Kiva is a crowdsourcer.

Crowds of lenders are the source of funds for Kiva borrowers. A very recent milestone quietly appeared on the Kiva statistics page — over half a million lenders have funded borrower loans on the Kiva website. That’s one big crowd!

There’s also a crowd of volunteers and avid Kiva boosters: hundreds of volunteer editors and translators, dozens of Kiva Fellows in the field, umpteen heroic souls who volunteer at Kiva headquarters in San Francisco, and the nearly five-thousand-strong group of Kiva Friends, the best compadres ever.

It’s good company to keep. Much of our interaction is in, and uniquely facilitated by, the electronic ether (the Internets, a series of tubes). Face-to-face meetings may never occur, but can be a cause for celebration when they do.

So there I was, on a Nairobi-bound airplane, headed for my posting as a Fellow at KADET. After my third packet of courtesy pretzels, mid-flight curiosity gripped me: what was the woman next to me, elbow-deep in paper, working on so intently?

“I’m going to Nairobi for a microfinance conference.” she said.

Her name is Aimee Sostowski, and she’s in Nairobi for the Diagnostic to Action: Microfinance in Africa Multi-Stakeholder Conference, sponsored by the organization for which she works, Women’s World Banking.

“A microfinance conference?” I replied. “Small world. I’m with Kiva as a volunteer who’s been posted in Kenya.”

Before I could ask if she knew what Kiva is, her face lit up and she said, “Kiva? I’m a Kiva volunteer, too!”

Aimee is a volunteer translator for Kiva, specializing in Spanish-to-English work. Small world indeed.

Aimee’s been volunteering for Kiva since the Spring of 2008, and told me stories from the translation corps. It’s a labor of love, and good for her Spanish. She’s learned a lot about Peru in the course of her work, as many of her translation assignments hailed from there. The only thing she has difficulty with is templated business profiles: it’s just not as interesting to translate something that’s nearly identical, again and again.

Modesty becomes Aimee. I asked how many profiles she translates a week, and after a pause she said, “About six a week, maybe more.” A search on Google reveals the hundreds of profiles she’s translated.

If two’s company, and Kiva’s a crowd, then we were some seriously serendipitous and crowded company. I ordered another round of pretzels to celebrate.

Not lost in translation: John Briggs and Aimee Sostowksi

Not lost in translation: John Briggs and Aimee Sostowksi at the airport in Nairobi

The inner workings of the editorial and translation volunteer corps are revealed in Kieran Ball’s January 2009 post on the Fellows’ blog, “Volunteer Editor Helps Kiva Entrepreneur Reach Her Goal.” Also see Tamara Sanderson’s reflections on her volunteer experience at Kiva, when she served as head of marketing and recruitment for Kiva’s volunteer Fellows and Translation Programs in late 2008.

John Briggs is a Kiva Fellow serving with the Kenya Agency for Development of Enterprise and Technology (KADET). Before being posted in Kenya, he worked with Kiva field partners Ahon Sa Hirap, Inc. (ASHI) in the Philippines and Maxima Mikroheranvatho in Cambodia.

If you’ve got the itch, scratch it! Consider becoming a Kiva Fellow, or if you speak Arabic, Armenian, Bahasa Indonesia, Dari, French, Khmer, Mongolian, Nepali, Pashto, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swahili, Tagalog, Thai, Urdu, or Vietnamese, think about putting your name to be a Kiva volunteer translator.

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