by Nina Nelan, KF12 Azerbaijan

One of the benefits of a Kiva Fellowship is the opportunity to peek behind the Kiva curtain.  Like Oz, Kiva is not always as it seems, but it’s also not smoke and mirrors.  For starters, those who work for Kiva are fully committed to its values and mission.

I was fortunate to see Kiva staff in action for 2 weeks in Azerbaijan this month, when the Regional Director, Portfolio Manager, and Field Support Specialist for Asia Pacific, Eastern Europe, & Central Asia (APEECA) landed in Baku to visit field partners, attend a microfinance conference, and perform due diligence on a potential partner.  Not only is it rare for a Kiva Fellow to run around with Kiva staff, it’s also rare for this APEECA team to be in one place together.  Many of Kiva’s financial staff live in the areas they support to better facilitate relationships with its microfinance institution (MFI) partners.  That a reunion occurred during everyone’s first visit to Azerbaijan was an interesting experience for me.

Most impressive about my time with Scott, Michael, and Cissy was the emphasis they placed on getting to know the staff of the MFIs.  Significant time was spent with those in charge of operations and finance, but also with MIS and HR professionals.  In the case of one MFI, we were thanked for our interest in the entity’s HR policies and procedures, even after this gentleman was grilled about turnover, number of female employees, and hiring practices.  For me, this experience provided evidence that Kiva places considerable importance on an MFI’s social responsibility to its employees, as well as to its clients.

Kiva staff visits allow both Kiva and its partners the opportunity to see how the other side operates, which is particularly important in little-understood places like Azerbaijan. Kiva processes and systems, which are developed by people with American sensibilities, can look very different – and be far more complicated to implement – in practice than was expected on the drawing board. (Any Kiva Fellow can explain the difficulties MFI staff experience to remain in compliance with Kiva’s policies.) At the same time, local customs and ways of doing business, which can be exasperating to those looking for American-style professionalism (especially when experienced virtually by email and Skype), are given context when the practices are discussed and observed in person.  Empathy and understanding are valuable outgrowths of these face-to-face meetings.

This fall, many of the APEECA Kiva Fellows will have or have had the opportunity to work side-by-side with one or more members of Kiva’s APEECA team, which is in the midst of a whirlwind tour of the region.   Not only will these visits provide Kiva with valuable insight and information on its partners, they also will provide a peek behind the Kiva Fellows curtain.  For a short time, Kiva staff will experience our lives in far-flung places.  In the case of a visit to Azerbaijan, this meant navigating the waters of nonsensical immigration and visa procedures, overcoming notions of attentive customer service, and learning not to trust Azeri taxi drivers.

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Nina Nelan is a Kiva Fellow working with Aqroinvest Credit Union in Azerbaijan. She has no multimedia skills, so she thanks Kevin Mihelic for his help with the video.


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