Author Archive

More than micro CREDIT to the CO’s

By design, Microfinance is not sustainable without the dedication of hundreds of thousands of Credit Officers (CO’s) working for Microfinance Institutions (MFI’s) around the world. The Kiva online person-to -person (P2P) lending platform only works because CO’s employed by the 95 Kiva Field Partners in 44 countries are out visiting clients, taking pictures and writing business profiles for our website in addition to their regular loan disbursements and repayment collections. My job as a Kiva Fellow at AMK in Cambodia also relies heavily on the CO’s who bring me out to the field so that I can interview Kiva entrepreneurs and create journal updates that get sent to Kiva Lenders around the world.

AMK Credit Officer

AMK Credit Officer (CO) ready to ride


8 June 2009 at 02:10 6 comments

Rice Accounting 101 in Rural Cambodia

Rice plants nearly ready for harvest

Rice plants nearly ready for harvest

Sophisticated income statements and balance sheets are the standard tools used by global corporates to demonstrate their year-over-year growth and net change in assets and liabilities. I saw my fair share of SEC sanctioned 10K annual and 10Q quarterly financial reports while working in corporate banking in New York City, but from where I stand now as a Kiva Fellow in my third month in the field, these accounting instruments are of no use to Kiva entrepreneurs in rural Cambodia, many of whom cannot read or write.

When I interview Kiva borrowers in the agriculture sector (which fits the description for the majority of AMK’s clients in Cambodia), I try to get a sense of how their crops are doing and if they are satisfied with the most recent harvest. Some borrowers cultivate rice solely for personal consumption while others grow to sell. When entrepreneurs have multiple businesses (which many of them do), the decision to sell or keep the rice they grow is often a function of the success of their harvest. If a farmer lives near a good irrigation source they can harvest rice twice a year during both the rainy and the dry season, but otherwise rainy season is the only option since rice cultivation is heavily dependent on the weather.

My enthusiastic instructor

My enthusiastic instructor

Most farmers I speak with can quickly tell me the market price they can get for one kilogram of rice: typically about 800 Riel (20 cents USD). When I ask borrowers how many kilograms of rice they recently harvested, however, I get a variety of answers, and seldom are they numerical. The general response trend is that year over year growth is described in terms of “better or worse.” While visiting Svay Village in the Kandal Province of Cambodia yesterday I encountered the most enduring and perhaps practical explanation yet of how one entrepreneur measures her yearly “profit.” Check out this video to see my rice accounting 101 tutorial:

Can a line drawn semi annually inside a giant bin marking the height of a rice harvest really provide accurate data? For a hardworking family living in the in Svay Village of rural Cambodia the answer is yes, accurate enough. If this seasons harvest exceeds last seasons harvest and last seasons harvest was enough to feed the family, then some of the excess yield can be sold to bring in additional income for the family.

It was a humbling but wonderul afternoon

It was a humbling but wonderful afternoon

Katie Davis is currently serving as a Kiva Fellow (KF7) at Angkor Microfinance Kampuchea (AMK) based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

23 April 2009 at 02:33 8 comments

Anatomy of “The Field” – Chacos & Cuddling Piglets

For many NGO’s and even corporate offices, “the field” refers to branch offices and client meetings held outside of company headquarters. “Going into the field” is a very commonly used phrase on the Kiva Fellows blog. This broad definition applies to the work of Kiva Fellows as well, but we get to say we are “off to the field” with extra pizazz because, well – we literally go to the fields.

Step into my office...

Step into my office...

(You should not be expecting anything profound from this blog post…after all, cuddling piglets is in the title!)

Field Equipment - Don't leave home without:

Field Equipment - Don't leave home without:

  1. Small Backpack
  2. Flip Video Camera
  3. Motorcycle Helmet
  4. Digital Camera
  5. Notebook & Pen
  6. Toilet Paper in Ziploc Bag (Might save your life!)
  7. Purell
  8. Water
  9. Sunscreen
  10. GPS device
Chaco tan/dirt lines - the Kiva Fellow tattoo

Chaco tan/dirt lines - the Kiva Fellow tattoo

In Cambodia, most houses in “the field” are built on stilts to create a shady space underneath which the families go about their daily activities, often times sharing the space with their cows, pigs, and chickens who are also trying to escape the 100+ heat. Most of my interviews with Kiva entrepreneurs take place on a wooden bench in the “shade.”

Chillen' under the house

Hangin' under the house

It is easy to romanticize “the field.” I’m not going to lie; I feel pretty bad-ass flying through the Cambodian countryside on a motorcycle with my Camelbak full of equipment. I believe strongly in the work that I am doing with Kiva and AMK, and the field is where all the action takes place. After spending 5 straight days in the field this week, however, I can assure there is a flip side to the romanticized version. The heat is excruciating, I sweat more than I thought is humanly possible, I get filthy dirty, riding on the back of a moto for more than 20 minutes on bumpy dirt roads leaves me more saddle sore than any horse could, and the local food, despite being delicious, can send me running for a toilet, if I am lucky enough to find one. “The Field” does not operate on a clock, and microfinance is a very social construct in Cambodia, particularly when it comes to village bank loans. This is my polite way of saying that there is a lot of “down time” in “the field,” so I am learning to check my notions of efficiency at the door each day. “The Field” is an amazing experience and well worth the uncomfortable side effects. Occasionally I see some amusing things and just happen to have a video camera in my hand. Here are a few random out-take clips from the field. Check out the spooning piglets – gotta love it!

27 March 2009 at 09:54 2 comments

The most exciting, BORING banking conference ever attended

Banking conferences in and of themselves are really boring. I attended my share of them as a corporate banking analyst in New York City. Keynote speakers, break-out sessions, networking events, and trade shows all packed into two days of conference center bliss. The Cambodia National Banking Conference held in Phnom Penh February 19-20th was no exception to this formula, however, it was by far the most exciting and significant BORING banking conference I have ever attended.

My name is Katie Davis and I am a new Kiva Fellow (KF7) working with AMK in Cambodia. At 26 years old I have a few year of business experience behind me, and this seemed like the perfect time in life to step away from the corporate world and do something off the beaten path. I am thrilled to be in Cambodia working in microfinance. I had to chuckle when at the end of my first week at AMK I found myself seated in a huge conference room full of people in black suits, awaiting the start of the first keynote address. This feels so familiar! Given the context, however, there was nothing ordinary about this particular banking conference. Here is why.

Pointing out my name on official attendee roster

Pointing out my name on official attendee roster

The National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) was established as a regulatory organization in 1954 when Cambodia gained independence from French colonial rule. The NBC began printing its own national currency, the Riel, in order to terminate the monetary alliance with the Vietnamese and Laos currencies. The NBC created a few state-owned banks and a series of reforms in the 1960’s and early 1970’s liberalized the banking system and allowed for private banks to operate in Cambodia under the regulation and supervision of the NBC. The Khmer Rouge came into power in 1975 and on April 17th, the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) was shut down. Cambodia’s banking system was destroyed and Riel banknotes were no longer used.

In the difficult economic times we face today, government and regulating bodies around the world are becoming increasingly involved in sovereign banking systems on both the private and public entity level. Given this trend, it is almost impossible for me to imagine how a nation would function without a currency and without a central bank during times of distress, but this was the state of affairs in Cambodia during the terrible 4 year reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.

The Bank of Cambodia was re-established on October 10th, 1979 and the rebuilding began, which was no small task considering there was no currency reserve, no document trail, and limited human resources (many intellectuals and businessmen were killed, scattered, or remained in hiding in the years immediately following the nightmare that was the Khmer Rouge). The Cambodian banking system is still in its infancy, but great strides have been made in the last 25 years and the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) has evolved into a legitimate regulating body once again recognized by the international financial community. There are currently 24 commercial banks, 5 private banks, and more than 26 registered Microfinance Institutions (MFI’s) operating in Cambodia.

Conference Room @ Naga Casino

Conference Room @ Naga Casino in Phnom Penh

Banking Cambodia: Modernization of the Banking & Microfinance Industry in Cambodia held at the Naga World Hotel in Phnom Penh February 19-20th, 2009 was Cambodia’s first ever national bank conference. It was an honor to attend as a representative of Angkor Mikroheranhvatho Kampuchea (AMK) and the Kiva Fellows Program. Microfinance is thriving in Cambodia and it is exciting to see that the member institutions of the Cambodia Microfinance Association have a seat at the table alongside the commercial and private banks. Microfinance is inherently part of Cambodian’s banking structure due to the large number of Khmer people who receive microcredit loans as opposed to loans from commercial banks.

Since this was only my second week in Cambodia, the conference provided an introduction to key industry players and also gave me some perspective on the overall economic landscape and the four primary drivers of Cambodia’s GDP: the garment industry, agriculture, construction, and tourism. That being said, there were also some drawback to the conference (which ironically was held at a casino) – shameless sales plugs by banking technology companies, and subtle references to the fact many things are negotiable for the right price in Cambodia when it comes to the government and business community trying to attract foreign investment.

I’m not going to lie, I had a difficult time staying alert and awake through all 35 presentations, and from the looks of it so did many of the other conference attendees. Cambodia has finally joined the rest of the world in hosting BORING banking conferences, which is actually quite EXCITING given the turbulent recent history and the role that microfinance has had in rebuilding the economic situation in this nation.

Kiva Fellows attending Banking Cambodia: Drew (KF7), Jeff (KF7), Katie (KF7) Sanjaya (KF5), Theresa (KF5) Not pictured: Julie (KF7), Kieran (KF6), John (KF6)

Kiva Fellows attending Banking Cambodia: Drew (KF7), Jeff (KF7), Katie (KF7) Sanjaya (KF5), Teresa (KF5) Not pictured: Julie (KF7), Kieran (KF6), John (KF6)

2 March 2009 at 01:30 2 comments

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