Are tablets a practical solution to rural microfinance operations?
This is the big question I am working to answer during my 4 months in beautiful Kenya. This appears to be a simple question with an obvious answer. However, after traveling over 1000 kilometers in one week throughout urban and rural Kenya, I have learned about the obstacles that will make tabletizing Kiva partners more complicated. Yet, I am hopeful that tablets can, at the very least, be a practical means to improve operational efficiency for Kiva's partners.
Free Tablets to Kenya?
Google provided Kiva with Nexus 7 tablets to be given to Kiva partners. I am now in Kenya to experiment whether these tablets will increase the operational efficiency of Kiva partners. Why would Kiva choose Kenya as the testing ground for this project? Kenya has the necessary infrastructure, expansive data network and a culture that seemlessly integrates technology into daily life. Kenyans have embraced and leveraged mobile technology for many years as evidenced by the popularity of M-Pesa and the development of apps such as iCow and M-Farm.
However, there will be some growing pains as we work to implement new hardware, software and update processes for well established institutions. Turning your back to what is familiar to face uncertainty is usually uncomfortable. Yet, I like to see change as a precursor to exciting possibilities. Its like leaving my comfortable life in lovely Los Angeles to volunteer in a dynamic developing country where I have the opportunitiy to grow professionally and personally.
Oh the Possibilities!
I've seen first hand how microfinance organizations could leverage tablets to improve their operations and increase their loan portfolios! I was priviledged to have shadowed Juhudi Kilimo, one of Kiva's outstanding partners, since they have been using tablets in their field operations for about a year. While sipping delicious Kenyan tea at the Nairobi headquarters, I learned from their IT, finance and administrative teams how they successfully use tablets to improve their operations.They then generously allowed me to travel with their gregarious and eloquent CFO as he visited various branches throughout western rural Kenya. Despite the pothole infested roads and occasional livestock blockading the roads, I had a very enjoyable and insightful roadtrip.
I witnessed how mobile technology in rural Kenya can simplify data collection, speed up loan disbursements, and facilitate access to Kiva loans in marginalized communities. My time with Juhudi Kilimo allowed me to see that this project has a good possibility of significantly impacting Kiva partners and hard working Kenyans in need of financing.
I look forward to sharing more about this project and my experiences in the wonderfully exciting Repulbic of Kenya!