Kiva Fellow Superpowers

In the movie Taken Liam Neeson says, “I don’t have money.  But what I do have is a set of very particular skills that makes me a nightmare for someone like you.”  Kiva is about altruism, not vengeance, but our Fellows are just as skilled (in a non-violent way) as any ex-spy.
Many people assume that all foreign travel is basically a beach vacation, and anyone could do it if they just had the time or money.  One friend asked me, "Apart from speaking Spanish, what skills do you have?"  This got me curious about what special skills my fellow Fellows have, so I asked them to share their proudest moments.  The sampling below makes clear that many Kiva Fellows deserve capes, leotards, and letters on their chests.
So just what does a Kiva Fellow do?
1.     Spend 8 hours a day, 3 days a week plodding through mud and sewage until you're covered from the knees down

Hot-footing it through the muddy, sewage-soaked slums of Nairobi

2.     Meet shy, nervous borrowers and get them talking--in your second language and their third--until they open up and make "thank you" videos

3.     Convince a group of old men at a banking conference to be interested in what a young female foreigner has to say
4.     With no prior planning, help an Iraqi woman formalize her business plan in the Arabic you can barely remember from childhood
5.     Dance Friday night away with co-workers and return to work totally professional Saturday morning
6.     Charm local partners into helping you even though they're "too busy"
7.     Eat everything that's offered to you, from unidentifiable fruits to crazy-sweet coffee to frozen potatoes to guinea pig to grasshoppers--and smile and say it's delicious
Rwandan treat

8.     Ride the bus for 19 hours and go straight to work when you get off (in another country)
9.     Practice agenda-yoga, accepting that what should take an hour takes an afternoon, and what's scheduled for tomorrow won't happen until next week
10.  Spend 9 hours a day, 5 days a week in a hot, crowded, noisy office writing up borrower verification visits, working out APR calculations, monitoring repayment reporting, assessing loan volume and projections, examining social performance metrics, translating videos, interviewing the Kiva Coordinator, and uploading photos--in Spanish
On good days, the fan works and the computer runs

11.  Navigate a bustling mess of people pushing their way through to the markets, vendors peddling goods, and buses that skim by within an inch of the nearest person to find the right minivan among hundreds
Maelstrom of minivans in Kampala, Uganda

12.  Convince 34 hesitant borrowers to go public at the biggest launch in history
13.  "Shrink" the world by showing a borrower his page of 59 lenders, making him fall silent for a couple seconds and then smile very shy without any words, knowing that so many people out there are supporting his grocery business
Kiva Magic: a borrower sees his own loan page (Taiwan)

14.  Get students interested in microfinance by being guest speaker at a university
15.  Ride for hours on end hugging the back of a motorcycle, dodging stampedes of cows; get stranded by mechanical problems; hike barely existent footpaths freshly soaked from a recent downpour to reach every borrower
Over the river and through the woods to borrowers' houses we go. . .  (Nicaragua)

16.  Travel by plane, bus, motorcycle, bicycle, rickshaw, tuk-tuk, boat, raft, horse, donkey, camel, elephant, and rope ladder
17.  Forge friendships on the spot: begin with cocktails and end with partners, making the gears turn in strangers' heads, inspired by the possibilities of low-interest loans
18.  Keep a group of 18 curious, competitive women calm and harmonious enough to take a picture
More curious than camera-shy in rural Ghana

19.  Turn a cold call from a representative of a microfinance institution you've never heard of, with no connection to Kiva, into a new partnership
20.  Convince low-income immigrant women to take a chance on seeking a crowdfunded loan
21.  Halfway up a mountain, turn asking for directions into a conference on what Kiva can do for the village
Borrowers-to-be in Manzanapanga, Ecuador

22.  With less than one day to fundraise a new loan, push for 100% and get there
23.  Live with mosquito nets, bucket showers, blackouts, glacial Internet, paper shortages, toner shortages, water shortages, fuel shortages, change shortages, toilet paper shortages
24.  Make beggars smile, co-workers laugh, and borrowers cry with joy
Smiles need no translation (Ghana)

To support the microfinance organization where I'm working, click here (Cooperativa San José, San José de Chimbo, Ecuador) or here (Edpyme Alternativa, Chiclayo, Peru).

To make a loan to almost anywhere else in the world, click here:

About the author

Gordon Thompson

Originally from New Jersey, Gordon earned a BA in English and Music from Swarthmore College. During two summers with the Forest Service, neither Latin nor French helped him communicate with Mexican sheepherders. Over the next several years he learned Spanish by traveling and studying in Latin America while completing an MFA in creative writing from the University of Florida. After teaching in Chile, he landed at Cranbrook, a boarding school outside Detroit, where he has taught English, led wilderness expeditions, coached Forensics, advised the literary magazine, and worked in the dorm. Thanks to summer vacations, he's visited more than 50 countries, including volunteering at ASSET The Gambia and the Tshume school, South Africa. A Kiva lender almost from day one, he's thrilled to get deeper into microfinance.