The Kiva Fellows Phenomenon

13 February 2011 at 12:00 6 comments

“Goodbye. I love you. I’ll miss you but I know how good what you’re doing is, and I want you to be there”. Suddenly I was on through security, on the plane, and the engines whirred into life as we accelerated up the runway. And it dawned on me what I was leaving behind in London, to spend the next few months in sub-Saharan Africa…

…“Why am I doing this?”

Let me introduce you to the Kiva Fellows Phenomenon.

  • 2 months ago I was sitting in an office in London’s West End in highly regarded and well paid job.
  • One month ago I sat at Kiva HQ in San Francisco surrounded by 19 talented, driven, and fascinating people, all about to be scattered across the world in the latest exodus of Kiva Fellows.
  • Yesterday I travelled through heat and dust to the slums of Cotonou, Benin, to see a group of potential borrowers and talk to them about Kiva.

The latest Kiva Fellows, ready to scatter

All across the world, in some of the poorest places that exist, our network of fellows has left behind friends, family, and all the conveniences we take for granted in the west. They are having very similar conversations with potential borrowers in their countries right now.

We are not paid.
We are in completely unfamiliar surroundings.
We are on our own.

And yet we choose to do it. This is the Fellows Phenomenon. 

“No. Really. Why am I doing this?!”

The answer is, of course, Kiva. Or rather, what Kiva does, and what it represents.

Our unifying belief?
  • That responsible microfinance can empower the poor…
  • …to help themselves to a better quality of life…
  • …by actively participating in their economy.
  • And no-one does responsible microfinance like Kiva.

    Kiva uses field partners (local microfinance institutions or MFI) to distribute loans to entrepreneurs across the world. We fellows assist these field partners in two principle ways:
    1. Better to run their operations, ensuring they can spread their scarce funds as far as possible to help the most out of reach entrepreneurs get access to credit.
    2. To ensure transparency and social responsibility it their actions, so that they may shape a sustainable and positive microfinance industry in their countries.

    A brighter future

    By carrying out these tasks, I am helping Kiva’s field partner in Benin (an MFI called ALIDé) build the country’s economy from the very bottom. I think this is worthwhile enough to abandon my comfortable life for at least the next four months. So do nineteen other fellows across the world right now. So have nearly 350 other fellows since the programme started four years ago.

    There are many ways to see how powerful a force against poverty Kiva is. The Fellows Phenomenon is only one of these. I’m not asking everyone to take the extreme steps we have taken, but I would ask you to consider where your money goes and what it does.

    And whether just $25 of that could be loaned to a Kiva entrepreneur today.

    See entrepreneurs on Kiva today

    Read more about Kiva Fellows Programme

    Find out more about how Kiva uses field partners across the world

    Find out more about my field partner ALIDé

    Gareth Davies is a newly arrived Kiva Fellow in Benin, West Africa. The next four months will see him work alongside ALIDé to spread their Kiva operations in marginalised communities across the country.


    Entry filed under: Africa, Alidé, Benin, KF14 (Kiva Fellows 14th Class). Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

    Gringita in Peru Part 3: Borrower protection practices at Kiva partners


    • 1. Jacques Alarme  |  6 February 2012 at 09:27

      Fascinating article !
      Take care, Gareth.

    • […] 16 March 2011 WAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!    Just to clarify, this is the sound of a small child bursting into tears at the first site of me. And once again it’s the sound that welcomes me as I enter a Beninese village, accompanying the loan agent to make sure my training has stuck.    “Ha ha. Yovo yovo yovo yovo”, exclaims the mother (Haha. White man white man white man). And picks up the child to force her closer to me.   WWWWWWWWAAAAAAHHHHHAAAAAHHHAAAA!!!!!!!   Smile. Yes, very funny. Haha. At least the whole village is now surrounding us and laughing along. I guess this is one way to break the ice – frightening the young children with the White Man.   Oh well. Let’s get down to business. The loan agent explains my presence, what Kiva does, and what’s needed to take a Kiva loan (a photo of the group). And the questions begin. Some tough ones in there too.   “I want a loan for less than that. Does Kiva not care about me?” We have a minimum value here because anything less is just not worth the cost of the extra work – which would be passed on as higher, and therefore unsustainable, interest rates.   “Can you give us a machine?”. No, that’s not what I’m here for, I’m helping to provide loans.   “Can you give us a bigger loan for a machine?”. No, your credit limit will increase following good repayment and let’s hope that one day you can get that machine.   “When you go home, ask your friends to give us a machine”. Ok, fine, if it’ll stop this line of questioning, I’ll see what I can do. That’s four village groups this week who’ve asked me this. Let’s hope my friends are feeling generous.   You see there are still some very clear rules of thumb that accompany a white man in Africa (well, in Benin – I won’t speak for the rest but I have a feeling…). They were explained to me nicely by Gilles, the credit agent in Allada, a rural town north of Cotonou.   1. Everything that comes from the white man is good. “If you come with me and talk, they will say yes, even if they don’t understand. If it’s from the white man, they will agree. Next time when I come on my own, they will refuse”.    2. Everything that comes from the white man is free. “If we tell them this loan comes from white people, they will think ‘great, this is aid’ and not pay it back”.    3. The white man has A LOT of money. “Not all white people are rich?”. Depends by whose standards, but looking around here, yes, probably.    And just before I leave, the mother tries once again. For luck, I suppose. WWWWAAAHHAHAHAHAHAAAAWWAAAAA!!!!! It’s become something combining both crying and laughing. Sometimes I know exactly what she means.   Due to the cultural sensitivities around photography here (more on this in part 2 of the series), I’m afraid I haven’t much to show you with these posts. But I can point you to groups which have gone up on Kiva in the last couple of weeks – they tend to disappear off the entrepreneurs’ list pretty quickly, but click on the screenshots to see some full profiles!   Maria Jésutin Group Houénoussou Group   Gareth Davies is a Kiva Fellow serving in Benin, with Kiva’s field partner ALIDé.   See more of Gareth’s posts from the field: Money Money Everywhere The Kiva Fellows Phenomenon […]

    • 3. Lindsay  |  15 February 2011 at 03:45

      Fascinatied to hear what you are doing. You’re certainlty leading a full and exciting life. Good luck to you.

    • 4. Weeliem  |  14 February 2011 at 08:51

      Gareth, keep up the good work buddy. Best wishes from Singapore, Weeliem

    • 5. adamcohnkivafellow  |  13 February 2011 at 22:38

      Great article, Gareth!

      • 6. Gareth Davies  |  14 February 2011 at 08:14

        Thanks Adam, hope Rwanda’s treating you well!

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