The Challenge(s) to Getting a Great Borrower Picture

28 September 2010 at 07:00 10 comments

By Tara Capsuto, KF12, Ecuador

Taking a picture of a Kiva borrower sounds easy enough, right?  Snap a picture at his or her business, shrink the photo size, and upload to the Kiva website. Three easy steps. That´s what I thought before I had the chance to see how very challenging this seemingly simple task can be.  As many Kiva Fellows can attest, there are actually lots of challenges to snapping that coveted profile picture, you know that one with the borrower doing their soon-to-be-Kiva-funded work, with good lighting and a big smile? It`s that picture that makes you want to loan before you even get to the borrower description.  I’d like to describe one particular challenge to taking borrower pictures and end with a call for suggestions.

First, here are a few common hurdles to getting that perfect picture:

  • Some borrowers are hesitant to have their picture taken
  • It may not logistically possible to get a picture at the borrower´s place of business (this can be especially challenging with village banks where borrowers often come from afar)
  • The microfinance institution (MFI) may  not have enough digital cameras to send out with numerous loan officers

The challenge here at Fundación D-MIRO is not the absence of cameras but the presence. Let me explain what I mean. Fundación D-MIRO works in peri-urban, marginalized areas where it’s generally unsafe to carry valuables like a bulky digital camera. Carrying such a camera puts loan officers at high risk for being robbed when they make client visits on foot, which is the majority of the time. Over the past several weeks I`ve been conducting trainings with loan officers at Fundación D-MIRO`s 7 offices implementing Kiva and at each meeting, loan officers highlighted this issue when I asked what they find most challenging about Kiva responsibilities.

Loan officers are working around this as best they can. Each of D-MIRO´s agencies (with 5 to 14 loan officers) has a car or a couple of motorcycles and they try to do Kiva interviews when they have access to one of these modes of transportation to make carrying a camera safer. However, this means they miss out on a lot of opportunities to add Kiva borrowers and they often have to use a car to go back to take a picture of a client they initially interviewed on one of their days on foot, which can be very time consuming.

The difficulty of carrying a camera is but perhaps part and parcel of doing exactly what D-MIRO, and microfinance, are aiming to do: reach traditionally under-served clients, in neighborhoods where traditional banks choose not to operate. Nevertheless, I remain hopeful that a mitigation strategy is possible.  So I ask you, how would you solve this?

Despite the camera challenge, Fundación D-MIRO is successfully posting a consistent number of high quality borrower profiles (with pictures, of course!) on Kiva. Reward the hard work of Fundación D-MIRO`s clients and the loan officers who make it all happen by making a loan today.

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Tara Capsuto is a Kiva Fellow currently serving at Fundación D-MIRO in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Entry filed under: blogsherpa, Ecuador, Fundacion D-MIRO Mision Alianza, KF12 (Kiva Fellows 12th Class). Tags: , .

Where Are the U.S. Borrowers? Microfinance Alone is Not Enough


  • 1. Irene Marie  |  25 October 2010 at 07:09


    Thanks for all the work you and your associates are performing. Your effort is doing more than any army could to help these people gain access to a better life for themselves and their families.

    Just your presence and the opportunity for gain is all the motivation a person needs to attempt robbing a staffer.
    It seems Neil’s suggestion (10/23/10) to have a borrower arrange an escort would be a good idea. Traveling in pairs may not be feasible but if someone known to the community could arrange safe passage, that would help everyone involved. Good luck and thanks to all involved in this work.

  • 2. Laura  |  23 October 2010 at 20:06

    I was an exchange student in Ecuador a few years back, although I was in Quito and did not go to Guayaquil because of warnings from locals about the dangers there. When I would walk around in Quito with my camera, which was quite conspicuous, I never went alone and tried to have at least one man with me. Ecuadorian culture is much more traditional in terms of gender than the U.S., and I always felt like if I was alone I was a target simply because I was a woman. If a man were to accompany a female loan officer, I think they would be less of a target for potential thieves than if the woman went alone.

    If the D-MIRO budget allows, I think a very small digital camera would be the safest to carry to take photos of borrowers. Unfortunately, the small ones are usually the more expensive ones. The loan officers could go in pairs (of at least one man) to visit the borrowers, and the person carrying the camera could carry it in an inconspicuous location (i.e., not the pocket). Maybe if the loan officers wear pants they could strap it to their leg or something? They could also get one of those money belts that tourists have and strap it around their waist if the camera isn’t too bulky. The point that someone else made about the camera flash is important, too – I think the loan officer is much less likely to be robbed if no one knows that he or she has valuables to steal, so it makes a lot of sense to take the photo indoors in unsafe neighborhoods.

  • 3. Neil  |  23 October 2010 at 16:51

    Perhaps it might be feasible sometimes to ask the prospective borrower to arrange some protection through one or more of the men of the area. Or, if mere numbers would help, perhaps several women could accompany the loan officer far enough to have an increased likelihood of safety.

    Another possibility comes to my mind: Take a step backwards and use disposable film cameras, the one-time use cameras that sell in the US for well under $10. Remove and pocket the film and make a bit of a display of discarding the disposable body.

    And, hit up one of the manufacturers or one of the retailers _ Vivitar, Walgreen’s, Wal-Mart, etc. _ for a donation. Given these cameras’ retail price, they must be exceedingly inexpensive to make. And there is very little market for them these days, because various forms of digital cameras are so pervasive. (I recently saw Walgreen’s selling a really cheap digital camera.). Those who make film and the disposal camera bodies might very well welcome a write-off for what they cannot so readily sell these days. For that matter, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the film AND the disposable camera housing both are made in China, where they might be available at VERY low wholesale prices _ if one must buy them.

    I already know I can get 20 such cameras loaded for 27 exposures at less than $3 apiece._ with built-in flash, with batteries inside, and with ASP400 color film. Since the seller expects to make at least SOME profit at the price, they obviously must be available somewhere for even less!

  • 4. Johannah  |  23 October 2010 at 14:44

    Thank you to all the Fundacion D-Miro workers who venture where they are needed. Our family is grateful for your work and hope to support you now and in the future. Please pass on our greetings from Philadelphia, when you can, to clients, and tell them we hold them in prayer.
    Thanks to Tara Capsuto for a great update.

  • 5. zerrincetin  |  30 September 2010 at 03:41

    I was also surprised at how hard it is to locate borrowers sometimes. In Ghana, safety is not really an issue. But in peri-urban settings, it can be hard to locate clients whether for journal update interviews or to take borrower profile pictures. While the rural clients tend to all be in one spot (in or around a village), sometimes, it’s so hard to find these villages. How loan and field officers manage to navigate these dirt/forest-covered roads is beyond me.

  • 6. sarahcurl  |  30 September 2010 at 02:29


    This is a great post and I loved how you tied i it into the fact that microfinance is trying to serve the under-served clients…great job 🙂


  • 7. Jan & John, Kiva Friends  |  28 September 2010 at 13:21

    Thanks for that slide show. There appears to be quite an assortment of walls, bars etc showing the nature of the dangers in their society. That said, I truly prize the photos I have of my borrowers and please pass along my thank you to those who take the time and effort to make them possible. I feel a strong connection when I can make that eye contact.

    • 8. tcapsuto  |  28 September 2010 at 15:41


      Thank you for your words of encouragement. The Kiva Coordinator here at Fundacion D-MIRO says “thank you very much for all of your loans to D-MIRO`s clients!”

  • 9. Jeff  |  28 September 2010 at 10:02

    Well, it depends on what the problem is, Tara.

    Digital cameras now come in very small sizes that are easily concealed. If the thief doesn’t know you have a camera then that should be the end of the problem. If, on the other hand, the thief is going to rob you anyway on the off-chance that you have a camera, then you are unsafe whether you have one of not.

    Are cameras the only problem? What about other items that are carried? Money, a watch, a cellphone. What is special about cameras?

    Is it the act of using the camera that advertises its presence and invites theft? If so, then the solution seems only to have protection of some sort.

    Somehow, the problem seems to need to be better defined.

    • 10. tcapsuto  |  28 September 2010 at 15:22


      There are actually two difficulties surrounding the cameras. The first is that the cameras they have are relatively large and therefore obvious when carried (they tend not to carry a shoulderbag or backpack so the camera can easily be seen through their pockets). Although robbery can of course be random, their chances are increased by carrying an expensive-looking cell phone, a purse/backpack, camera, or watch, so loan officers tend to avoid carry any of these. They generally head out on foot with just a clipboard and the necessary papers.

      The second difficulty, which you alluded to, is that loan officers are often seen taking the pictures, which means that even if they had a smaller camera they can easily be identified as having a camera when they step back to take a picture. One option could be to get small, stealthy cameras and just take pictures indoors instead of outside, where they can be easily spotted. I certainly welcome any suggestions though.

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