In The Words of Our Clients – An SMS Journal Pilot in Kenya

By Jeremy Gordon, KF11, Kenya

SMS from Erick: "Right now the milk is less than usual, but in two weeks, a calf will be born"

On July 26th, Erick Bii updated the 21 lenders that had supported his loan with the state of his business, the impact of his loan on his family, and his recent challenges. To read the full journal, click on the quote above.

To communicate with his lenders, Erick didn’t need to travel to the Juhudi branch office in Litein, or even sit down with a loan officer at his farm. Instead, he responded to a series of SMS questions sent to him via his mobile phone. Erick chose to receive his survey in Kiswahili, but in several of [our] [early] [tests], borrowers preferred to send their updates in English.

A SIM-card and modem in the Juhudi office collect text messages from clients as they complete their surveys

There are a couple of exciting aspects to this method of getting journal updates. First, there’s no need for an intermediary: the text message responses are received and compiled automatically at Juhudi’s main office, and sent to Kiva’s website as soon as they’re reviewed. We want our lenders to read the exact words of the entrepreneur, so for now, journals received in Kiswahili will be posted as is—we’ll show the English translation of the questions ask, but rely upon our lenders to provide a translation of the responses (perhaps from Kiswahili speaking acquaintances or lenders, or failing that, a web service like Google Translate).

Secondly, the system we’ve developed has the option of customizing the questions sent based on the type of loan received by the client. Because Erick’s loan was to purchase an insured dairy cow, his survey included a question about how much milk he was able to sell. But we can take that a step further and ask the entrepreneurs what you, the lending team, are most curious about. In the not too distant future, I would love to see lenders proposing questions for the client whose loan they’re supporting, and for Juhudi to incorporate the best ideas into that client’s survey.

It’s in pilot testing now, but Kiva journals like this one could become more frequent on Kiva’s site. Because journals are such an important part of Kiva’s mission to connect entrepreneurs and lenders, we’re eager to hear what you think about this project. Would you be interested to read SMS responses in the next journal from your portfolio? What would you most like to hear from the entrepreneurs you’ve supported?

Jeremy is a Kiva Fellow working with Juhudi Kilimo in Nairobi.

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About the author

Jeremy Gordon