What happens to Kiva Fellows once they finish their placement and get released back into the world? This is a question I have asked myself many times as I look ahead beyond my placement in Colombia–luckily I will be part of KF15 and won’t have to make those decisions for a few months! Many of the current fellows will be heading to grad school in the fall, going back to their old jobs, or looking for new jobs in international development. But how many of us get the chance to continue on in the world of microfinance?
I had the opportunity to host Adam Grenier, part of KF7 in Sierra Leone, this past week as he conducted field research for a microfinance class he teaches at Tuft University in the Boston, MA area. Adam teaches the class as part of Tuft’s Experimental College, which is open to all students, and currently has a class of 23 learning the ins and outs of the microfinance world. Adam is able to not only draw on his experience as part of working with Kiva, but also continues to travel and bring his stories of microfinance in the field back to the classroom and his students. Adam reached out to me early in my time with Fundación Mario Santo Domingo (FMSD) to see if we would be able to host him and an international relations/documentary film student from Sarah Lawrence College, Trevor Wallace, for a week to see Colombia microfinance in action.
After a month or so of email chains Adam and Trevor arrived in Colombia, ready to experience all that the coast has to offer. After an initial weekend of visiting the beach and one of Colombia’s beautiful national parks, Parque Tayrona, Trevor and Adam were exposed to the inner workings of FMSD’s microfinance programs, as well as some of their other projects, like their subsidized housing community projects (for more information, see my previous bog post Here). We also got the change to visit multiple clients, ranging from an artisan, a store owner, all the way down to a blind broom maker. Trever spent his time filming for a documentary he is creating for his class, while Adam was able to ask a lot of questions and gain perspective into the differences in the lives of borrowers and loan officers alike in Colombia verse his MFI in Sierra Leone.
Adam and Trevor found a way to give back as well; they gave a 90 minute presentation different microfinance models around the world (highlighting Sierra Leone and Haiti) and used a question and answer session to compare and contrast the differences with the model used by FMSD. The loan officers really got into the presentation and were excited to see some of the “improvements” to the system in Colombia verses the rest of the world–such as clients paying at a bank or payment center rather than the loan officers being responsible for the payments and all of the risks involved with collections, mainly focused on safety.
One of Trevor and Adam’s highlights of the trip tied back to class back at Tufts–each year Adam gives each student a $25 gift card and allows them to become a Kiva lender. Trevor attended this class the week before they left and a few of the students chose to lend to FMSD. I received a last minute list from Adam asking it it may be possible to visit one of these brand new Kiva lendors. On Adams last day in town with the help of a very nice Kiva Coordinator Adam was able to track down and meet Rosemberg Guerrero Acosta, a 20 year old entreprenuer that is using his loan to improve his fast food stand. Rosemberg is using the proceeds of his business to fund his education and Adam was able to catch up with him after he finished classes for the day, giving him a rare opportunity to view the lender, borrower, and MFI all in one week.
Though Kiva fellowships end, it is great to see that some KF’s continue to have the opportunity to keep promoting microfinance and the work that Kiva is doing.
John Gwillim is part of KF14 and currently serving in Barranquilla, Colombia. He will continue on as a member of KF15 in Santiago, Chile.
Interested in learning more about Fundación Mario Santo Domingo? Visit their page on Kiva here!