When Medellin beat New York and Tel Aviv this year for Wall Street Journal’s “Innovative City of the Year”, news articles reminded everyone of the long way Medellin has come from its dark past as the playground for Pablo Escobar’s drug trade and violent crimes. While this is true, Medellin’s forward thinking spirit should become Medellin's defining characteristic. Medellin has transformed into a city with low crime rates, delicious tap water, a free bike sharing system, and a new metro system. All of this was accomplished by focusing on the future rather than dwelling too much in the past.
Medellin’s spirit of innovation can be seen at Interactuar, Kiva’s partner in Medellin, an MFI that takes multiple approaches towards lifting residents (called paisas) of the province of Antioquia out of poverty. In addition to providing microloans to small business owners, Interactuar offers a number of other services to help out entrepreneurs, including business consulting, vocational courses, a graphic design center and a food lab. Interactuar is always looking for new ways to increase their impact. One such way is their latest project in mobile technology.
Interactuar is currently piloting two types of smartphones to provide as a tool for their loan officers in the field. They have high hopes that this tool will empower loan officers to be more efficient with their clients by giving them the ability to virtually take the office with them to the field. Clients often live far away from the nearest office - working with cattle on small farms only accessible by foot - or have busy schedules that make it difficult for a visit - caring for three children and selling empanadas on the street until 4am. By being able to directly access Interactuar’s database, quickly conduct credit checks, and send in loan applications, loan officers can often get much more done in one visit and, in turn, make sure the clients receive their loan more quickly.
These smartphones will also have other features that will help loan officers in field. A gps system will help them track down rural clients that live deep in the hills of Antioquia and often don’t have addresses or street names to help direct loan officers. The smartphones will have better camera hardware than their current option, which will help them provide better photos to be uploaded on Kiva. Loan officers will be able to fill out impact evaluation surveys, which will help them learn how the loans have affected each client and how they could be improved.
These tools will allow loan officers to be less dependent on their office branches, and therefore be able to spend more time in the field working with more clients. Additionally, the office branches will be able to easily supervise the work of loan officers, allowing for greater transparency and communication. Interactuar is excited that this new project, which will eventually grow to 70 or 80 phones, will continue to push Interactuar towards creating a bigger impact in the socioeconomic development of Medellin. I look forward to seeing what this organization comes up with next as they continue to contribute to Medellin’s innovative spirit.
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