By Karen Buxton, KF10, Liberia
For Kiva’s field partners to transition from being a ‘Pilot’ partner to an ‘Active’ partner, they must successfully pass a process Kiva calls Borrower Verification. Borrower Verification entails interviewing a random sample of 10 Kiva borrowers from the same field partner to ensure the information on the ground matches the information on Kiva’s website. To accomplish this, you must verify the identity of the borrower, the disbursement date, the loan amount, the loan term, the loan usage and the repayment information.
Over the past two weeks I met with ten randomly selected Local Enterprise Assistance Program (LEAP) borrowers, and the photos throughout this post are those borrowers. As most Kiva Fellows will attest, going into the field to meet borrowers at their businesses is an exciting change of pace from working in front of a computer screen. (Read more about Nishita Roy’s recent experiences with Borrower Verification).
Many borrowers also work where they live, so in addition to seeing their businesses and getting to know the borrowers a bit more, the visits provide an opportunity to meet the borrowers’ children and other family members in a more personal setting. Most importantly, the information gathered is critical because it provides LEAP and Kiva with up-to-date and accurate data from the field. As LEAP’s Kiva Coordinator Tejan so aptly said, “Borrower Verification brings about transparency and accountability. It also makes the borrower realize that this is a serious process – by having us check on them and verify things with them. It’s also good because it can help Kiva to know if it can trust the microfinance institution.”
I agree wholeheartedly that this process is essential and allows Kiva Fellows to gather vital information. On the flip side, I think it’s important to acknowledge that such visits can be disruptive to the borrowers themselves. Every time I visited each of the borrowers, I was unexpected and was interrupting each borrower in the middle of his or her busy work day; essentially demanding that the borrower stop what he or she was doing to let me ask a bunch of questions. Most of the borrowers were gracious and welcoming, but a few were not excited to take time out of their day to answer my questions, which I could understand.
One of the borrowers I visited was Marion Wendyue, a 41-year-old mother of four, who took out an $85 USD loan in mid-February for her charcoal business. In order to find Marion, the LEAP Loan Officer, Thomas, and I hiked through the hot hills of a rural area near Monrovia called ‘Eternal Love Winning Africa’ for nearly an hour. After navigating our way up and down hills, through one community after another, with palm trees, little kids and chickens lining the trail, we found Marion. She was selling charcoal and fresh-baked banana bread, and her four young children were running around her feet. She greeted us warmly and offered us a seat.
While we sat together and I asked Marion the pertinent Borrower Verification questions, she was juggling multiple responsibilities: customers stopped to purchase charcoal and/or banana bread, one of Marion’s children was continuously crying and tugging at her dress because he wanted to breastfeed, and a fresh batch of banana bread was on the verge of burning! Marion balanced all of these competing needs with patience and grace. She was very kind and hospitable, but our visit was clearly inconvenient in its timing. Anyone who has ever had someone show up unannounced at home or at work knows how difficult it is to get anything done when guests arrive!
During and after completing Borrower Verification, I gave the process a lot of thought and came to the conclusion that it is somewhat disruptive and simultaneously very necessary. The information we gather is critical – enabling us to verify the integrity of the information about borrowers that each field partner puts on Kiva’s website.
Essentially, it’s all a balancing act: as Kiva Fellows we are balancing the needs of Kiva, the lenders, the borrowers, and our field partner, just like Marion was so effectively balancing the needs of her children, her customers and me.
Karen Buxton is a KF10 at the Local Enterprise Assistance Program (LEAP) in Monrovia, Liberia.
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