When I first learned of the possibility of a fellowship with Kiva, my mind raced with visions of exotic food stalls on bustling streets, colorful people conversing in strange tongues and moped rides through pastoral countryside to conduct borrower verifications.
So, when I learned that Kiva wanted me to work, here, in my adopted city of San Francisco, I was a little hesitant at first. Then I heard about this innovative program called Kiva Zip, which had the potential, quite literally, to revolutionize micro-lending across the world. This was a chance to work in a start-up environment with an amazing organization full of inspiring people.
Now, six weeks into the fellowship, it’s time to take stock. What have I been spending my time at, and, what have been my success’s so far?
As a Zip Fellow, my main goal is to find and onboard potential borrowers and the trustee’s who endorse them. I send out emails and make phone calls. I arrange meetings over coffee where I pitch the Zip program. I attend events where I network. And, of course, I keep track of my progress by inputting data in various spreadsheets.
Best of all, I set my own hours, dress casually, meet inspiring people and talk about cool business’s that are having positive impacts on their communities.
A primary focus of mine is on small, sustainable, farm and food business’s. Kiva, in keeping with their culture of democratic openness, largely allows the trustee to define what constitutes social impact.
As I reflected, I had a lot of irons in the fire, though not a lot of concrete movement just yet. The question was, had I hit the dreaded ‘trough of disillusion’ that the fellows team had warned us about.
My one solid success so far was Daniel at Sour Flour, a handsome gentleman in the Mission district of San Francisco who, for years, has been making unadulterated bread out of just flour, salt, water, and…yes, airborne, some might say, God-given, naturally occurring yeast. It is said the fog banks that roll in here off the Pacific moderate the climate, thus making an ideal environment for its cultivation.
Having given much of his bread away to the needy for years and continuing to hold baking workshops in his neighborhood, Danny came to me in response to an email I had sent out. He was quickly endorsed by La Victoria Bakery where he makes his bread. Their founder, Jaime, said Danny had finally ‘learned the cold reality of the bottom line’ and was thus ready for a loan of $5000. He needed to buy bread bags, flour, dough tubs and trays among other things.
I am delighted and proud to say that Danny funded in just under 9 days thanks to generous lenders from as far away as Belgium, Turkey, Germany, Sweden and Finland, not to mention his neighbors just around the corner from him in San Francisco. This is the beauty of technology being used for good; a global communication tool connecting people thousands of miles apart to fund a local, sustainable business that’s rooted firmly in its community.
Danny’s success reminded me not just that people thousands of miles away cared enough to help a fellow human get that bit closer to their dream, a remarkable phenomena in itself that speaks volumes about the better side of our natures. Danny’s story also reminded me that there are people the world over who care deeply about how we make our food, about what we put into our bodies and how we relate to the planet and to each other. The next day, while listening to the Bill Moyers Radio show, I heard the Indian activist Vandana Shiva talk about framing agriculture and food production in terms of asking Mother Earth what she needs rather than asking what she can give us.
Soon after Danny being funded, I met with an established whole foods retailer who identified a great use for Kiva Zip. Real Foods Company, of San Francisco have many suppliers who are GMO free but can't afford the approximately $10,000 it costs to get certified as non-GMO. Additionally, they suggested that Kiva Zip could help small producers to become certified organic producers. It hit me then that Danny at Sour Flour is just one success in what is truly an ocean of possibility. While the road may be bumpy at times, I am certain that as a Kiva Fellow, I am fighting the good fight. So the next time the fog rolls in, figuratively at least, I’ll remember that it might have a silver lining, or, at least when it clears, there might be a whole, unexpected new vista in its place.
You the lenders and we fellows are like foot soldiers on the ground in this epic effort to make the world a better place, one small step at a time. So, whether it be through empowering an individual half way around the world or through encouraging environmentally conscious food production, or both, we are part of something much bigger than ourselves here.
One might go so far as to say that we are, truly, on the right side of history with this one. Well, with that, you probably know what I am going to say next! Go on, make a loan to a sustainable producer today and do your ‘Mother’ a big favor.
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A native of Ireland, Shane received his bachelors in Marketing and Entrepreneurship in 1993. Relocating to the US shortly thereafter, he has since worked in telemarketing management, community outreach, fundraising, market research and as a volunteer. While challenging and rewarding, these positions helped to augment his primary career aspiration as an actor in the theatre. Getting off the beaten track while travelling in the developing world, he visited outlying tribal regions and poor slums, underfunded orphanages, schools and hospitals. In 2007, he returned to Ireland to study for his Masters in International Peace. Learning about microfinance for the first time, it struck him as a sustainable aid model that favors the empowerment of people over the creation of dependency. Shane is ready to immerse himself wholly in this new adventure and is incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve with the distinguished members of the Kiva team and KF22. He hopes to learn a lot from the experience and eventually build a full time career in the service of the greater good. He is particularly animated by small, local businesses that are both financially and environmentally sustainable while enriching the local community.