These blogs are from the Kiva Fellow's Blog
While volunteering, I was often asked , “Why would you come volunteer in my country?” Each time, I rambled about a desire to foster opportunities in the development of people around the world. But that is just it, how concise can pre-volunteers really be?Well, the life of a volunteer goes with the wind. Four weeks ago I was living in Sierra Leone and today I am sitting in an office in Bolivia. Obviously, volunteering is not the most advantageous financial move one can make; in fact, while in the States, I qualified for free immunizations before coming to Bolivia because I was “low income”. In all honesty, most volunteers are a footnote to an organization’s real employees, and the “We couldn’t do it without you” speech only gets volunteers high for a split second. So why endure the bucket showers in Sierra Leone and language barriers in South America? Why volunteer?
For me, it has to do with something I encountered as a child while hiking around my home in Washington State. I saw the diverse beauty of nature: cedars, Douglas firs, ferns, and myriad wildflowers. I then thought about the diverse beauty of humanity (although those weren’t my exact thoughts as a child…). What it came down to was that I knew people (and the world) had to be different beyond my hometown population of ninety-something.
I didn’t leave and volunteer to “save the world.” (Do people still do that?) Rather, I had this desire to cease to be dichotomized from the developing world. Volunteering was a means to share life with people and hope to understand why populations live at different standards of living. This, hopefully, is joining in the process of lifting people out of poverty –the more minds and hearts that are included in the “process” (any process or cause you are volunteering for), the more potential there is to yield results and answers.The wonder in volunteering, I have found, is simply in the interaction between me and a Kiva Borrower (those who recieve loans). In most cases, we each have something to add to the life of the other. With Kiva, microfinance volunteer work is geared to sustainably enable entrepreneurs in developing countries by facilitating capital for their business through loans.
My greatest interest in life was to see this “process,” and I have been so encouraged by what Kiva Borrowers are doing with their loans to better their lives. In reality, when any volunteers collaborate with people in development, we begin to answer for ourselves the questions we could not articulate beforehand. Within it all, volunteers are fortunate to take the time and witness the diverse beauty of humanity.
***Eric Rindal has had the privilege to be a Kiva Fellow based in La Paz, Bolivia working with Emprender and IMPRO. He is a big proponent of Kiva Lenders lending to people in countries they have not lent to. If you have not lent to a wonderful borrower in Bolivia, click here to find a smiling face. Eric was a Kiva Fellow in Sierra Leone during the 15th class -- if you have not lent to someone in Sierra Leone, click here to find a wonderful person!
Dreams to...Own sewing machines to make and sell clothingGregoria is a mother of seven, four of which live at home, and she sells shoes in the local markets around Santa Cruz, Bolivia. I visited her in a half-constructed small home in the outskirts of town; her sons built the home using their mom’s profits. Her three sons adore their mother and are all a part of the business decisions and the loan process. With a huge smile Gregoria said her dream was to purchase sewing machines and make clothing. This will allow her to employ her sons with a steady job. Clearly the bond of the family would be a driving force in her business.
Dreams to...Purchase a car to help her traveling businessIrene sells cleaning towels, cleaning products, and small household items out of a small cardboard box. Her business is, well, a traveling business. She walks twelve hours per day along the streets between towns selling these small items. I met Irene in the mid-morning after she had been walking for a few hours; she was already tired. “I am getting old,” she said, and she isn’t able to walk as far or as long as she used to do. With great strength she does not complain about walking, but her dream is to purchase a car so she does not need to walk everywhere and wear herself out to make a living.
Dreams to…Buy a fabric cutting machine to increase efficiencyTeodocio lives with his wife and two daughters in El Alto, Bolivia. He works at home three days a week making large brimmed hats for field workers and he sells the hats in the marketplace the rest of the week. He previously had one sewing machine to complete his work, but then purchased a second sewing machine with his loan. Since taking out his loan Teodocio has been able to employ both his daughters to sew the hats. Teodocio’s dream is to buy a fabric cutter to create custom designs and produce the fabric cuts at the pace and moment he needs them.
Dreams to... 1) Purchase a larger bus, and 2) Travel to EuropeJulia is the owner of a bus for public transportation in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. I expected her to be a bus driver, but she hires a driver and simply is responsible for all the maintenance. She is a woman of great business savvy, and is also is an active distributor of Herbalife products. As a responsible borrower and businesswoman, she is always seeking to grow her business and uses microloans as a means to expand and actualize her goals. After using a loan to purchase the bus, her new dream is to purchase a bus big enough to fit 40 or 50 people. I asked if she had other goals; her eyes became distant and she laughed as if it was utterly ridiculous, but Julia’s other dream is to make enough money to travel to Europe. She would “love to see Europe.”
Dreams to...Plant more fields and increase his herd of cowsValentine is a farmer and raises cattle in the quiet warm agriculture area outside of Santa Cruz, Bolivia. He has 30 cows and a few fields where he plants corn, yucca, and peanuts. Valentine lives in a house on the hillside with his wife and young son who loves to sing (he is about 6 years old and sang a few songs while strumming his guitar). I asked Vincent why he took out loans, “if I didn’t have a loan I couldn’t buy more seeds. If I do buy more seeds then I can plant and harvest more fields.” It’s that simple. Valentine’s dream is to buy more cows for his farm and more seeds to plant – both of which allow him to supply the local cooperative market.
Dreams to...Construct her own house
(Elvira is the second from the left, in the back)Elvira is member of the nine-woman-strong “New Hope” group working in a street market of Cochabamba, Bolivia. She sells noodles, rice, and beans in her market stall and is the dedicated leader of the solidarity group. With the few profits Elvira makes each month, her dream is to construct and complete a home. “That is all I want…to construct a home,” she said.
Dreams to...Pay for her two children to graduate from universityMartina lives in the rural town of Achacachi, Bolivia near the shores of Lake Titicaca. She owns four dairy cows and sells the milk to a local cooperative in her area. She has two sons in their early twenties who are attending university in La Paz. Her dream is to pay for her two sons to graduate from university. She has been using all her profits from milk sales to pay for their education. She purchased her fourth dairy cow with her loan, but it has since become pregnant and currently produces little milk. Despite slow milk production and sales, Martina is determined to pay for their schooling. Even while things are uncertain until the cow's birth in January, she is frugal and knows she will see them both complete their education.
Dreams to...Own a reliable dump truckGabriel drives a dump truck for hire in La Paz, Bolivia. He used his Kiva loan to buy a new motor for his truck; his other motor up and died a few months ago. As an older man it is difficult to get steady work, so he relies solely on his skill of driving large trucks. He is the only worker in his family, and his financial situation is delicate, so if his motor goes out he has no income. Gabriel’s dream is to purchase a new, reliable dump truck to ensure his employment and steady income. He then would not need to worry if his “business” could break down at any moment.
Dreams to...Travel to Europe and attend hairdressing workshopsLilian owns a two-chair hair salon in Cochabamba, Bolivia. She is extremely kind, welcoming, and a great hairdresser. During my whole interview she had a huge smile and described how her loan allowed her to buy more hair products to sell to her customers. When asked about her dream, Lilian exhaled, rolled her lips inward, and closed her eyes, “I want to take hairdressing classes and workshops in Europe or the United States. I have heard of these classes and want to learn new styles and see Europe.” She knows it would be expensive, but she still has hope that one day her dream will come true.
Dreams to...Purchase another skill saw and hire an employeeHugo is a puzzle maker in El Alto, Bolivia. With his Kiva loan he purchased a skill saw to cut the intricate shapes of children’s puzzles. Previously he was cutting all the shapes by hand using a small tricky saw. Hugo’s dream is to purchase another skill saw and hire an employee (who would become his apprentice). He says there are plenty of people who want to work in his area and there is also high demand for his puzzles. Hugo loves puzzle making, and expanding his business is his ultimate goal.
Dreams to...Re-open a restaurant with internet and a book storeCesar owns two restaurants in La Paz, Bolivia, one is directly across from a local high school and the other is in a small neighborhood. With his wife, they have taken out a loan to expand and remodel the restaurants. “There are internet cafés, restaurants, and book stores,” he said, “but no one in his areas has combined all of them.” A true entrepreneur, Cesar’s dream is to remodel his restaurant, connect wi-fi, and offer bookstore items for the nearby high school students.
Dreams to…Start his own printing and copy shopEric studied at a local university in La Paz, Bolivia. He has been working at his father’s printing and copy shop making money to pay for his classes. However, he has had to take some time off from school to save up enough to continue his classes later. In the mean time he has decided to pursue owning his own print and copy shop. Learning from his father how to run a print and copy business, Eric’s dream is to use a loan and purchase his own copy machine and printers...thus moving out on his own and starting his own business.
Dreams to…Maintain steady sales and be equipped to do businessJuana owns a small storefront on a main street in La Paz, Bolivia. She has run the small store for years and taken out loans since 1995 to keep her business competitive and innovative. Always trying to differentiate herself, Juana has purchased phones for customers to use for local and international calling; no one in Juana’s neighborhood has these phones. When asked about her dream, Juana simply smiled and said, “I would like to equip my store and make it of the highest quality. I would like to continue on as I currently am…and, well, in the future make a little more in profits than I am now.”
Dreams to…Start his own dairyMiguel has taken out two loans so far. He lives in a rural farming community hours away from La Paz, Bolivia. His uncle owns a farm with dairy cows, and Miguel wanted to try his hand at owning a dairy. With his first loan he purchased a cow, and he did the same with his second loan. His dream is to be a dairy farmer and little by little he is reaching his dream.
Dreams to…Send his two young daughters to school through university levelBen is a painter who specializes in the restoration of 17th-19th century colonial art works living in La Paz, Bolivia. With his loan he was able to purchase more works of art in antique shops and more supplies to continue his restoration business. Ben sells his renovated pieces to private collectors as well as in the markets of La Paz. He lives with his wife and two daughters in a beautiful little home with paintings (most are his own) from floor to ceiling. His dream is to make enough money to send his two young daughters to school through university level.
I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to share with you the dreams of some Kiva borrowers I met here in Bolivia. Dreams are a wonderful thing to share and are a part of people's lives regardless of economic standing. It may be expected that people living in developing countries might only have dreams for cleaner water or better healthcare, however most have very concrete dreams for one more cow or traveling to Europe or owning a car. There is kind of a glass ceiling above people in developing countries in the perception that poorer people might only want potable water or medicine. This idea really limits their dreams and desires to a perception of what I (we) feel they are asking for. Their dreams are greater and go further than I can imagine. The dreamers are creating their futures..! How awesome that Kiva is able to play a small part in assisting these borrowers on the path to their dreams!? So Kiva Lenders, thank you for believing in and promoting the dreams of the borrowers. Seriously, though, thank you.
***Eric Rindal is a part of the Kiva Fellows 16th class in La Paz, Bolivia. He is currently working with Emprender and IMPRO. He was previously in KF15 based in Sierra Leone. If you would like to contact Eric, just visit his lender page.
So, despite some disadvantages, how do we live our nomadic Fellowship to the fullest? The secret really comes down to harnessing presence, perspective and perseverance. Wanderers must be present with each loan officer, each client, and MFI employee – undivided attention and focus builds the necessary trust and confidence to complete the workplan items. Perspective on the purpose of the Fellowship: to cultivate and fortify the partnership between the MFI and Kiva, to better MFI processes and workflow, and to introduce innovative products or ways for the MFI to move forward. Each MFI has specific expectations and manner of operations, identifying these keep the wanderer abreast to any and all situations (…relatively speaking). Perseverance in the Fellowship is always somewhat difficult; Robert Service was right on the money when he said, “It’s the keeping-your chin-up that’s hard.” The Wanderer, at times, may waiver, falling into the Trough of Disillusionment (see blog 1 and blog 2) where falsities of volunteering and being an unknown traveler may get the best of Fellows (especially the wanderer). But the Trough doesn’t last forever. Amongst it all, perseverance is truly the anchor of maintaining presence and perspective.
Kiva works with 145 partners in 61 countries, so there is a lot of space to wander. However we live it , the Fellowship is a very personal, challenging, and rewarding experience. In reality, the Wanderer’s journey is the destination. Before I departed to Sierra Leone for KF15 my mentor sincerely reminded me, “Eric, wherever you go, there you are.” Apart from the cliché, this grounds us Wanderers and gives true substance to the places we go and the people we meet. In reality, Kiva makes the world seem smaller, the people more familiar, and our goals for microfinance to alleviate poverty attainable. I’m glad I get to wander around; it’s the privilege of a lifetime.
***Eric Rindal is a part of the Kiva Fellows 16th class in La Paz, Bolivia. He is currently working with Emprender and IMPRO. He was previously in KF15 based in Sierra Leone. If you would like to contact Eric, just visit his lender page.
By Eric Rindal – KF15 – Sierra Leone
“Soon you’re not going to be here anymore, and I need to start doing things for myself,” Mbalu, the Kiva Coordinator at BRAC SL, earnestly said to me. One of my main objectives here in Sierra Leone has been to finalize Mbalu’s orientation of writing the Kiva borrower profiles, posting profiles to Kiva.org, and reporting borrower repayments to Kiva headquarters. With a great sense of accomplishment, last month was Mbalu’s first time posting borrowers onto Kiva.org without any
Teaching Mbalu how to post loans
assistance. Her statement toward independence hit me with a little bit of sadness and a full punch of reality as I was reminded of my temporary presence. However, within this, I encountered a paradigm-shifting question, “what will happen tomorrow?”
This question has pervaded nearly every part of my life here in Sierra Leone. One common sentiment capping most sentences is that “things aren’t easy here in Sierra Leone.” Even though the country has steadily progressed since the civil war (1991-2002), there remains a great mix of needs deep within the soil. The ever-present reality of hunger sends me into a daily dilemma of giving a little bit of money to this person or that person who seriously need food. It is heartbreaking, but what will the needy do tomorrow for food when I am not around? Am I giving to mitigate their need tomorrow? Inevitably my time here has forced me to analyze how I give and who I give to. What is becoming clearer is that people would rather receive money for what they can do (e.g. a micro loan for a business), rather than for what they cannot do (e.g. alms for food). Intentionally giving toward productive ventures and self-sufficiency has a much more lasting affect.
The idea of autarky, which is economic independence or self-sufficiency, has since begun to envelope my mind when I see an outstretched hand. Previously, I would give money simply because I had and others did not. This detached my concern toward the use of my giving and conveyed that tomorrow was simply not my problem. But my fleeting presence here has started my mind whirring with thoughts about tomorrow.
Giving toward self-sufficiency became my goal, and promoting autarkic living seemed clearly attainable through micro loans. There are many places to give and many people with need, but supporting the self-sufficiency of a recipient and society should be on the forefront of our minds as we hand over our next dollar, pound, euro, yen, or Leone.
Employee training has illuminated this aim of my finite presence toward an infinite influence. By the time I arrived, Mbalu had received sound training from previous KF14 Fellow David McNeill. She recently e-mailed me, “I am doing fine, you and David taught me Kiva job, now i can do it for my self.” It occurred to me that in training employees the Kiva process, I was working toward my own redundancy, essentially to no longer be needed. Working in a developing country gave me the illusion that I am needed, and suddenly I find myself rather superfluous. Maybe this is the startling realization that comes from successfully working toward sustainability. After a bit, it all begins to make sense. As I sit at my little desk in southern Sierra Leone, the point of this whole Kiva Fellowship becomes apparent: equipping people and leaving them in control. Furthermore, this is what Kiva is about.
Over the last three months I reverently reflect on the many starving faces I have seen, some very helpless situations, yet noticing a fervent, grasping desire to be better off. Although, it has become apparent that when it comes to poverty and lending or giving, no matter how badly I want it or try, I may never be redundant. But I find great hope in the fact that self-sufficiency is possible, and I witness this every day with Kiva borrowers. I find great hope in the fact that Kiva Fellow class, by Kiva Fellow class we are becoming redundant. Finally, I find the greatest hope in the people who recognize their position in life and their fortunate ability to give and lend.
30 July, 2011 By Eric Rindal – Sierra Leone – KF15
I am writing this blog by hand today as I sit at my desk in Makeni, Sierra Leone. There is no power for the whole office. When I ask, “isn’t there National Power from the grid?” people just laugh (it only comes on at night for a few hours). When I ask, “What about the generator?” people just shrug (it runs on petrol). The town is actually out of petrol on this cloud-tumbling Monday morning. With finicky fuel costs,scarcity of fuel, and aninflation rate of 17.7%there are many reasons for days like this. The MFI (Microfinance Institution) staff is fidgeting to power up their computers and begin working on the ebb and flow of loans, clients, and monthly reports. Such is life in rural Sierra Leone, where verdant tropical forests blanket the region and scattered mountains are sleeping like behemoth tortoises.
So, what is it like for an “upcountry” MFI to partner with Kiva?
Salone Microfinance Trust (SMT) has five branch locations, and only one has internet by sharing three USB modems (with speeds equivalent to shouting at a satellite). This is a slight issue when one of my objectives is to upload more Kiva borrowers each month to Kiva.org (yeah, using the internet). With no shortage of microloans to offer clients and no shortage to post on Kiva.org, I’m analyzing the operations and systems in place to achieve this. In one way or another I have adopted the personas of both Sherlock Holmes and Abigail Van Buren to seek out clues and offer support and solutions. Meeting a monthly posting goal is not my MFI’s unique plight, but is very much a challenge of working in the rural areas of the world. If you have ever searched on the Kiva website for a country with remote locations (e.g. Sierra Leone), you may have wondered how those loans get posted.
If there is any confusion, Kiva.org is not a do-it-yourself website where entrepreneurs in developing countries fire up their Mac Book Air in the marketplace, take a snappy self-portrait, and then write a 3rd person description of their life, family, and business.
I am beginning to understand the sheer dedication and effort MFIs make in order to post loans from rural entrepreneurs “out there”. They go to the ends of the earth, and it takes quite a bit of effort to get an entrepreneur’s loan up on the Kiva site. SMT receives a “delivery” of Kiva questionnaires (used to write Kiva borrower profiles) once a month from branch locations 2-6 hours away (this delay could be averted if they had internet). I was introduced to this remoteness today as I left the rural city center and visited a branch office in a village. As we drove retrogressing from cement homes to mud brick homes and finally to palm branch sided and roofed homes, I was in awe to see the lives of Kiva borrowers. With few to no other MFIs in the rural villages where SMT works, it was evident how imperative business capital is for the rural working poor. I felt SMT was like an ink dye dropped into water and I witnessed it dispersing plumelike through rural Sierra Leone. It was encouraging to know SMT worked in these areas, and even more amazing to know remote entrepreneurs are being profiled on Kiva.org.
Have I solved the issue of posting? Not really. The posting of loans truly happens when rural MFIs value the Kiva partnership and believe their effort will improve the livelihood of their clients. When this is the case, it does not matter how far a loan officer has to drive, how long they must walk, or how patient they must be with the internet. I have invariably found that MFIs are willing to walk two miles instead of one, in pursuit of changing a life. And you know what? They expect Kiva lenders to do the same. Maybe that means to share the story of “your” borrower with a friend, or give someone a Kiva card (I got one last Sunday for my birthday), or whatever way you see fit to walk two miles instead of one for an entrepreneur living at the ends of the earth.
by Eric Rindal – KF15 – Sierra Leone
“What has changed in your business since you took out your loan?” I ask Kiva borrower Fatmata as we stand amongst the whirling crowd in a Freetown market. “Oh, very much, everything has changed,” she says as her eyes quickly sway toward the crowd, then back to mine. I ask her to be more specific; she picks up some of her merchandise and slaps it down with a smile, “I can pay for my child’s school fees.
I have one, a girl, who is in her last year of schooling.” Her pending graduation is quite an accomplishment in a country where 24% of women are literate and nearly half the population lacks a formal education. When Fatmata mentions her daughter’s final year, it is obvious this is a triumph for her as well.
I met with a few more borrowers in Freetown’s market and asked them many of the same questions about their businesses. The sense of achievement was palpable when each of them mentioned their sustained ability to send their children to school or pay for other basic needs. I left the market and silently walked back to my office on Liverpool Street thinking about the borrowers. These loans are about more than straight business.
The externalities of microfinance float through the air like pollen, and, I believe, they will be the catalyst for the next generation to be pollinated and healthfully spur economic progress. The people of Sierra Leone cannot fully expect comprehensive support from their post-conflict government. Instead, they must rely on their own impetus for self-improvement, within their own family and for the nation as a whole. Through their ambition and entrepreneurialism, it appears that a more economically stable life can be obtainable for the children of microfinance borrowers.
Usually my conversations begin with borrowers’ thoughts on the loan and its assistance to their business, but it then quickly melds into thoughts of their family; coloring the conversation with brilliant confidence in their ability to provide a slightly better life for their children. Based on an aggregate of conversations I have had over the last two months with borrowers, I naturally developed basic assumptions where I feel the children of borrowers are major beneficiaries from microfinance. I believe that if a borrower is able to pay school fees without the constant anxiety about family finances, the borrower is less likely to pull that child out of school due to lack of funds or in necessity to help work for the family income. I believe that if borrowers have additional income they will purchase more nutritious, or even more regular, meals for their children. And I believe that more income allows borrowers to prepare for emergencies, such as sicknesses like malaria, typhoid, or dysentery. I like to think these borrowers are seeking familial-interest, rather than self-interest, in hopes of setting a valuable foundation for their children. Familial-interest follows similar tenets of economic self-interest and personal self-improvement in making every effort to actualize their best self; in this case their best family.
Building this tangible and intangible foundation is where many women borrowers in Makeni, Sierra Leone find themselves. I am currently staying in an extra room at the director’s house of Kiva partner Salone Microfinance Trust. With years of development, microfinance, and women’s empowerment experience, Regina knows effective strategies to equip clients. As she and I walked the dirt path to work my first day I asked her how she saw microfinance playing a role in the next generation. She explained how she has seen many women borrowers at SMT begin with a group solidarity loan and after three or four loan cycles, save enough money to buy a small plot of land. From there, the women use the land as collateral for a larger loan, part of which they spend on their business and part they spend on a foundation to a new house. Graduating from a group loan to the larger individual loan, these women partition some of that money to complete their house. This is not a rare occurrence; women are developing their businesses and building their homes. What concrete changes will this make on their children’s wellbeing?
Back to Freetown, in a small store situated deep within a patchwork neighborhood I sat on a three-legged stool as Kiva borrower Hawa sat on her newly acquired kilo of rice.“I bought this with my loan,” she said as she patted her seat; then she clutched my hand, “and you want to see what else?!” We left the store and went up uneven steps, under an askew door frame, and entered a small room just big enough for, “my new deep freezer!” Hawa was on cloud nine through my whole interview, “I have five kids- yes, five- and I can send them all, every one of them, to school.” Before her loan, Hawa struggled to pay for all five of these school fees. Again she grabbed my hand to secure my attention, she waved the other to display the items she purchased with her loan, “Thank you, thank you, tell everyone thank you for the loan.”
So, where will the developing world be in fifteen years when Hawa’s children are adults? My hope is, far ahead of where it is now. I believe microloans lent to borrowers today- yes, that one woman in Sierra Leone or that one man in Ecuador- may determine the lives of their children and the future of the developing world.
7 June, 2011By Eric Rindal – KF15 – Sierra Leone
Mosquito nets are an essential part of most, if not all, Kiva Fellows’ experience. From Senegal, to Ecuador, to the Philippians, we all need them; in fact, it would be crazy to sleep without one. I find my faith in these perforated cocoons may actually be deeper and extend further than I thought.
My “mosquito net” used to drape well beyond the four corners of my bed, delicately hanging both as a distance and a shield from poverty. This physical distance fostered a mental distance such that I could safely experience poverty through published journals or between the covers of a book. But it was time. I was determined to come to Sierra Leone and understand poverty and microfinance firsthand. Thus I took a risk and crawled from underneath my net.
It is easy to look at a country and turn away – afraid of what we might see. Turning away is almost like denying the existence of all the faces and stories of poverty. But, when around 53% of Sierra Leoneans live under $1.25/day, the myriad images of quiet destitution are an inescapable reality. We Fellows are not challenged to the same degree as those we live among; yet, by abandoning our nets and taking a slight chance at contracting malaria, we live in a sliver of poverty. Of course there are the nerve-wracking times of traveling alone or other times wondering if I will make it home alive on a motorcycle taxi. But what would Kiva be if it were not living in solidarity with entrepreneurs, if it were not lending its heart and ears to stories, or if it lacked an understanding of how to adapt with the developing world?
Kiva has long since lifted its mosquito net and eagerly began working with MFIs in some of the most politically and socially volatile countries. Take Kiva’s involvement with Sierra Leone for example: a post-conflict country with very few foreigners willing to enter the country and invest. Kiva was the first outside funder (through microcredit loans) for their current partner MFI Salone Microfinance Trust (SMT) in 2007. The visibility Kiva brought to SMT set in motion new donations from three Sierra Leonean organizations: Shine on Sierra Leone, MicroCredit Enterprise, and Feed the Hunger Foundation. In addition to being an influential partner with SMT, Kiva was also the first outside funder for two other MFIs I work with in Sierra Leone,Association for Rural Development (ARD) Sierra Leone and BRAC Sierra Leone. Beyond the impact within Sierra Leone and partner MFIs, Kiva is a progressive force in other areas. I must share a captivating article that I admire by Kiva team members JD Bergeron and Alyssa McGarry on the influence of Kiva’s model which puts focus directly on the borrowers, especially in this case the disabled and marginalized.
Kiva is moving forward as an innovator within the industry of microfinance. They have the capacity and adeptness to take risks in funding entrepreneurs who would find it difficult to be funded otherwise. I encourage you to take notice of organizations who believe in getting out from under their mosquito net, because they are the ones who invest in the new faces of innovation.
I would like to thank Kiva team members Ben Elberger and JD Bergeron for their generous contributions to this post.
By Eric Rindal, KF15, Sierra Leone
“To touch a person’s heart, you must see a person’s face.” (quote from My Name is Asher Lev – Chaim Potok)
Lending on Kiva.org is a very personal experience. Reading a borrower’s profile, understanding a glimpse of their life, and seeing their picture, kindles, in one way or another, a sincere interest in their potential and forms a connection with the uniqueness of that borrower. Beyond the loan, lenders affirm a strong and inherent hope within the borrower and encourage their entrepreneurial spirit. How awesome for global lenders to see a borrower’s face, take a $25 risk to make a loan, and possibly change that borrower’s life.
How does this really play out? Does the borrower get to look through this window, called the Internet, and see their lenders’ faces?
Kiva Fellows have the opportunity to open that window and make the Person-to-Person connection tangible. Allowing not only the borrower’s financial life to be changed, but also possibly their heart. It’s one thing to know a loan is funded by Kiva…but another to know who Kiva is. A person? A group? Or just another organization? Certainly this does not happen with every borrower, but the previous Sierra Leon based Fellow, David McNeill, and I used my computer to show Kiva borrower, Muhammad, the Kiva webpage of his 38 (and counting) global lenders. In his true smile and kind eyes it was clear he recognized the significance of a loan funded by Kiva. He understood his loan was facilitated by the local microfinance institution BRAC and was funded by 38 lenders around the world. Each of those square quirky lender pictures on Kiva.org represented a person or group who believed in Muhammad and encouraged him to actualize his dreams. As he intently read aloud the countries of his lenders, he looked up at me and quietly said, “These people, from everywhere, all funded me?” At that moment we saw the beauty in Kiva. He does plan to some day expand from his roadside stand and open up a grocery store (most likely with another small loan). The Kiva process came full circle; Muhammad had touched lenders’ hearts and in turn his heart was touched. Our “face” is so important in the Kiva process; it represents who we are and what we do…this model may bring people closer than we can imagine.
Let’s quickly get our bearings here about Sierra Leone; 70% of the population live under the international poverty line; the life expectancy at birth is 48 years; and the literacy rate is 35-40%. As I walk home from my MFI (Microfinance Institution) the streets are lined with small businesses: some women carry their business of fruits or shoes or bags of clean water in large baskets balancing atop their head, while others are sell cell phone minutes out of a metal piecemeal “office”. The spirit of small enterprise here is palpable, Sierra Leoneans have a drive to make a sustainable living through small business, however most lack a solid job opportunity or the capital to grow their business. This country profile is like many others and many other organizations offer microfinance, but the notion of touching a person’s heart by seeing their face is quintessential Kiva.