Kiva training is done. My bags are packed. I’m about as ready as I can be to make it from San Diego, to LAX, to Houston, to Buenos Aires, and then on to Asuncion, Paraguay. So, here I am, ready to depart for another meet and greet with customs officials, and it seems appropriate to spend a little time thinking and sharing about why, exactly, I’ve decided to hit the road again. On Kiva’s website, each lender creates a profile by providing his or her name, location, picture, and answer to the prompt “I loan because…” My lender page says that I loan because I believe in the power of empowerment. This idea, more than anything else, describes why I’m going to work for Kiva and why I wanted to learn more about microfinance.
Last year, when I was in Rwanda working for Orphans of Rwanda (ORI), it became very clear to me how microcredit could fill a critical niche in a developing economy. While ORI focuses on using university education to empower a small number of talented students to become competitive members of the country’s educated workforce (very important work in itself), I knew that thousands of young Rwandans would never have access to the type of support that ORI provides. Instead, those who cannot afford secondary or tertiary education struggle to find a foothold in their local economy–some will succeed and others will not. The women who sold fruit and vegetables on my street, the drivers of the local motorcycle taxis, and the owners of the small specialty shops that line Kigali’s downtown are all examples of people who have found a way to involve themselves in the local economy. But without access to credit, even the most entreprenurial-minded folks may not be able to endure setbacks such as a missed product delivery, a broken engine, or the appearance of new competition. A small loan can help those people stay afloat and out of poverty. When times are good it can help those entreprenuers grow their business, better support their families, and give themseleves the cushion they need to weather hard times. The concept is incredibly compelling, and the fact that Kiva lets individuals from all over the world empower one another by directly offering a loan to another person piqued my interest even more.
But does it always work the way it’s supposed to? Are there other benefits that we should pay more attention to? By serving as a Kiva Fellow in Paraguay, I hope to find out. Over the course of my four-month fellowship, I will meet over 100 borrowers. I’ll learn about Kiva’s partner in Asuncion, Fundacion Paraguaya. And, most importantly, I’ll do my best to share what I see, hear, and experience, with the rest of the Kiva community.
See you in Asuncion!