Last July, I sat in Kiva headquarters listening to speaker after speaker desperately trying to get a grasp on what life as a Kiva fellow would be like. Despite all my “international” experience, I don´t think anything could have prepared me for the adventure that was to come. Personally, I set out to discover how microfinance worked, IF it worked, and how it impacted the lives of the people it touched, but I really had no idea what lay ahead of me.
My two Kiva fellowships have allowed me to work with four separate institutions: FAPE and ASDIR in Guatemala and Arariwa and Manuela Ramos in Peru. I have been able to meet and talk with hundreds of borrowers posting new loans and doing loan updates. Meeting borrowers like Luz del Solar in Urubamba who owns a restaurant and has twice made my day a little brighter with typical dishes from Urubamba like pear soup or potatoes, lima beans, and goat cheese in a cream sauce.Click to view slideshow.
I have worked to improve transparency on the Kiva site by performing three borrower verifications (checking data in the field: loan terms, occupations, photos etc. to make sure that the information on Kiva is the same) and completing two CERISE surveys (social performance questionnaires designed to help microfinance institutions benchmark how well they are meeting up to their own social goals).
On the flip side, I have had a chance to surf in four new countries, to climb four volcanoes (including Concepción in Nicaragua with some other Kiva Fellows!), and hike the Inca Trail. On the down side, I have been robbed once and assaulted another time, but I wouldn´t trade my two Kiva fellowships in Guatemala City and Cusco for the world.
And as I see my second (and final) Kiva fellowship come to a close, I have been asking myself what I have learned from the last eight months in the field. For one, I learned what having Kiva as a funding source means to microfinance institutions. The interest free capital they receive from Kiva means that they are able to more quickly achieve operational sustainability, and are able to concentrate more of their time and resources on additional programs to benefit their borrowers (or alternatively are able to lower interest rates). My second reflection on microfinance is that the most effective microcredit programs that I have witnessed combine education and training programs with the loans that they offer. I personally perceive education programs highlighting business management, budgeting, family, nutrition, or health allow the borrowers to develop not only economically, but in all aspects of their life. Which is the positive impact that all of us wish to see.
Eric Burdullis is a Kiva Fellow who has served in both Guatemala and Peru. Although his Kiva fellowship draws to a close, he looks forward to continuing to support Kiva borrowers by lending on Kiva. Lend to Asociación Arariwa here!