By Jamie Greenthal | KF 17 | Philippines
Before becoming a Kiva Fellow, I spent 10 out of the past 12 years working for two big companies in New York City. During that time, I went on a few business trips. I liked how they broke up the daily routine and I got to see more than the four walls of my cubicle. They also usually meant early mornings, late nights, and falling behind on email. Nevertheless, the positives outweighed the negatives because these trips gave me the opportunity to get out of the office and engage in an almost forgotten ritual: face-to-face communication.
In today’s office culture, many of us eat breakfast, lunch, and even dinner at our desks, IM colleagues who sit a few feet away, and spend hours on conference calls. The reality is that a lot of human interaction in the workplace has been replaced by technology and we’re more efficient because of it. But sometimes don’t you just miss sitting down in person and having a conversation? I know I do. Well folks, there is hope for us old-fashioned types. I found the antidote for an affliction that I like to call “lack of human contactitis”: visiting microfinance clients in San Roque, Philippines.
I knew it was going to be a great business trip when one of the guys from San Roque scaled a 30-foot coconut tree to get us breakfast. Here is the recipe that we followed:
- Break out your trusty machete and hack off a piece of the coconut.
- Put your lips on the newly created hole in the coconut, tilt your head back, and let the juice flood your mouth (and down your shirt if you’re me).
- Wipe your juice-covered hands on your pants, and set the coconut on the “table”, or in this case the soft green grass of the client’s front yard.
- Pick up the machete again, and hack the coconut in half.
- If you’re a local, fashion a spoon out of the edge of the coconut. (If you’re me, watch in amazement as the local does everything for you.)
- Use the natural spoon to dig the meat out of the coconut, and continue to be astonished at the efficiency of such spoon.
- Wipe your hands on your pants again and thank everyone repeatedly.
After breakfast we got down to business. The Community Economic Ventures, Inc. (CEVI) loan officer, CEVI headquarters staff member, Jane, and I joined the borrowers on one of their porches, which served as our “conference room”. We watched the borrowers recite earnestly, in unison, a pledge to CEVI. We witnessed the loan officer deliver the customary Biblical reflection that precedes all borrower meetings at CEVI, a Christian organization. Our surroundings were verdant; the sun was peeking through the coconut trees; we sat closely in a circle; the group’s positive energy was palpable.
Before the borrowers made their payments to the loan officer, I was asked to introduce myself and explain why I was there. While presenting back in the States and speaking at this meeting were similar, this felt more personal. I bet that a few of you (and all Kiva Fellows) know what it’s like to come from so far away, geographically and culturally, and finally meet your first borrowers and hear stories of how loans changed their lives. Learning about the impact of a loan that was made by people from around the world through the Internet and ended up in the hands of a woman who stood before me provoked a feeling unlike any other I’ve had on a business trip.
I worked hard to suppress the emotions as I told the borrowers from San Roque how honored I was to be there with them. I don’t think they’ll ever know how much of an impact this first borrower meeting had on me, but they could tell how appreciative I was of the experience. I bet that a conference call with the borrowers wouldn’t have had the same effect on me.
After the borrowers paid back a portion of their loans and we took a group photo, I hopped on a motorbike and started the journey home. I thought I knew what traveling for work was like until that day in San Roque when “going on a business trip” took on a whole new meaning.
Jamie Greenthal is a Kiva Fellow working with Community Economic Ventures in Tagbilaran City, Philippines. Stay tuned for Part II in the “Best Business Trip Ever” series: Talibon to Bilangbilangan Daku Island .