By Nick Hamilton, KF13
Before beginning my placement as a Kiva Fellow, I tended to view the Kiva model simply in terms of members lending to borrowers and borrowers paying back. It was hard to envisage the intricacies of an Field Partner’s (or MFI) operations and what goes into facilitating a loan. In my eyes the MFI was the middle man; an amorphous mass that made things happen. Of course, the simple fact is that without MFIs Kiva would not exist. They share an equal responsibility with the lenders and the borrowers in ensuring that Kiva’s mission – ‘to connect people, through lending, for the sake of alleviating poverty’ – is achieved.
It goes without saying that every function of an MFI (whether it be management, IT, finance, administration etc.) plays an essential role in the organisation’s existence. However, here I would like to pay special tribute to the people with whom I spend the majority of my time: the loan officers.
An MFI’s loan officers are the people that deal with loans and borrowers on the ground. At Esperanza International (Kiva’s field partner in the Dominican Republic and Haiti) the majority of the loan officers’ time is spent in the field conducting borrower (or ‘Solidarity Bank’) meetings. For the most part, this is to collect repayments, which in Esperanza’s case occurs on a biweekly basis. They may also use the meeting to train or educate the borrowers and, as Esperanza International is a Christian organisation, share the word of God. Esperanza’s loan officers are also required to go out to the field to speak to potential new clients about the MFI’s services and, more often than not, bring them on board. While at Esperanza International borrowers come to the office to receive their loans (this process is either run by the Branch Manager or the Branch ‘Supervisor’) at other MFIs loan officers travel out to the field to disburse loans as well.
I have spent a lot of time with a number of the loan officers here in the Dominican Republic and it’s been a pleasure to work with them all. There are some characteristics that are necessarily common to the role – loan officers have to be personable, confident and natural communicators – but I’ve also met a great bunch of individuals. Each purveys an interesting, likable and very fun personality and I’ve loved getting to know their individual quirks.
What I’ve found especially interesting is the way that each loan officer runs their biweekly repayment meetings and, in particular, controls a large group of loquacious borrowers. Some of the (especially younger) loan officers are particularly jaunty and keep the borrowers’ attention fixed on them by skipping around a room with abounding energy. Others will just keep raising their decibel levels until no-one else can be heard. One loan officer uses a technique which I always found particularly effective at high school. If a meeting is getting a bit boisterous (which happens quite regularly with a room full of 40 chatty Dominican women) he just stops talking and sits with his head bowed in silence until everyone looks around and shuts up! When it comes to dealing with large groups and public communication I have learnt a lot from these people. Just as impressive (and touching), of course, is the personal relationship that the loan officers share with each borrower, even though they may have hundreds ‘on their books’.
Rather than ramble on about a loan officer’s role in the 3rd person, I thought it would be much better to let them do the talking. So, without further ado, I’d like to present ‘Loan Officers – Kiva’s Unsung Heroes’:'
Click on this link or the thumbnail to watch the video.
By Nick Hamilton, KF13. Nick is serving as a Kiva Fellow with Esperanza International in the Dominican Republic and Haiti
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