Please join me in bidding a warm welcome to Kiva’s new field partner in Jordan, Alwatani (National Microfinance Bank). Alwatani has been providing microcredit services to low- and middle-income Jordanians since 2006. Through its 10 branch offices located throughout the country, Alwatani serves approximately 25,000 entrepreneurs.During my training visit to Alwatani’s offices, I had the pleasure of meeting not just their staff, but some of their borrowers as well. Their staff is warm, committed, and proud of all that their institution has accomplished in its 5 years. And I must say, I have been able to visit a great variety of business in my time working for Kiva, but Alwatani’s client Sami (pictured above) was one of the most dynamic, innovative entrepreneurs I’ve ever met.
The story of his business begins in Iraq. He had a coffee shop in Baghdad, and one of his clients (who was also a friend) occasionally had trouble paying his tab. So, in exchange for a break on his bill, this client showed Sami his “secret”: isolating and purifying silver from used x-ray film. Sami saw this process a couple of times, then, using his talent, resourcefulness, and information from the internet, he built a silver-refining workshop in his basement. Over the years, with the help of capital from Alwatani, he has worked very hard to develop his process to make a good living, paying for weddings for each of his six children. He’s also made sure that fumes from his work don’t seep into his family’s home.Before visiting Sami’s business, we visited another borrower, Samah. From her home, she and her husband make cotton candy, package it, and sell it to local distributors. They go through 20 kilos of sugar every day, and Samah’s husband’s hands are stained pink from working with the candy so much (he creates the puffs of pink sugar, while Samah puts each puff of candy into a plastic bag). They see good growth opportunities for their business, since it is unique in the area, and children love the candy.
Both of these borrowers are served by the Wehdat branch of Alwatani (and unfortunately, neither of their loans will be financed on Kiva.org, since the training visits happened a few months before the official launch of Alwatani loans on the website). Wehdat one of Alwatani’s largest branch offices, and it serves a large area of Amman, Jordan’s capital. This area is centered on the Muhayam al-Wehdat, or Wehdat Refugee Camp. This area is home to approximately 180,000 displaced Palestinian refugees (this estimate dates to the 1990s) and is one of the poorest areas in Jordan, along with the 5 other refugee camps spread across the country.