Posts tagged ‘Kiva’
By: Abhishesh Adhikari
One of the Kiva partner MFIs that I am helping in Uganda is Micro Credit for Development and Transformation (MCDT.) It is based in Kampala and provides financial services primarily to low-income women who come to Kampala from remote areas of Uganda. Even though the average loan size for a borrower at MCDT is only about $200, it is amazing how impactful the loans have been in helping these women become financially independent.
By: Abhishesh Adhikari
One of the best parts about my Kiva Fellowship has been the opportunity I get to meet and interact with entrepreneurs. During the 4 months that I spent in Kyrgyzstan, I helped Bai Tushum (Kiva’s partner MFI) launch a new Startup Loan Product and met a wide variety of entrepreneurs all across that country. After I got back from Kyrgyzstan in January, I have been working on a new Kiva project called Kiva Zip, trying to expand it here in Chicago.
Kiva Zip is a new initiative to make interest-free, small business loans to entrepreneurs in the United States. This new lending model is based on community relationships whereby entrepreneurs can request interest-free loans (up to $5000 for the first loan) based on endorsements from organizations or prominent individuals in their communities. Lenders can view the profiles of these entrepreneurs on Kiva Zip’s website, and lend $25 or more at a time.
Spring has arrived in Mongolia! That means warmer weather (afternoons creeping closer and closer to the double digits)… and, of course, baby animals!
Last week I started visiting some of Kiva’s borrowers with Transcapital, one of Kiva’s field partners that I’m working with here in Mongolia. While it was really encouraging to see Transcapital’s enthusiasm for Kiva at the head office as well as its various branch offices around Ulaanbaatar (UB), the new insights I’ve gained on urban poverty—both from these visits as well as just day-to-day life here—have left me perplexed so far, with far more questions than answers.
A short term solution?
Our visits began with a stop at Narantuul market, the largest outdoor market in UB where a number of Transcapital’s clients have retail outlets. At a first glance, Narantuul is a colourful and vibrant marketplace where vendors sell everything from food and candy, to winter coats, scarves, belts, jeans, baseball caps, cardboard, and more. It’s the place where Mongolians often go to find cheaper wares, which makes sense considering some of the staggering prices I’ve seen at Ikh Delguur, the State Department Store. We spoke to Bayasgalan, the proud owner of a shop selling winter coats and clothes, a long time client of Transcapital’s, and a Kiva borrower.
Other vendors watched us with curiosity as we chatted with her, and the mood at the market was lively despite the cold. But my translator friend, whose family had sold candy there, explained to me as we left that pretty much all the vendors there need continual loans to in order to sustain their businesses. Without loans, they can’t operate; but even with loans, they struggle to get ahead… which is anything but encouraging.
Harsh working conditions
The next day, we visited Kharkhorin market, UB’s second largest outdoor market, located on the other side of the city. The wares there were slightly different: I saw lots of shoes, but also an eclectic collection of hardware parts, sinks, ropes, tools, and other random second-hand items.
We had trouble locating one of the two borrowers we had to meet, so we wandered around for some time looking for her. In the meantime we met and chatted with Saranchimeg, who had used her loan to increase her supply of winter boots. We had been outside for about 45 minutes by the time we finished chatting with her, and I thought my fingers and toes might fall off. It must have been around -25oC that day with the sharp wind whipping through the stalls. But my thoughts were with the market’s vendors who stand out there all day long, day in and day out. My translator friend assured me that, just because they’ve lived in Mongolia their whole lives, it doesn’t make the cold is any easier for them to bear. I was humbled by how hard they work.
The reality for taxi drivers
We also visited with some taxi drivers. While a male taxi driver may not be one of the sexiest loans on Kiva’s website, you should know how hard these people work to support their families, just like anyone else. And for what? Being a taxi driver is a tough way to make a living in UB: A one-kilometre ride will earn a driver about 1,500 Tugriks (or 1.07 USD).
Moreover, the competition is stiff. Since cars have become ubiquitous in Mongolia’s capital, everyone has become a taxi driver. It’s an overhang from the early days of capitalism, when cars were not that common and the city’s residents would help each other out by giving rides. Now, you see people on the streets with their hand out all the time, and it usually only takes a few minutes for a car to pull over.
Another borrower we met lived in one of the outer ger districts, the slums of the city which lack basic services like running water and sanitation. He was middle-aged and had taken out a housing loan, but he told us that he had been a driver under the socialist regime. He explained that he had had much difficulty in finding employment in his profession. Recently, though, he has started applying for driver jobs again. It’s a mystery to me how he has managed to make ends meet over the years.
Survival of the fittest?
It’s easy to think that people don’t work because they’re too lazy, or because they simply refuse to accept lower-paying positions. This may be true in some cases. But there may also be more to the issue than meets the eye. Mongolia had its Revolution and transition to a market economy in the early 1990s and it seems the transition was difficult for those who were brought up and educated in the socialist era: Many of their skills and experiences have not translated well in the new economy. While a lot of the leadership I’ve seen in white collar jobs are shockingly young—in their late 20s or early 30s—street and market vendors tend to be in their 50s or older. And for many of them, their wares include no more than a couple handfuls of gum and candy, which can’t possibly bring in that much at the end of the day.
Maybe skills training is needed to support these people… or maybe it’s not that simple. Imagine being in your 40s or 50s and getting trained (or competing for jobs) alongside people who are a whole generation younger than you. And the longer you stay out of the workforce, the less confidence you generally have to return to it. One colleague of mine surmised that perhaps self-employment is the way to go for these people.
The fork in the road
Of course, this reflects only one facet of urban poverty here. Another, and perhaps larger, driver is the massive migration of traditional nomadic herders to the capital, as zuuds—extremely harsh winters—have killed off the millions of animals on which they depend for their livelihoods.
Mongolia has gone through some incredible changes over the past several years, thanks to the discovery of the largest unexploited reserve of copper, gold and silver in the world. Roads have appeared where they previously didn’t exist; herders have disappeared from the streets of UB; shiny new buildings have gone up; inflation has gone through the roof. It’s poised to be one of the fastest growing economies in the world in 2013.
There is immense potential for large-scale economic development and poverty alleviation in Mongolia. Microfinance is helping to tie things over, but how the country handles big issues such as corruption will ultimately determine whether the spoils will be shared by many. So far, everything I’ve taken in only seems to have raised more questions. I’ve only scratched the surface in terms of grasping the complex economic factors at work in this country, much less understanding the solutions.
Zimbabwe made world headlines over the course of 2008 and 2009 when hyperinflation gripped the country. What is often believed to simply exist in economic textbooks was occurring daily in the streets; the government was printing more and more Zimbabwe dollars, the currency would lose its value, more Zim dollars needed to be printed, new bills had 1, 2 or even 3 zeros added to the end, the currency would further lose value, more printing…
These events led to peculiar sights such as “starving billionaires” as well as Zimbabweans needing a couple of suitcases full of bills in order to purchase a simple loaf of bread.
Locals even told me stories of million dollar bills lining the streets. No one would “waste their time” picking them up since at one point a million, or even 10 million, Zimbabwean dollars was absolutely worthless.
As much as such images can appear amusing, the daily reality was painful for the vast majority of Zimbabweans. Even if you managed to amass enough bills to purchase any basic goods, chances were that a grocery store’s shelves were empty since it was too expensive to import any products into Zimbabwe.
Officially transactions in foreign currencies were illegal, but unofficially everyone started operating in US dollars and South African Rand. Eventually the government abandoned the Zimbabwean dollar and officially adopted the US Dollar.
The switch in currencies hasn’t necessarily fixed all issues. Nowadays there simply are not enough small bills and coins in circulation. ATMs spit out crisp $100 USD bills but the only available $1 USD bills appear to date back a few decades earlier.
This lack of available change has led to daily issues as well. For instance I numerously had enough money to pay for groceries, lunch, coffee, taxi ride, etc. but I happened to have a $20 bill when the cost was less than $5 or $10. In such situations you can either skip the purchase, receive a credit receipt for the change you are owed or at times forced to forego the entire $20.
For smaller change, such as coins, South African Rand, and at times other African currencies, are commonly used in daily transactions. At various stores you can also receive candy in lieu of actual change. Unfortunately the candy is just like the $1 USD bills, it’s usually pretty worn out.
Pamhidzayi (Pamhi) Mhongera leads all new and existing projects at the MicroKing microfinance institution in Harare, Zimbabwe. As part of her role, she oversees the Kiva program under which Zimbabwean entrepreneurs are given the opportunity to work their way up the socioeconomic ladder.
However Pamhi’s positive impact on her community extends beyond her daily work. She and her husband, Mustafa, launched their very own community orphan care outreach center, Blossoms Children Community in 2005. What started with caring for 26 orphans has grown to serve over 150 children as well as their respective caregivers.
Whereas Blossoms started with simply with providing orphan care and support, it quickly grew evident to Pamhi and Mustafa that there was a major need to help other kids living in adversity.
Most of the children’s’ stories are pretty typical; stemming from poor families, one or both parents absent from their lives, under the care of relatives who do not have the ability or willingness in ensuring their health and safety, etc.
Blossoms’ goal is to build relationships that enhance the well-being and development of orphans and other vulnerable children within their communities by:
- sending the kids to school and paying related school fees
- providing daily and/or weekly meals
- mentoring , counseling services and moral guidance
- talent development (music and dancing, sport)
- assistance to obtain proper medical services when needed
- referral services for vocational training and economic empowerment
In short, Pamhi and Mustafa act as mother and father for over 150 children by ensuring that they grow up in a healthy and safe environment.
Recently Pamhi has sought to push the number of children reached with the type of help and support that Blossoms offers.
In October 2012, she launched the UN International Day of the Girl Child, under the theme “Educate Girls – Change the World”, at Glen-View 1 High School, her former school in the suburbs of Harare.
Furthermore, through a partnership with the Brookings Institution, Pamhi has recently facilitated a counseling and trauma healing training program for 49 school teachers from 18 schools from the greater Harare region. The program aims to enable these teachers to provide psycho-social support to over 5,000 orphans and other vulnerable children through their respective school associations.
Pamhi and Mustafa face two main challenges in Blossoms’ operations:
1) They only have legal custody of the children until the age of 18. After that the kids have nowhere to go as well as a difficult time in finding any type of income given the socioeconomic situation in Zimbabwe.
2) Funding for all of the operations comes directly from Pamhi and Mustafa. They are presently trying to obtain funds from NGO sources but have run into all sorts of red tape.
Despite the challenges, Pamhi and Mustafa feel compelled as ever to help kids in need.
I had an opportunity of assisting the wedding of a former Blossoms’ boy who had “graduated” from the orphanage. At the ceremony, Pamhi, as any mother, was extremely proud but also tearful to see “her child” move on to adulthood.
But it is exactly this type of emotional investment that gives these kids the support they need to one day become independent and valuable members of the Zimbabwe community.