by Avani Parekh-Bhatt, Kiva Fellow at SMEP in Nairobi, Kenya.
Jambo! I’d like to introduce myself, My name is Avani Parekh-Bhatt, I’m a 9th class Kiva Fellow and the last of my class to get to the field in Kenya. I hail from Durham, North Carolina. I believe in the power of human relationships, and grassroots led development, and I want to see the real nuts and bolts of microfinance, so that’s why I applied to be a Kiva Fellow (and to start my own microfinance organization one day.)
At my second day on the job at a Kiva fellow at my MFI, I looked out of my window in the marketing office, and saw in the garden the vestige of a time gone by, a bird that to me looked exactly like a dodo bird. You remember learning about the dodo –it’s now extinct, but living on in the faded black line drawings in elementary school textbooks. It struck me today that I am witnessing the death of the dodo at my MFI, and the creation of an entirely new species of organization.
The Small and Micro Enterprise Programme (SMEP), headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya is a MFI that grew out of a feeding program in the Mathare slum in 1975. SMEP has only been a Kiva partner since July 2009, and is still considered to be in what Kiva terms “pilot” stage. It is at this point that Kiva works with the MFI, either by sending staff, or a Fellow such as myself and my two predecessors, to work with organization to get them to place where they feel comfortable with the Kiva model, have developed a successful process for getting loans onto the website, and fully understand Kiva’s policies. After meeting these and completing some other essential processes, the organization moves on to become a full “active” partner.
Working with SMEP mirrors my work in my “real world” – as a consultant to new and established nonprofits looking for capacity building and fundraising assistance. Incubation, as I like to call it. In Kenya, with SMEP, it feels more like evolution.
In my first week at SMEP I was fortunate to have concert with the CEO, Philys Mbungu, a dynamic and very jovial woman set on taking SMEP to the next level. The thing about all of the staff here at the headquarters –they are very dedicated. The CEO comes in for chats and sets the goals for the year, visits the branch offices, concerns herself with the branding and growth of this organization on each of the 31 branch locations. And she goes to school at nights, for banking. That’s dedication. The marketing staff that I work with, and the new Kiva coordinator Fridah Njeru, are working to create systems and procedures that allow them to work smarter, not harder. While I occasionally take a half an hour to sun myself in the gardens while eating lunch with some of the other staff – the finance office staff stay crunching numbers and diligently typing away on their computers only to be seen infrequently at tea time.
SMEP is doing some cool things, and wants to do even more “out of the box” things, according to Phyllis. For example, they have loan products for water tanks, and solar panels – green loan products by any definition, and I like the fact that they are encouraging people to not rely on the industrial grid by encouraging alternative energy and provisions for conserving water.
This is a big year for SMEP and they have big goals. You’ve read other fellows’ blogs about the high cost of microfinance – SMEP plans on helping to lower these costs by moving their weekly group meetings (all borrowers are a part of a group) to monthly, and scheduled in such a way that allows the loan officers at the branch level to pursue delinquent payments in a timely manner in order to end the month with a lower portfolio at risk (PAR). They are already using M-PESA, the mobile phone money remittance service to allow payment by mobile phone.
SMEP plans on creating an incentive structure for staff at the branch level to help keep PAR lower – and the ideas floating around about this structure sound promising. In addition they also want to double the amount of loans disbursed in 2010 from last year, and increase the number of unique clientele to over double of what they have now.
It’s the end of the era of the dodo here. We are ambitious at SMEP about the upcoming year, and I am so happy to be here for what I see as the evolution of a newer, healthier, and cutting-edge microfinance institution and Kiva partner.
In my next blog I’ll talk about the Kiva Borrower Verification – an “audit” process that fellows and other Kiva affiliates conduct to ensure that the borrower, loan, and repayment information lenders see on the website is accurate and truthful. This is one of the most important functions I’ll perform in my three-month tenure as a fellow, and a key step in SMEP moving from pilot to active phase.
So Karibu! (Welcome) to the SMEP family! Stay tuned for more from me over the next three months.
Avani Parekh-Bhatt is a 9th Class Kiva Fellow from Durham, NC working with SMEP in Nairobi, Kenya from January –April 2010. You can join SMEP’s lending team here. See all of SMEP’s currently fundraising loans./>