Posts filed under ‘Anti-Poverty Focus’

Two Kiva Zip fellowships in the US

Christina:
I dreamed vividly during the Monsoon season in India: I woke up covered in sweat from the burning heat and the wind howling outside my window.   Only –  I didn’t! … I was no where near India. I was in Washington DC, and as Hurricane Sandy battered the east coast over night , my landlady had turned the heat up to 90 degrees  it seemed.

Ok, so being a  Kiva fellow in the US is on the periphery no where near as exciting as being a fellow in say India. (Unexpected hurricanes not withstanding). Instead of dosa and idly I have my standard cereal in the morning, and instead of a tuk-tuk commute to the office I walk leisurely to a nearby coffeeshop that is to be my HQ for the day. However, don’t be fooled that this means working as a Kiva Zip Fellow in the US is any less rewarding, amazing, exciting, challenging or impactful. The work is so entirely self guided that even as a very experienced contractor I found myself at times shell shocked at  the daunting task of finding ways to make things happen out of thin air. But happen they did – and you soon find out how great the need for what we do in the US really is, and  also how immediate the impact of a loan to one of the zip borrowers is.

that and bus fare was all I needed

At first my day to day life as a zip fellow felt surreal. I arrived in Washington and concurrently to sorting out my basic logistics of finding a place to stay etc I was trying to figure out where to start – and how ?- and with whom? The fellows that went to Africa or Central America reported back that they met with their partner organisations, had an office to work out of and a pretty concrete list of things to do. Some even started meeting borrowers within the first few days of arriving. Me? I had a few leads to call and the general guidance of ‘make it happen’! I felt very unprepared!

But of course, I wasn’t unprepared at all!

The week training at Kiva HQ had actually prepped us well and as soon as I started talking to people I realized I knew exactly what I needed to do and how and who to contact! The Kiva brand either instantly opened the  door or at least provided a friendly ear for me to explain what I was looking to do.  And also, like any good job interview/selection we were picked and matched to be fellows in exactly the places we would end up serving according to exactly what our skills and strengths were. My natural chattiness and lack of being intimidated by authority served me well in DC.  And although the San Francisco headquarter was a few time zones and miles removed, their guidance helped me connect early on with a few organisations that would proved vital over the next 3 months. Within a few days I had meetings scheduled, presentations arranged and a trip up to NYC planned to meet a US borrower and existing Zip trustee. Suddenly I didn’t know where to fit the opportunities in and everyone I spoke to added to my excitement of how much our work helped.  I presented to a group of start up entrepreneurs that were just finishing a two months long course helping them with the nuts and bolts of running a business. Their ideas were fantastic, their backgrounds diverse but they all had two things in common : an overwhelming enthusiasm for the kind of business they were starting up, and a drive to overcome the obstacles they faced ( like not getting funding ).  I was excited to present them with an option and maybe a potential solution.  One presentation and meeting led to another and when after a few weeks I met someone at a networking event who said: “Oh I heard about you” I realised my work was bearing fruit!

So my evenings were not full of howling monkeys,  washed out dirt roads in the middle of Nicaragua , exotic and questionable  food (well…as a European in the US there may have been some of that lol 😉 or language barriers to overcome. But my days were exciting and never the same . I presented at a major conference one day, chatted for hours with someone starting a small non profit in the morning of another and met  the CEO’s and executives of a major national non profits that same afternoon. I met a borrower that just got her loan funded and finally saw some light at the end of a tunnel and worked with ones just trying to get on the site.  I am leaving my fellowship more enthusiastic then when I started and have deep respect for the multitude of organisations trying to help budding entrepreneurs turn the US economy around.

Rachel:
My story differs a bit from my fellow fellow – I was placed with Kiva Zip in the US in Denver, CO, my hometown.  I thought to myself, how different could this be?  I’ve worked internships that required me to work from home, I’m in the same location – this won’t deviate from the norm.  How wrong I was.

I quickly found myself having transformed in somewhat of a traveling salesperson.  But instead of selling a devious offer, I was selling a chance to gain access to capital for those who found themselves completely underserved and financially excluded.

Some days were much too long with back to back to back meetings and countless elevator pitches.  Some were short or nearly empty.  I found myself cozied up in coffee shops all over the front range of Colorado – researching, following up, or struggling to keep my chaotic spreadsheet of contacts organised.

kiva zip fellow office

In the past few months, because of this fellowship – I have had the pleasure of meeting an advisor to the President, a senator, the executive directors of nearly every large non-profit based in Denver, and countless well-connected people who have stories that would make your jaw drop.  I’ve attended conferences, hosted events, and given presentations and with every meeting, every conversation, I have been inspired and humbled.  It’s amazing who you get to meet with the Kiva name behind you.

The most memorable moment of this fellowship for me, however, was the ongoing interaction with one of our borrowers.  This woman falls into the ‘financially excluded’ category.  She has had trouble gaining access to capital and with Kiva Zip she’s been able to get a $5,000 loan to start her catering business.  In a conversation with the director of the organization that had provided an endorsement for the woman I was told that when our borrower was shown her page for the first time her eyes filled with tears.  She had already gotten a few lenders and was completely blown away by the idea that there are people out there cheering her on and willing to give her a loan.

On Kiva Zip, there’s a conversations feature where the lenders of each loan can leave comments for the borrower to see and the borrower can respond.  This borrower’s conversations tab is one of the most encouraging things I’ve seen while with Kiva Zip.  The lenders are incredibly supportive and the borrower can respond and thank her lenders directly.

This fellowship was not what I was expecting in any way.  It has been a learning experience throughout.  My jealousy of the fellows in exotic places remains but I wouldn’t trade my hometown fellowship for the world.

Come see the results of our labors at https://zip.kiva.org/

(Rachel is a Kiva Zip Fellow based in Denver.  For her bio please visit the Kiva Fellows page on the Kiva website.)

13 December 2012 at 08:30

Giving Thanks for New Opportunities in Benin and Togo

The Kouroumlakiwe Group in Togo received a loan from WAGES to fund their farming activities

The Kouroumlakiwe Group in Togo received a special credit loan from WAGES. This loan does not have to repaid until after their crop has been harvested.

This Thanksgiving I may not be eating turkey and pumpkin pie, but I have many reasons to be thankful. I am grateful to work with two Kiva Partners in Togo and Benin who go above and beyond to provide services to poor clients who previously had no access to formal credit.

Reaching the Poorest of the Poor

In December, 2011, Kiva launched social performance badges as a way to measure and maximize the good created by Kiva partners.  Alidé, a Kiva partner based in Cotonou, Benin, has already earned 5 of the 7 Kiva Social Performance badges, making it one of Kiva’s most socially conscious partners.  For partners to merit Kiva’s “Anti-Poverty focus” badge, they must target poorer populations despite additional costs and difficulties. This week I saw firsthand how Alidé credit agents are driving long distances, in the pouring rain, to do just that.

Visiting Ze, Benin’s Poorest Community 

The Partnership with Alidé is a BIG DEAL for the Ze Community.

Monday morning, it was time to make my last visit to verify client information for Kiva. I headed off to Alidé’s most distant agency in Allada, Benin (a two and a half hour moto ride away from Alidé’s main office in Cotonou). Once I arrived in Allada, I set off with loan officer Aubin to visit the group Titomagba.

During the hour long ride there, Aubin explained to me that the group is located very far from the office in Ze, the poorest community in Benin. The community has no banks (the closest is in Allada) making it very challenging to access financial services.

Aubin uses the red moto in the background of this photo to visit Alidé’s clients. He works with clients in Ze, one of Benin’s most isolated and under-served regions.

When we arrived, we were greeted by the 16 members of the Titomagba group along with various children, family members, friends, including the Chef of the community.

After everyone introduced themselves and I explained why this Yovo (white person in Fon, the local language) was visiting their neighborhood, I began my line of questions to verify information for Kiva.  I asked the group members to rate their satisfaction with their loan on a scale of 1 to 10. One indicates that they are not at all satisfied and ten indicates that they are extremely satisfied. Aubin translated this question into Fon and each group member’s response included the word “DIX” or “OWO” (TEN in French and Fon, respectively).

The Chef explained that before Alidé started working in Ze in April, there had been no way to access loans with affordable interest rates. The women in the Titomagba group are the first members of the community to have the opportunity to receive an affordable loan.

The group members used their Kiva loans to buy food products such as bananas, rice, and palm oil.  The women prepare and re-sell these items for a higher price, increasing their income and earning potential. The group members have paid back 71% of their loan and plan to begin a second loan immediately after the first has been repaid. The women of the Titomagba Group hope to use their increased income to contribute the expenses of their family and provide food and schooling for their children.

Some of the children of the Titomagba Group.

Improving the Lives of Farmers in Togo 

Back in Togo, Kiva’s Partner Women and Associations for Gain both Economic and Social (WAGES) has been increasing its offerings of high-impact loans tailored to support under-served farmers. These agriculture loans offer a flexible repayment cycle which allows farmers to start repaying their loans AFTER their crops have been harvested and they have begun generating income from the sale of their produce. This initial grace period permits farmers to focus on the production of their harvests instead of worrying about their loan repayments.

Adjoa received a loan from WAGES in April to buy fertilizer and seeds.

Learn more about Adjoa and the lives of other farmers in Togo here.

THANK YOU from the Kiva Family! 

This Thanksgiving I am grateful for the Kiva lenders who are helping to alleviate poverty in Togo, Benin, and all over the world.

Give a Kiva Borrower a reason to be THANKFUL:

Click here to make a loan through Alidé in Benin

Or help a borrower through WAGES in Togo

From Kiva, WAGES, Alidé and our family of borrowers, I thank you for your continued support.

On est ensemble!

(We are together)

Holly Sarkissian (KF19) is a Kiva Fellow, working with WAGES in Lomé, Togo and Alidé in Cotonou, Benin.

22 November 2012 at 06:57

Grameen Foundation and Kiva: Partnering to Bring Life-Changing Agricultural Information to Rural Communities in Uganda

Laura Sellmansberger | KF19 | Uganda

CKWs training for their new roles

CKWs in Masaka practice using their new equipment (photo credit Ravi Agarwal)

Kiva recognizes the unique power of the interest-free capital it provides through its lenders. The zero-interest aspect of Kiva’s loans enables its partners to act boldly and to try new things, to go the extra mile to reach new groups of people, and to fund loans that Kiva characterizes as highly catalytic. Kiva uses the term highly catalytic to describe initiatives that not only help to provide financial independence to the poor, but also produce far-reaching effects that transform the lives of the people in the borrowers’ communities. Such loans may contribute to green energy and solar power endeavors, education initiatives, water sanitation projects or even agro-technology advancements.

Grameen Foundation is an organization that is going above and beyond to bring highly catalytic programs to Uganda. For this reason, Kiva has chosen to make Grameen Foundation AppLab its first nontraditional partner here. Starting this week, participants in Grameen Foundation’s Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) program will be featured on Kiva.org.

The CKW program is made up of a network of peer-nominated “farmer leaders” across Uganda who use mobile devices to share expert agricultural information with their small-holder farmer neighbors living on less than $2 a day. Community Knowledge Workers use the information provided by applications on their smartphones to help their fellow farmers improve crop yields and to reduce the costs of adopting new agricultural practices.

The CKWs also collect information from the farmers in their communities through phone-based surveys. This information is then used to help other poverty-focused organizations that Grameen Foundation works with, including government organizations and NGOs, improve and expand support services for farmers. The CKWs are paid small monthly salaries based on the number of information searches and surveys they complete. These salaries supplement – and sometimes even double – the amount that the CKWs earn as smallholder farmers themselves.

What a CKW might see on his or her phone

As a Kiva Fellow working at Grameen Foundation, I have had the opportunity to observe the mechanisms of this project first-hand, and to see just how much work goes into the maintenance and expansion of this incredible program. Over the course of the past five weeks, I have accompanied Grameen Foundation field officers on multiple trips to the central Ugandan district of Masaka. During these trips, I was able to see the various steps taken while selecting and preparing a CKW for his or her new role.

1. Community Mobilization

During this critical phase, Grameen Foundation field officers first meet with community leaders in the area and explain the CKW program to them, as well as the positive change that it will bring to the community. After obtaining buy-in from these influential people (which is absolutely imperative to the success of the program), a time and place are then identified for a village meeting, which takes place about one week later. The village meeting can last anywhere from a few hours to the entire day. A Grameen Foundation field officer explains the CKW program to the attendees and ensures that the program will have adequate support from the community. After confirming this, a date and time are set for a recruitment meeting, during which a CKW will be selected to serve his or her village.

Grameen field officer Ian explains the CKW program to a group of villagers

Grameen Foundation field officer Ian Mubiru explains the CKW program during a village meeting

2. Recruitment

The recruitment meeting should be heavily attended. If enough people fail to show up to constitute a fair vote, the meeting must be rescheduled (this is quite common since time and information are managed in a very different manner here than you readers may be used to – I must say, the Grameen Foundation field officers are some of the most patient people I have ever met!). If enough people attend the meeting, then the nominations can begin. The Grameen Foundation field officer lists the prerequisites that an individual must have to effectively serve his or her community as a CKW, and also explains what kinds of additional qualities voters should look for in their candidate (someone who has served the community in the past, someone who is reliable and can be trusted, etc.). The nominees each make a speech touting their qualifications, and then the voting commences. Things can become quite heated at this stage, as people may have starkly different opinions on who should be selected for the position. After voting takes place, a winner is announced. A Grameen Foundation field officer then visits the CKW’s home to discuss the details of the position with his or her family, since the role is time-consuming and family support is essential.

CKW candidates make their speeches

CKW candidates make their speeches during a recruitment meeting

3. Training

After the CKWs have been selected by their communities, a training session is held for each district. I went to the four-day training in Masaka, which was attended by 47 CKWs from the surrounding villages. During training, CKWs are shown how to operate and take care of their materials (the smartphone, solar charging device and weighing scale). Innovative farming techniques are discussed and participants are prepped for their new roles as information agents and community leaders. The Grameen Foundation training team is absolutely extraordinary – they spend weeks at a time on the road, teach sessions late into the evening, and never lose their enthusiasm or patience. Since this is the first group of CKWs who are to be funded by Kiva loans, I also had the opportunity to give a presentation on Kiva and its backing of the CKW program. The response was incredible and the CKWs warmly showed their appreciation for Kiva’s support by giving me a wonderful handwritten letter on the last day of training.

CKW training in Masaka

CKW training in Masaka (photo credit Ravi Agarwal)

Explaning Kiva to the Masaka CKWs

Explaining Kiva to the Masaka CKWs (photo credit Ravi Agarwal)

CKWs practice using their new equipment

CKWs practice using the smartphones (photo credit Ravi Agarwal)

Some dedicated CKWs even brought their children with them to training

A few dedicated CKWs even brought their children with them to training                          (photo credit Ravi Agarwal)

Masaka CKWs express their thanks for Kiva's support

The Masaka CKWs express their appreciation for Kiva’s support

On the last day of training. Excitement is in the air!

The last day of training. There was so much excitement in the air!

The CKW initiative is a program that is truly in line with the broader mission of Grameen Foundation: to enable the poor, especially the poorest, to create a world without poverty. Information is power, and by creating access among rural farmers to information, Grameen Foundation empowers them to create better economic conditions for themselves, their families, and their communities. You can be part of these efforts, too – lend to a CKW today on Kiva.org!

~~~

Laura Sellmansberger is a member of the 19th class of Kiva Fellows, working at Grameen Foundation in Kampala, Uganda.

12 November 2012 at 10:14 2 comments

Expanding Access to Higher Education in Kenya

Expanding Access to Higher Education in Kenya:

In January of 2012, Kiva, a microlending platform that aims to alleviate poverty by connecting lenders with borrowers who do not have access to traditional banking, partnered with Strathmore University, Kenya’s premier, private college, to launch a groundbreaking partnership in the financing of higher education.  They joined forces to expand educational opportunity across socioeconomic lines and mitigate the absence of sufficient financial aid options for Kenyan college students.

Strathmore University Student Center

Tuition at Kenya’s overcrowded and under-resourced public universities is heavily subsidized by the government. Students apply to the government’s Higher Education Loan Board (HELB) for loans to cover the remaining cost. HELB loans are about 60,000 Khs or $700. A HELB loan covers only a fraction of private tuition fees at a University like Strathmore, where tuition is not subsidized by the government and costs about $16,000 for four years of enrollment. For more than half of the country’s population that lives below the poverty line, on less than $2 a day, a Strathmore degree is unattainable, and reserved for rich, upper class Kenyans.

Together, Strathmore and Kiva are trying to change that. They offer students three low-interest loan products: full tuition, partial tuition and laptop loans.  Currently, there are 34 Kiva beneficiaries at Strathmore, 9 of which receive full tuition loans. Students who receive the full tuition loan, are young men and women who would not  be able to attend Strathmore without the assistance. You can refer to the Kiva-Strathmore partnership page for more details about the loan products.

Meet the Borrowers:

As a Kiva fellow at Strathmore, I am helping to expand the University’s credit limit, so that these loans can be extended to a new group of students.  I’ve had a chance to meet the current Kiva beneficiaries at Strathmore and work with them through Campus Kiva, a club for loan recipients to support each other and engage in community outreach projects. Watch this video created by Strathmore University and read on for in depth biographies of two full tuition loan recipients, Lydia and Jackline.

Lydia:

Lydia is a first year student at Strathmore University.  She is studying for a Bachelors of Commerce and plans to pursue a career in accounting upon graduating with her degree. She is part of the first group of students to finance their Strathmore degrees with full-tuition Kiva loans. Lydia is from Lodwar, a small town in the remote, northwestern district of Turkana in Kenya.  Lydia’s journey to Strathmore University begins with a 5 hour trek through dry, arid bushland from her mother’s home in Lorengelup village to Lodwar.  From there, she hops onto a bumpy, 12 hour matatu ride through Kenya’s unpaved hinterland to Kitale City on the Ugandan border.  Finally, she transfers to a second matatu for the last leg of her journey, an 8 hour ride to Nairobi. 

Lydia

Lydia’s presence at Strathmore is groundbreaking.  Economic opportunities in Turkana are sparse, centered mostly on the rearing and trade of livestock and weaving.  95% of the population lives below the poverty line.   Most girls in the region cannot afford to complete secondary school, and are instead married off as young as 12 years old for dowries of livestock. Against most odds in the region, Lydia completed secondary school.  Her primary and secondary school fees were sponsored by local charities and organizations.  Lydia was amongst the top ten, highest academic performers in her graduating class, and the only student selected by her principle to travel to Nairobi to interview for a Kiva loan. 

Lydia is very grateful for the opportunity to study at Strathmore.  The University’s mentorship program has helped her make a smooth transition from rural life in Turkana to the fast pace of Nairobi.  She loves the cosmopolitan nature of the capital, where she is interacting with Kenyans of all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds for the first time.  Lydia is an avid football fan.  On her free time, she plays football on a team of Strathmore students.  In the future, Lydia is looking forward to returning to her community and inspiring girls to follow in her footsteps by completing their education.  She would eventually like to sponsor a student’s schooling as hers was, and spread awareness about organizations like Kiva that can help finance their education. 

Jackline:

20 year old Jackline is a first year student at Strathmore University.  She is studying for a Bachelors of Commerce and plans to pursue a career in accounting upon graduating with her degree.  She is part of the first group of students to finance their Strathmore degrees with full-tuition Kiva loans. Jackline and her siblings grew up adjacent to Beverly Flower, a flower exporting factory where her mother was employed in Nairobi.  Her mother died when she was a child.  Jackline and her sisters moved with their Aunt, a domestic worker for an upper class Nairobi family, and her brothers left Kenya to seek employment elsewhere. 

It was at this time that Jackline said she began to see “God working in me.”  After completing primary school, her Aunt’s employer insisted that she continue her schooling at a good provincial school in Nyeri, rather than attending a local one.  In agreement with her Aunt, he began deducting a portion of her salary each month to create a savings account for Jackline’s education.  Since he established that fund, she has always been able to cover her school fees.  

Jackline

Upon graduating from Secondary school, Jackline considered applying to a public University.  She planned on raising money for tuition by spending a few years cleaning houses as a domestic worker, and working as clerk in a supermarket.   She went to work as a domestic worker for Mrs. Irene Kiai, who saw Jackline’s potential and took her under her wing.  When Jackline expressed an interest in taking computer classes to prepare for University course work, Mrs. Kiai encouraged her to enroll in the best program and covered the cost.  Not long after, Mrs. Kiai saw an advertisement for Kiva loans at Strathmore University printed in “The Daily Nation.”  They both attended the information session, where Jackline submitted her application for the full tuition loan.

Jackline is very grateful for the opportunity to study at Strathmore University.  She has already begun thinking about how to make repayments on her loan, the first of which is due 5 years from now.  She started a fund to collect donations towards repayments in case she cannot find a job immediately after graduating.  On her free time, she enjoys listening to Swahili artists like Rose Muhando and gospel music.  She is a member of Strathmore Unviersity’s church choir.  On most mornings, you’ll find her awake as early as 5:30am going for a morning run.  Jackline recently participated in a marathon organized by Strathmore University and Standard Chartered Bank’s 10th annual Nairobi Marathon.

Jackline feels a strong obligation to create the same kind of opportunities that were afforded to her for others.  “If I’m not in a position to give materially, because of what I’ve seen in my life, I may be able to inspire someone.  If I am in a position to give materially, I will.  Outside there, there are very many people who are suffering.  Maybe there are those who don’t have school fees and have to drop out. Or maybe they don’t have a person to inspire them to continue and have hope.  I will do my best to give back to society.” 

28 October 2012 at 14:16

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

My Week with Premal – Kiva’s President visiting borrowers and partners in Nicaragua

Luan Nio | KF18 | Nicaragua

He is named Global Young Leader by the World Economic Forum and is on the Fortune’s 40 under 40 list for the most influential people under the age of 40.
It is easy to become impressed, maybe intimidated by a person that holds such accolades. But Premal Shah, president of Kiva, is the last person to become intimidated by. However, impressed? Yes, highly. And he was coming my way to Nicaragua.

Premal Shah’s lender page on Kiva. Note that he made over 300 loans.

(more…)

24 September 2012 at 20:46 2 comments

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!)

(more…)

28 August 2012 at 06:00 2 comments

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