Posts filed under ‘Anti-Poverty Focus’
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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 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’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.
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.
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.”
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…)
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.
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.
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!)