By Kimia Raafat, KF9 Ecuador
Like the galloping horsemen on a Ralph Lauren polo shirt, Kiva’s leafy “loans that change lives” logo has come to symbolize a certain status in the world of microfinance institutions (MFIs). The Kiva stamp of approval signifies that after careful due diligence, an institution has been deemed dependable and successful in their mission to make a significant social impact.
It was only a few months ago that Fundacion D-MIRO Mision Alianza had been approved to join Kiva’s network of 105 field partners. D-MIRO’s employees are delighted and proud to use kiva.org to showcase their organization’s efforts online, but as I quickly learned, it is truly the financial savings made possible by Kiva that proved more pressing to this field partner…
I was warmly greeted by D-MIRO’s staff two months ago, when I arrived in Guayaquil. They pleasantly bombarded me with introductions, lunch invitations, hugs, and (my personal favorite) famous phrases in broken English. After about a week or so, the excitement of having the new American in the office died down and the staff (while remaining friendly) carried on their normal business practices, typing furiously at their desks.
Truthfully, I had no idea how to get the Kiva ball rolling in D-MIRO’s office. So, I began with the most obvious task: uploading borrower profiles on Kiva.org. There was a steep learning curve the first month (my first 3 loans had to be refunded due to errors) as I learned how to coordinate the borrower’s stories, repayment schedules and photos into one concise package. After a few weeks, all I had to show for my efforts was 18 borrower profiles (and D-MIRO needs about 90 to reach its monthly goal). Looking around the office, I quickly noticed that I had become so engrossed in reaching the “goal” that I failed to see that I had uploaded 90% of the profiles. Which led me to my next thought “Im leaving in 7 weeks and there are no field staff members available to keep these practices sustainable…”
The problem: D-MIRO’s designated “Kiva Coordinator” has a full time job as a treasury’s assistant, his schedule does not provide him with the flexibility to upload borrower’s stories all day. Also, with the tough economic environment, D-MIRO’s directors believed that they were in no condition to hire a new staff member and they were definitely unable to give the loan officers any financial incentives to help with the Kiva Project.
It was around week 7 that I left my duties as the unofficial Kiva Coordinator in order to dedicate myself full time to convincing D-MIRO’s directors of the financial value of Kiva and the importance of paying for the administrative costs associated with Kiva. Kiva does not charge the organization any interest, but it does cost time, and time = money! They need time to interview borrowers, take their pictures, upload all the information online and track repayments! After each director’s meeting, I played the waiting game. The directors wanted to help but they were concerned about the financial feasibility of hiring a Kiva Coordinator. The terms “poco a poco” (little by little) or “manana” (tomorrow) became common place. They usually told me that I would have an answer soon, but depending on the approximate timeframe they gave me, I could only estimate how long something would actually take. 5 minutes meant 1 hour, 1 hour meant tomorrow and tomorrow meant 3 days from now.
The perfect storm of events: I finally decided to put together a sort of “cost vs benefit” presentation to show the directors that D-MIRO can save around $18,400 per year by getting 0% interest loans from Kiva’s lenders. This is based on the fact that D-MIRO pays an average of 8.5% interest to outside funders. The directors were pleasantly surprised by the amount of money Kiva could save DMIRO, which is especially valuable in this tough economic climate. During the same week, there was a companywide “restructurization” meeting about the current state of DMIRO. Due to the global financial crisis, employees were asked to cut back on spending and go the extra mile to exceed their monthly targets; otherwise jobs were going to be lost.
We walked out of the “restructurization” meeting and they looked at me and said “what can we do right NOW to get the Kiva Projects underway; we want to capitalize on this opportunity to help D-MIRO’s clients and staff”. I smiled because “now” had not been in our vocabulary before this moment…