It is a bit of a strange site to see German, Italian, French, Spanish, and Brazilian flags hanging from balconies and waving from car antennas all over Lebanon. But this is the excitement that is brewing in Lebanon as it prepares for the 2010 World Cup. Café owners all over Beirut are investing in bigger, better televisions and stocking up on water pipe tobacco and food goods that will surely be demanded by their customers during the football matches. Al Majmoua borrower, Ryad, is busy updating his popular café and looking to purchase a 52” television before this year’s tournament. He is rooting for Brazil. As Kiva Fellow, Isaac, mentioned of microentrepreneurs in Mozambique—the lively spirit of this global football extravaganza often results in expanded opportunities for microfinance borrowers.
Although I am already tired of Shakira’s football anthem that seems to play on repeat on the local radio stations, I cannot help but join the wave of enthusiasm for this year’s World Cup. In fact my excitement is so great that I decided to organize a friendly match between Kiva’s Lebanon partners, Ameen s.a.l. and Al Majmoua in order to celebrate this football season. Both partners are leading microfinance institutions in Lebanon and also major competitors.
As expected in the Middle East, the match started a few minutes late. But for one animated hour, the crowd (staff from both organizations) cheered on the teams as they played a skillful match. With Al Majmoua wearing white, Ameen sporting bright blue, adrenaline pumping and faces smiling, the match was a fantastic success. It was really terrific to have a diverse blend of staff from the field teams and main offices take part in the match. Some loan officers traveled more than two hours just to play! The match started out quite close, but Al Majmoua reigned victorious and ended the night with an amazing 9-2 win.
As the sole Kiva representative and therefore most “neutral” observer, I tried to instill some order as the referee. But, I quickly realized that sometimes you just have to let boys be boys and, let men be boys as well, and work out the supposed handballs, fouls, and deflections for themselves.
Not only was the match a great chance for Ameen and Al Majmoua staff to meet one another, but also an opportunity for each respective staff to socialize with each other. The Operations Manager (and also Al Majmoua team coach) commented that he was pleased to see some new faces from the field staff who he had not yet met. There was even talk of starting a microfinance football league in Lebanon….
It has been a real pleasure to work with both of these outstanding field partners. I really admire their ability to respect one another and deliver high quality products and services. The friendly teasing on the football field was yet another illustration of how these two organizations are able to stay true to their identities and still engage with their competitors in a healthy and productive way.
In Lebanon, football fever is spreading fast in a major way at the micro-level.
Nishita Roy is a Kiva Fellow (Class 10) serving in Lebanon. Get involved with Kiva’s Lebanon partners, Ameen s.a.l. and Al Majmoua, today! Make an impact by lending to a Middle East entrepreneur today!