Ignorance is bliss?

By Carlos Cruz Montaño, KF10 Guatemala

Have you read cartoons before understanding what they really meant? Ignorance is bliss from Calvin & Hobbes is definitely one of those cartoons for me. I worked as a design engineer before and in many occasions I thought I was asking a yes/no question but it never turned out to be that simple. You have to approach problems knowing the basic principles, look carefully at the details, make decisions and learn from your mistakes. As an engineer, the product of my work was an object and I needed technical knowledge; as a Kiva Fellow, I work on a process that involves many within an organization and I need to know the surrounding issues and understand the environment they are working in.

ASDIR's annual event to evaluate progress, look at current issues and communicate plans going forward.

Since I arrived to this institution delinquency has been the most important problem to solve and I wrote about it (Fellowsblog 2/27). With a very determined effort, the number of delinquent loans has been going down, but at the same time the stress level is up; the end of the month is a very busy time for collections and loan officers and branch managers are out of the office most of the day. In the quest to improve results two employees have just left. Was it the stress that pushed them to look for other opportunities or was it just a coincidence? The main issue I see is the knowledge void left and the time and resources it will take to recover from it.

Desk, computer monitor, keyboard, mouse, digital camera, gloves, helmet and riding pants and Jacket: gear for new loan officers.

ASDIR hires locally, this means all their personnel are from the communities they serve. Local people give the organization knowledge about their customers’ culture and environment, they speak the local dialect and they create a welcoming environment for customers. Now consider the current environment for a microfinance institution in a developing country: competition is tough, economy slowed down and, not to make this too long, delinquency went up. This is a very challenging environment and they have to find solutions to many problems. I’ve learned that people with different backgrounds bring a lot to the table when it comes to problem solving, you get different points of view to analyze problems and solutions you may never have thought of. From an organizational point of view, I wonder to what extent this organization sacrificing innovation or progress when everybody has -to a certain extent- the same background and think in a similar way…

In my previous job, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina my work group was relocated to a different city, this brought unusual circumstances,  including family and work related stress; in the end many good people left. As we started getting new people, for different reasons, most of them were locals. Even though situations and line of business are completely different, the issues both organizations faced are similar…I guess we’re not that different after all.

Ready to go visit Kiva borrowers with Antonio (right).

The Kiva Fellowship has been a great experience. It has given me the chance to work with many across the organization, talk with almost every person, learn how this organization works, and in some cases I’ve been like the fly on the wall, just an observer… but it also presents many challenges. Unlike Calvin in the cartoon, ignorance is not an option, that is not why we are in the Kiva community. As Kiva Fellows one has to learn how things work, figure out ways to solve problems, work with management and local staff to implement solutions and many many more. Now, in my final days of this fellowship I’m faced with the challenge of passing some of the knowledge and lessons I’ve learned to my coworkers at this institution and that is no easy task.

Want to be challenged?  Apply to be a Kiva Fellow and come to the field to experience the impact of microfinance, learn how other people live, meet great people and work to further Kiva’s mission: connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty.

Carlos Cruz Montaño is a Kiva Fellow 10th class working with ASDIR in Nimasac, Guatemala.

About the author