Borrowers usually are intrigued and have a quizzical expression at the beginning of the interview. The initial questions are very business oriented – what is the name of your business… what do you sell… how many employees… etc. It is an informal but professional conversation and they respond in kind. We cover items such as what challenges they face in their business and what specifically they are spending the proceeds of the loan on. So far, so good.
Then we switch gears and move into the personal realm. The first question we ask at SMEP is about their marital status. The more diplomatic loan officers tend to preface this question by acknowledging the personal nature of the question and giving the borrower the option not to answer if they don’t want to. We follow that one by asking how many children and what ages. It is impossible to talk about the children without the entire tenor of the conversation becoming more human and intimate.
And then comes the big question. What are your hopes and dreams? Nine times out of ten, the borrower pauses and looks blankly at the loan officer… not understanding what on earth we are asking. I usually can’t stand it by then and jump in. What would you like to see happen in your life? In your family’s life? Then it hits them. We are actually asking them about their aspirations, not professional, but what they really dream of for their lives.
Their response never fails to get me. They are usually stunned that someone wants to hear what their most personal hopes are. Then most borrowers pause for a second, their eyes look out way beyond us and they completely switch gears.
When they answer, it is in a far more confiding and personal tone. Their response – and I have done approximately 50 of these interviews – is by and large that they would like their children to achieve higher education which means college. Not everyone answers this way — some want to buy land to build a home for the family, and an accountant I interviewed, said his dream was to acquire many assets (a very solid American answer…) — but the pattern is clear. These borrowers have gotten lives together and observed how the greater world works and rightly determined that the ticket to a more comfortable life is an education.
But what strikes me more than the actual answer is how surprised and touched they are that someone is asking and is very interested in their answer. Unlike the U.S. where we endlessly bellyache and yak about what we want, some parts of the world are more modest and keep things closer.
It is without a doubt, the high point of the interview. The borrower opens up and becomes expansive; we are no longer talking business, we are on to what is important in life. Kiva interviews typically end on a high because of this rare instance of deep connection. Everyone has stopped their work, paused, and acknowledged what is important and deeply felt to this particular borrower. It is a great moment.
Anne Hector is just completing her Kiva Fellowship with the Small & Micro Enterprise Programme (SMEP) in Kenya. The organization has a big year ahead of it becoming a savings institution and rolling out major innovations in its lending model. Fittingly enough, the organization’s slogan is “Fullfill Your Dreams”. Please consider joining Kiva’s lending team for SMEP at http://www.kiva.org/team/friendsofsmep