By Kate Bennett, KF16, Peru
The most challenging part of loan officer trainings for we Kiva Fellows is not instructing loan officers to obtain signed consent forms from borrowers, or explaining how money moves from lender, to Kiva, to Caja Rural, to the client. The most difficult explanation is often how and why. That there are hundreds of thousands of lenders out there, all excited to make a $25 loan to someone else in the world- at no gain of their own- is often lost on new loan officers. But making this clarification is what enables these extremely important players in the Kiva process to understand why it all works, and why providing details that show clearly the life of the borrower is imperative to facilitating the connection between borrower and lender.
At a recent loan officer training, I tried a different approach than the usual Powerpoint and role playing. Before I even left for the training inLima, I sat down with Caja Señor de Luren’s business manager Victor Miranda, and together we searched for a loan together on the site. Victor wanted to lend to a woman in the very poorest of countries- someone who has true need, he said. After about twenty minutes on the site, we found a borrower in Cambodia, a woman who will be using her loan to buy fertilizer for her rice crops, and who hopes to use her profits to send her two children to school. Victor felt a connection to her, as he is a father of two young children, and he too wants to see them educated and hopefully, one day graduate from college.
Fast forward to Lima: I shared my and Victor’s experience on the site, and then loan officers and I fished the site for our own borrower. I asked loan officers what they liked learning about the borrowers: their families, one said. I like hearing about whether their children are in school, added another. Maykol liked hearing about why a client was successful in his business (is it his good reputation that makes him a good bus driver? Is it her good cooking that makes her a successful market stall operator?). We all liked hearing about the cultural norms of another country. And it was clear that we could gear our own profiles to include this type of content.
I also try to demonstrate that there is no ideal Kiva borrower. When loan officers ask me, ‘How do you choose,’ I give a few answers. Before I began volunteering for Kiva, I chose female borrowers in Africa who were trying to support children’s education. When I began my fellowship, I sought out female borrowers with my own partner organization in Ecuador, seeking to support my own Field Partners (and also hoping to meet them!). And as I enter my eighth month as Kiva Fellow, the next time I lend I know I’ll have a very different selection process- specifically, to lend through Field Partners that stand out to me for their social programs, are located within my own neighborhood (whether in New York or Quito, Ecuador) or alternatively to support green loans or recyclers of scrap metal. Obviously, in my time as a fellow, my selection process too has changed (and has become very specific).
Soon-to-be loan officer Dayana was most intrigued as to why borrowers lend: “how they [that’s you, the lenders] lend to someone else just because [borrowers] need the money. I think that’s what Kiva is about, right? These people that lend money-they don’t need to. They don’t get anything out of it. But they do, because it’s the right thing. To help out other people, like I would lend some eggs or a hammer to a neighbor, but on the other side of the world- and why? Because I care about her story.”
This is what struck the officers the most- just how international Kiva is. And it really is striking. Never before has a housewife in Arkansasinteracted with a rice farmer in Cambodia, an executive in Belgiumwith a market vender in Peru, or a nonprofit worker from New Jerseywith a butcher in Mongolia, with the ease that we can today. I told our new loan officers that all this would be impossible without the internet, but even more so it would be impossible with them. All substantial material on the site: the photos, the profiles, the journals, come straight from the eyes and ears of the loan officers.
So how does that translate to our borrowers? How can this inform the work of loan officers and Caja Señor de Luren, and how can I express this in my trainings? We spent twenty minutes of the training live on the Kiva website, looking at borrowers, grading their profiles, and painstakingly selecting who we wanted to lend to. And the moral of the story: we selected our borrower based on the quality of the photo and the profile. Providing an incredible photo can be difficult; Caja Señor de Luren cannot afford to provide its loan officers with digital cameras, so they instead take photos with their camera phones. But we do have control over borrower profiles and making them as content rich as possible.
So the question remains: how do you lend? How do you choose? I leave it to you, Kiva lenders, to fill in the blanks!
Kate Bennett (KF16) is thrilled to be working in Ica, Peru with Kiva Field Partner Caja Rural Señor de Luren. For more on Kate’s experiences with Caja Rural Señor de Luren or life in Peru, follow her work here.