Uh, Oh. No Triple AAA?: Rescued by a Kiva Borrower

Yehu Microfinance Trust’s tagline is serving rural Kenya. So when my motorbike broke down en route to visit a Kiva borrower 25 kilometers away from the already remote town of Samburu, I was a little concerned.

The Task

One of my principal duties as a Kiva Fellow while in Kenya is to meet a subset of Kiva clients, ask them some questions, and compare these notes with the information on Kiva’s website and the field partner’s documentation. This process, known in Kiva-speak as the “Borrower Verification,” is a critical piece of the Portfolio Team’s risk and due diligence assessment. So my second week in Mombasa, I was off to meet 10 Kiva borrowers for this project.

The Incident

This story begins at 4:00 am when I awoke and started my journey to Yehu’s Samburu branch, a 90 minute bumpy bus ride from Mombasa and the most remote of the three branches where the Kiva model is currently implemented.

En Route and About to Breakdown Photo Credit: KDM

By around 8:30 in the morning I was aboard a motorbike traveling to meet the borrower. People and buildings quickly faded away as the branch manager, Juma, and I sped over hilly dirt roads into the rural agricultural land of the Kinango coastal province. This was my first true pikipiki (motorbike) experience, second week into the fellowship, and third meeting with a Kiva borrower. And yes, Mom and Dad, I wore a helmet.

After traveling for nearly an hour, the pikipiki felt heavy and slow– something was wrong. It turned out that one of the tires was punctured. Great. Now we were running behind schedule, the only living objects in sight besides a few stray goats, and without Triple AAA. Oh yeah, and there was no phone service. So we started to push…

The Hero

Luckily enough, we were on our way to meet Gilbert, who owns the only motorbike hardware and repair shop in the area.

Kiva Borrower and Yehu Branch Manager Repair the Pikipiki Photo Credits: KDM

After walking for some time, engaging in some Yehu chitchat, and picking up a mobile signal, we were able to get in touch with him and within minutes, Gilbert had arrived by pikipiki equipped with an air pump, tools, and lots of energy. Juma and Gilbert mended the tire well enough to get it back to Gilbert’s shop where it received a proper patch up. So we finally made it to Gilbert’s hardware store and after experiencing this Kiva borrower’s business firsthand, I was eager to hear more about his shop. Here’s what I learned:

Previously, Gilbert farmed maize and raised cattle but switched over to the hardware business a year ago. As the only hardware and repair shop in the nearest 30 kilometers, Gilbert is a very busy man. During our conversation, a constant flow of customers convened outside the store and visited for services varying from bicycle repair and pikipiki mending to spare part purchasing and even mobile phone charging. He took some time to meet with me but quickly returned to work, welding, selling parts, etc. to keep up with the high demand.

Gilbert used his Kiva loan, his first from Yehu, to increase the stock of supplies for motorcycles and bicycles—tires, tubes, spokes, and air pumps. Since receiving the loan, his monthly income has increased 250 percent and he has used the higher profit to make improvements to his shop and home life. He purchased solar batteries, powered by solar panels atop the store’s roof, from which customers can charge their cell phones for 20 KSH (25 US cents). Beyond the store, he has also used the new income to purchase clothing for his five children, pay their education fees (all of whom attend school), and make renovations to his home by adding on a bedroom.Click to view slideshow.

Reflections from the Field

Today was a good day. I traveled to a new place, rode a motorbike, and had a great conversation with a Kiva Borrower–all before noon.

While Gilbert has a thriving business, the success of which has transferred over into other areas of his life, I’d like to provide a disclaimer of sorts, a reality check. Based on my experience so far, microfinance is not a panacea or one-stop shopping from poverty to prosperity, rather it is a piece of a much larger puzzle. But I’d also like to note that Gilbert’s story contains some of the key components of microfinance success: a business-minded entrepreneur, market demand for his service, economic opportunity, a stable political and economic environment, among others. In Gilbert’s case, his puzzle pieces are falling into place and I enjoyed hearing about this process firsthand.

Katie Morton is a member of KF12 and works with Yehu Microfinance Trust in Kenya. After much confusion, she recently learned that “keti” is the Kiswahili phrase for “sit” and is unrelated to her similar-sounding name. Check out Yehu’s currently fundraising loans and its lending team!

About the author

Katie Morton