Reading between the lines: Borrowers' stories untold

I’m always fascinated by the borrowers around the world that Kiva Fellows highlight. A natural skeptic, I always assumed these profiles were carefully selected, the messaging massaged and refined. However, having lived in Myanmar for over a month now, working with Kiva’s partner Sont Oo Tehtwin, I can definitively claim the opposite. Every borrower I’ve met has impressed me with their unique skills and creativity.
While I could choose any person I’ve talked to as an example, one person I want to mention is Kyi Aye, a man who has a business buying broken phones, repairing them and then reselling them out of his house. As Myanmar has opened to the outside world, one of the areas with the most growth has been phones, as mobile penetration has jumped from around 10% in 2014 to well over 50%, with 80% of those people buying smartphones. After years of isolation, people are excited to learn and connect with the world around them!

Kyi Aye, a phone repairman in Myanmar
In this new industry, Kyi Aye has been able to succeed through pure persistence. He left Myanmar’s army and worked as an apprentice at a mobile phone shop for a few months to learn the basics, avoiding the cost of paying for classes. He then set off on his own, learning as he went. I can vouch for his abilities – in the time I was at his shop, he demonstrated his abilities by taking apart a broken phone down its chips, replaced a part, reassembled it, and it turned on!

The entire time we talked he had a smile on his face as he excitedly talked about how he’s grown his business, allowing him to buy a better house, as well as the future ahead and the demand for his products. He’s so grateful that Kiva’s lenders (you!) and organizations like Sont Oo Tehtwin are there to help him in his success.

I was there shadowing loan officers and watched as they took notes on his story, passed the information on to the main organization who summarized the conversation further, and posted it to Kiva’s website. In the final profile, much of the backstory and context had been cut out, an unavoidable truth for all of Kiva’s partners, as they simply can’t tell every story due to language barriers, time restrictions, or cost.
As you, potential lenders, look through people’s profiles on the website, know that each person has a deep and unique story. While the profile may be short, and details may be lacking, know that something was probably lost in translation. Each long conversation I’ve had with a prospective borrower has been condensed down to a few short sentences. There’s so much more there between those lines!
As Kiva fellows, we have a responsibility to try to show glimpses into “behind the scenes” action that occurs in the field. We only hope that you appreciate all the other details that don’t necessarily get told!
To support borrowers in Myanmar, you can view available loans here.

About the author

Eric Gross

Eric Gross grew up in Juneau, Alaska before attending Pomona College to complete an undergraduate degree in Economics. After graduation, he joined the global asset manager, PIMCO, working on their client management team in Newport Beach. He worked for four years with the firm’s institutional corporate clients, focusing primarily on corporate balance sheet assets. While at PIMCO, as part of their Emerging Enterprise Program, he was selected to serve as a pro-bono consultant and spent a summer collaborating with an NGO in Peru to develop a financial model to facilitate easier access to credit for farmers in the region. This initial exposure to microfinance inspired him to become a Kiva fellow, which will allow him to further explore the world of microfinance. He is a CFA charterholder and news junkie, who enjoys learning about the global financial system. Outside of the office, he can be found surfing or looking for opportunities to travel to new and exciting places!