Looking Past the Picture

By Peter Marchant, KF10 Azerbaijan

The photos on borrower profiles provide a key connection between Kiva lenders and the borrowers they fund, but lending based on snapshots has drawbacks. A photo can convey a lot about a borrower, a culture, a business or a life and create an emotional reaction for the viewer. Yet the very power of a picture can prevent lenders from learning the full story of a borrower and their country.

Azerbaijan’s borrower photos often feature dour men in tweed coats peering out unsmiling from behind bushy mustaches. They stand near a few head of cattle in fields that look like they might be 10 minutes outside of Boston just as easily as 10 minutes north of the Iranian border. These pictures tend not to tug at the heart like the African woman with three young children pulling at her hem and these loans often take days or weeks to fund and a small minority expire unfunded after 30 days on the Kiva website. Nevertheless, these borrowers have stories every bit as compelling and needs every bit as deep.

Still, many of us find ourselves lending without looking much beyond the photos. Lending to any Kiva borrower is fantastic. However, it’s worth remembering that everyone posted on Kiva has been deemed to need a loan by one of Kiva’s partners. If you, like me, sometimes find yourself lending based on what you feel poverty should look like, I encourage you to take the opportunity to learn about a new culture. Click on the goat farmer in Kyrgyzstan. Find Azerbaijan on a map and check out the Supporters of Azerbaijan Lending Group. Look up the GDP per capita of Tajikistan (it’s less than Sudan). Kiva offers a wonderful opportunity, not just to support development, connect with borrowers and diminish the effects of poverty, but to educate and enrich ourselves as well. We would be remiss not to take advantage of it because we can’t look beyond a picture.

Peter Marchant is a Kiva Fellow serving his first placement with AqroInvest Credit Union in Azerbaijan. Click on Azerbaijan Borrowers for a list of Azeri borrowers currently on Kiva or click Supporters of Azerbaijan to join the Azerbaijan lending group. Visit Kiva.org to see how the whole thing works.

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