

Cookstove display outside the EdM branch in Dano.

Here, this March, four rural shopkeepers were given training in the Nafa Naana model — the product offering, environmental protection, stock management, cash management and sales techniques. Then in April, EdM set them up for the sale of the cookstoves, providing them with simple management tools, such as receipts and sales lists, posters and an informational leaflet to show interested customers. The organization also installed grills produced by local iron workers to lock up the cookstoves and organized four promotional events in the area to drum up interest. Then of course there were the actual cookstoves, which are supplied to the shopkeepers with interest-free advances.

(more…)

7 August 2012 at 08:00 4 comments

Feeling truly connected: Kiva Fellows meeting their “own” borrowers in person

Luan Nio and Olivia Hanrahan-Soar |  KF18 | Nicaragua and Zambia

Kiva works hard to facilitate a connection between lenders and borrowers, through photographs, video interviews, and email updates from the borrowers themselves. Nothing compares, though, to the experience of being able to meet that borrower in person and see how your funds and the funds of others have had a tangible impact on his or her life.

Two Kiva fellows recently got the extraordinary opportunity to visit a borrower they had personally lent money to.

Luan from Rotterdam, The Netherlands <-> Alejandro Jose from El Sauce, Nicaragua

(more…)

27 July 2012 at 08:00 5 comments

Explaining Kiva Zip from a Whitewater Raft

By Muskan Chopra KF18 Kenya

I lived the life of a Kiva Zip borrower for a day as I rafted down the Nile in Uganda. It all started last weekend when the brave expats of Nairobi and Kampala decided to meet in Jinja. Jinja is a quaint city in Uganda serving the best Rolex, and is also the place where the Nile originates. With every natural wonder of the world comes some adventure – a full day Grade 5 rafting trip at the Source.

As a first-timer to extreme action sports in the water, I decided to tune in to every emotion – the anticipation of a class 5 rapid, the heightened fear every time a swirl of rough water came in to sight, the alertness to what the guide was saying, the effort with which I rowed when it felt like the water was taking over, and the huge sigh of relief when you realize you came out on the other side with all your body parts intact.

Looking back, I couldn’t help but wonder – what could I relate this experience to? What does this cycle of emotions remind me of? I instantly drew a connection with Kiva Zip – a revolutionary microfinance model testing the possibility of lenders giving loans directly to borrowers at 0% interest, as long as the borrower has a trustee that Kiva has vetted.

Let me explain the correlation from the eyes of a Grade 5 rafter…

(more…)

25 July 2012 at 05:00 6 comments

Now you’re cooking with gas…

Diana Biggs | KF 18 | Burkina Faso

As mentioned in my previous posts, the Field Partner I’m working with, Entrepreneurs du Monde (EdM), is not a microfinance institution in itself – however, the use of microfinance is key to its mission, as it allows EdM to distribute their socially focused projects in a way that can become financially sustainable.

The focus of Kiva’s partnership is EdM’s cookstove project, newly named “Nafa Naana” which can be understood both in Moré and Dioula – the two local languages most spoken in Burkina Faso – roughly translating to “the benefit has come,” “that which you easily win” or “the facility is there.” (Read about it on EdM’s West Africa Blog – and , if you’re really keen, starting picking up some Moré!).  Nafa Naana’s mission is to make environmentally-friendly energy products – such as gas and energy efficient stoves – available in Burkina Faso, even to the poorest and most remote households.

Projet Nafa Naana

Nafa Naana team with the improved cookstoves

(more…)

20 July 2012 at 08:09 6 comments

Mobile Money: Where’s Kiva’s Role? Transactions, Travels and Zebras in Zambia

By Olivia Hanrahan-Soar | KF18 |  Zambia and South Africa

Borrower Annes with her baby Ebby in Chirundu, Zambia

Right now, I’m in the middle of a Zambian road trip. I’m working with one of Kiva’s newest non-traditional partners, Mobile Transactions Zambia (MTZ): a business which provides funds to entrepreneurs who want to own mobile money kiosks all over Zambia. This is Kiva’s first foray into mobile money, and it’s proving to be extremely valuable for the borrowers as well as their communities. Msanide, for instance, wants to become an MTZ agent: instead of transporting cold, hard cash, people will be able to use Msanide’s shop to send money quickly, safely and cheaply all over the country.

Check out Mundia and Muyoyeta for more : I’ve visited both of them this week, via a small odyssey involving a two-day drive through a nature reserve, home to the Zambian cheetah, and a mosquito-infested swamp crossing. These guys are great examples of how mobile money technology is connecting rural communities to the rest of the economy: like M-PESA in Kenya, MTZ has the potential to be a real catalyst for change in Zambia. (more…)

13 July 2012 at 08:00 2 comments

Pakistan: Where there’s a Ferris wheel, there’s hope.

By Anya Raza | KF18 | Pakistan

Secretly, every fellow really just wants to be in the field.

The thrill-seekers in us wish to go to obscure far-flung places, desperate and desolate, yet magical in our minds.

In my case, not even our car breaking down could hold me back. So off we went, three women on a dusty road. Sometimes we need life to slow down around us, to match the pace of our surroundings. As we moseyed our way through the village, we passed a local mela (fair), complete with food stands, game stalls and a theme park.

Elevating perspectives

The sight of a Ferris wheel halted my breath – my daytime reverie saw me floating above this tiny village less than two hours from Lahore, thrust into a utopian state of oblivion. Upon close inspection I realised there was no one in it, and I was told tearfully that these operate on generators, therefore the chances of dangling above my dreams were high. Ah, it’s just as well.  (more…)

12 July 2012 at 22:30 10 comments

Kiva = 1, Trough of Disillusionment = 0

By Muskan Chopra | KF18 | Kenya

During our week of training in San Francisco, we were warned about the ‘trough of disillusionment’, where all will not be smooth in the field. Whether we were going to Kenya, Cambodia, Armenia or Peru, we will wake up to tough days where hot water decides to take a holiday or mosquitos find a way through the bed nets.

I often thought to myself – shouldn’t we instead be worrying about our borrowers’ ‘trough of disillusionment’? What’s a day of cold water baths and mosquito bites when thousands of people in the bottom of the pyramid don’t have access to water at all or can’t even afford malaria pills?

Three weeks of meeting these people has taught me that micro-borrowers don’t know what disillusionment is. They only know of hope and optimism, constantly planning for brighter futures.

How can they not when over 22,000 Kiva lenders made a loan to a borrower just this week.

Welcome to the world of Josphat – school principal, teacher and aspiring entrepreneur…

(more…)

11 July 2012 at 06:00 10 comments

How to Make it in Kampala

Julie Kriegshaber  KF 18  Uganda

Ahh, Kampala. So charming, so dusty, so chaotic.

Due to a bit of poor planning on my part, I had about 32 hours between landing in Kampala and starting my Fellowship, so my first week here was a bit of a blur.  Somewhere within the disorder of my first days, I met two Ugandans with inspiring stories that stuck out to me, and I want to share their stories here.

Walter

Destreet

 

 

 

 

 

So, meet Walter and Destreet.  They don’t know each other and their only common link (aside from meeting me!) is that they both had a vision and decided to make it a reality.  Oh, and they are both young – Walter is 25 and Destreet is only 24!

(more…)

10 July 2012 at 08:00 11 comments

Who Are Some of Maya’s Volunteers + What Do They Do?

By Kimberly Strathearn, KF 16/17, Turkey

Volunteers aren’t paid, not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless.” Anonymous

National Volunteer Week 2012 (April 15-21) has come and gone and despite my best intentions to post this blog during that week–it didn’t happen. But that does not mean I appreciate our SUPER Maya volunteers any less, in fact, I am going to use this blog as the perfect chance to brag about some of the individuals and schools that volunteer for Maya.  Some translate Maya Entrepreneur Profiles and Journal Updates from Turkish to English while others help out with more technical translations or other projects.

When I first started my Fellowship back in September 2011 with KF 16, I immediately recognized that since Maya is such a small program, the Kiva Coordinator is out in the field 3-4 days a week, and none of the loan officers speak English, we were going to need some help getting the profiles and journal updates translated.

Through some groups I belong to here in Istanbul, I sent out some notices seeking volunteers.  I was blown away by the response but shouldn’t have been because I know that volunteer opportunities can be hard to find and a logistical nightmare (traffic and Istanbul is a large city).

So without further delay, let’s see who are some of the volunteers that are vital to helping Maya and what they do:

Suzanne, profile translator

Suzanne, profile translator and coordinator

(more…)

15 June 2012 at 08:00 3 comments

Retail Consumers as Micro Lenders + What is FITE? + Maya Entrepreneurs Supported by FITE

By Kimberly Strathearn, KF 16/17, Turkey

Dermalogica Lending team logo

joinFITE logo

joinFITE logo

joinFITE lending team logo

On January, 2011, Kiva.org announced its partnership with Dermalogica (a leading international skin care brand) and other partners to launch joinFITE.org in order to provide micro loans to women entrepreneurs in low-income regions of the United States and 56 other countries.

FITE is a global empowerment platform that is designed to cultivate Financial Independence Through Entrepreneurship (FITE) by providing women entrepreneurs access to small loans that will help them start or grow a business thereby bettering themselves, their families and their communities; and to help educate the public at large about the benefits of empowering women entrepreneurs.

(more…)

8 June 2012 at 08:00 2 comments

Different Worlds: Two Perspectives on Borrower Privacy from Indonesia and Ukraine

Heather Sullivan | KF17 | Indonesia
Chris Paci | KF16 & KF17 | Ukraine

When not sampling local delicacies or fording swollen rivers to visit borrowers, Kiva Fellows occasionally find themselves stuck in the office, chatting on Skype and sharing experiences (both raucous and ruminative) from the field.  In one recent conversation, the two of us, Heather and Chris, discovered that we were facing nearly opposite sets of problems surrounding the issue of borrower privacy. While Chris’s field partner in Ukraine was finding it hard to convince suspicious borrowers that sharing their photos and stories on Kiva would cause them no harm, Heather was struggling to convey to her Indonesian MFI’s clients that perhaps they shouldn’t be so nonchalant about how their information might be shared. What follows is a joint blog exploring some of the roots of those cultural differences—and their consequences for Kiva and its partner MFIs.

Ibu Masripah from Indonesia

Ibu Masripah, a VisionFund Indonesia client, was delighted to report on the success of her kiosk and participate in an impromptu photo shoot.

(more…)

25 May 2012 at 09:00 4 comments

Day in the Life of a Kiva Fellow

Ever wonder what a day “in the field” actually looks like for a Kiva Fellow? I know I had so many questions before I touched down in Kenya, as did my friends and family back home. To answer these questions about where I’m working and what I’m doing all the way in Mombasa, I made a short video about a typical day in the life of a Kiva Fellow.

While my day-to-day activities vary by week, most of my time recently has been filled with a combination of borrower visits, website design, loan officer training, and filming what I see. Then of course, there’s all the patient waiting around when the office’s electricity takes it daily hiatus.

Check out the video to get a peek at a day’s work at Kiva Field Partner Milango Financial Services in Mombasa, Kenya.

Many thanks to Kiva’s video editor Jenny McAllister for all her help!

Devon Fisher is a Kiva Fellow working with Milango Financial Services in Mombasa, Kenya. You can find and fund Milango borrowers here

1 May 2012 at 09:00 4 comments

Hello Spring: It’s Time to Celebrate

Compiled by Kiyomi Beach | KF17 | Mexico

Whether shaking off the chill of winter, welcoming the rainy season, or experiencing any other climate change, the spring can definitely be a time to celebrate. Some countries celebrate big which can mean local business owners have a surge in income from selling items related to the festivities. Sales for new clothes, fabrics for costumes, candies, and specialty foods increase, which give some Kiva borrowers an extra reason to celebrate.

While we may all be familiar with some holidays or festivals, each culture celebrates what may seam like a familiar holiday differently. Some countries have celebrations that are uniquely their own, with the common threads being are family and fun. Lets see how a few of the fellows celebrated.

Continue Reading 20 April 2012 at 09:00 4 comments

Food Aid: Feeding Bellies, Starving Markets?

Ryan Cummings | KF 17 | Liberia

It’s no secret that microfinance institutions provide a variety of beneficial services to communities beyond just loans.  In addition to micro-credit services, BRAC Liberia also runs a community health program and an agricultural program to improve the quality of life for its borrowers and the community as a whole.

A Young Girl Selling Vegetables At The Market

A Young Girl Selling Vegetables At The Market

The agriculture program provides entrepreneurial farmers with both technical assistance and funding for seeds and other inputs. Having a background in agricultural business, I am always fascinated by international agriculture and its relationship to development.  One of my first observations in Liberia was the notable lack of small farms.  In my past experience and travels in the developing world, small farms have always been a mainstay of family income and subsistence. (more…)

12 April 2012 at 09:00 3 comments

Update from the Field: Group Loans, Barriers to Microfinance + How to Visit a Borrower

Compiled by Chris Paci | KF16 & KF17 | Ukraine

A Kiva borrower in Barranquilla - Alex Connelly, Colombia

A Kiva borrower in Barranquilla with his family - Alex Connelly, Colombia

As regular readers of Kiva Stories from the Field will know, it’s not always easy to extend microfinance services to the people who need them most. Aside from the usual barriers - poor infrastructure that makes it difficult to connect borrowers with an MFI, the difficulty of disseminating information about available services, and the danger of over-indebtedness among those in greatest need - there are sometimes even more intractable political and regulatory challenges that make it very difficult for microfinance to be viable. This week, our fellows have investigated a few of these problems. Read on to learn about the unique challenges that come with owning a farm in the West Bank and the barriers that Turkish microfinance institutions face in trying to expand their services; then, get another window into the Kiva borrower verification process and learn how Kiva Fellows forge connections with the entrepreneurs they visit. (more…)

9 April 2012 at 09:00 1 comment

Barrier + Solution = Groups loans for Maya! + Challenges Remain.

By Kimberly Strathearn, KF 16/17, Turkey

No water = barrier for fish
(ran across this advertisement for a new aquarium one morning in Taksim Square on the way to work)

Maya has been a Kiva Field partner for 8 months.  Maya is a small program that was established under the Foundation for the Support of Women’s Work in 2002.  Maya’s target clients are low-income women with a primary school education that have limited chances of finding a job in the formal economy.  Turkey has a large informal economy, so most of Maya’s clients want to set up a small-scale business or enhance their existing small-scale business.  Many of their clients work from home but some have small shops, or work in market stalls. Most of these businesses are in the trade sector but some are in the manufacturing and service sectors. Since most of the businesses are unregistered, the women are unable to access regular financial services.

Have you been wondering why Maya has only posted 35 entrepreneur profiles on the Kiva website?  And that they all have been individuals?  You may know from my first post about Maya or Maya Field Partner Page, that Maya offers group loans—so why isn’t Maya posting any?

(more…)

7 April 2012 at 08:00 6 comments

Update from the Field: Non-Financial Services, Employment Discrimination + The Dark Side of Sustainable Tourism

Compiled by Chris Paci | KF16 & KF17 | Ukraine

The Quirimbas Archipelago from above - Micaela Browning, Mozambique

The Quirimbas Archipelago from above - Micaela Browning, Mozambique

It’s been a busy week here on Kiva Stories from the Field! Most of our KF17 fellows have been in the field for two months by this point, and they’ve been drawing on their wealth of on-the-ground experience to unpack some of the more complex and troubling aspects of life in their host societies. In a series of fascinating posts, our fellows tackle employment discrimination in Indonesia, the dark side of sustainable tourism in Mozambique, and the difficulty all Kiva Fellows face in keeping sight of our end goal of poverty alleviation – not to mention our most harrowing borrower verification story yet. But there’s plenty of lighter fare this week too. Tag along with our fellows as they join a football club in Togo, help a new partner post its first Kiva profiles in Cameroon, and teach us about the inspirational non-financial services that Kiva’s field partners provide. (more…)

2 April 2012 at 09:00 4 comments

This Sporting Life

Michael Slattery | KF17 | Togo

Football: what more needs to be said?

For the past number of weeks I’ve been training with my microfinance institution’s football club, WAGES FC.  Early on in my stay, I found out that most of the male loan officers I was spending my days with were members of the team.  This didn’t surprise me after a certain point: the MFI was interested in placing me with their best agents.  Well-rounded people are generally active in various areas of their lives, and this includes sports.  When I expressed some interest in the team, I was invited out to train with them, for fun, as they said, at 6:30 am, every Saturday.

(more…)

28 March 2012 at 08:00 12 comments

Update From The Field: Finding Epiphanies, Sharing Wisdom + Standing Up to Sassy Nigerian Mamas

Compiled by Chris Paci | KF16 & KF17 | Azerbaijan

Alex Connelly offers us a typically "light" Colombian "snack."

Alex Connelly offers us a typically "light" Colombian "snack."

The 17th class of Kiva Fellows was turned loose into the field on January 27th, nearly two months ago – and how long ago it seems! By this point, our intrepid fellows are really starting to get the hang of their placements, forming routines, powering through their workplans, and learning the ins and outs of the national cuisine. But a few members of KF17 have been living in their host countries for even longer, collecting wisdom and digging deeply into local life, and this week we’ve heard from several of them. Read on to gain insight into microfinance, poverty, and everyday life from our fellows in Colombia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. Once you’re back, come sail around Samoa to discover the difficulties of life in the South Pacific, then jump on the back of a Togolese motorbike to learn about the complexities and challenges that loan officers deal with every day. (more…)

19 March 2012 at 09:00 4 comments

If it is Wednesday, it must be Eskişehir + Eskişehir Entrepreneurs

By Kimberly Strathearn | KF 16/17 | Turkey

In previous blog posts, I have introduced the Maya Istanbul office, the Sakarya branch office, and the Izmit branch office.  This blog will highlight the Eskişehir branch office,  introduce Nermin Akar and Serpil Altıntaş and provide an update on three entrepreneurs.

From left to right: Nermin Akar and Serpil Altıntaş

(more…)

13 March 2012 at 09:13 5 comments

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