At the beginning of April, Grace and I began an effort to decentralize the Kiva process at Pearl. This is the formal way of saying that we planned to visit the branches and carry out a training program that would make the Kiva process such that we would no longer be required to rip our skirts, miss spending time with our families and friends and spend 4-8 hours per day bumping along the roads of Uganda in taxis (the minibuses that Grace wrote about in a previous post).

One of places we visited to train!

One of places we visited to train!

Before the trainings, most of Pearl’s loans came from three of the branch offices (you can read more about the structure of Pearl on the Partner Page on Kiva’s website): Central, Jinja, and Lugazi.

Central branch is the closest to head office – it takes about 15 minutes to get there on a boda boda. It is in a busy area of Kampala but it serves a huge area around Kampala. Although getting to the office is quick, getting to where the loan is being disbursed can take hours.

Lugazi is about an hour east of Kampala by taxi (that is most days, some days it is more like two hours). Lugazi is a small town but the clients that Pearl serves in that area are often nestled in the countryside around that area.

A Group in the Lugazi Office

A Group in the Lugazi Office

Jinja is across the Nile about 2 hours east of Kampala. It used to the in the industrial center of Uganda but now it is a sleepy beautiful area with many far-flung clients.

There have also been occasional loans from 3 additional offices located in Mukono, Mubende, and Mityana. The Mukono field office is in a medium sized town 45 minutes east of Kampala. The loans in the Mukono portfolio are often made to people in the surrounding countryside.

Visiting a borrower in Mukono

Visiting a borrower in Mukono

The offices in Mubende and Mityana (Mityana is the place I decided the interest rate Pearl charged was reasonable) are the only offices that we post loans from that are west of Kampala. Mubende is a branch office about 2.5 hours northwest of Kampala and Mityana is the field office associated with Mubende and it is about 1.5 hours northwest of Kampala.

Up until this past month, if Grace, the Kiva Coordinator, wanted to post a loan on Kiva’s website she would have to wait to hear about a loan. After hearing about a loan she would make a plan to travel to that site to do an interview and take the photo necessary to post the loan on Kiva’s website.

To be successful, she has to make it in time for the loan disbursement, meaning the moment at which the client or clients actually receive the money. This is because as soon as the clients receive the money they want to get back to work. They will not hang around the office waiting for someone from head office to come interview them.

Making it in time is rarely the problem – more often delays come waiting till the loan is ready to be disbursed. The money from head office needs to be transferred into the correct bank accounts in order for the loan to actually be disbursed. Unfortunately, the central banks often delay the transfer to the branch banks meaning that clients, and Grace, wait around all day for a disbursement that never takes place.

If this is an individual loan, sometimes it is still possible to capture the loan for posting on Kiva’s website, we just have to change the expected disbursement date, but if it is a group loan we will just have to return another day. Many clients wait to hear that the money has reached the disbursement site before coming to collect their portion. Because of this, there will be four or five people in the office waiting to see if the money really comes in. As soon as word goes out that the money is not coming at all the clients present leave and no one else ever comes. If all the members of the group are not present to be photographed we cannot post the loan on the website.

Needless to say, these processes create a bit of frustration for Grace and me.

Thus the trainings. Some wonderful person donated cameras to Kiva. Kiva sent them on to Pearl. Suddenly, we had the resources to empower the branches to capture the loans on their own. We could train 6 branches. We decided that in addition to training branches that we had been posting from like Central, Lugazi, and Mubende, we would train Kayunga, Bushenyi, and Ibanda. Kayunga is about 1.5 hours outside of Kampala and we have posted loans from them a few times.

The hillside in Ibanda

The hillside in Ibanda

Bushenyi and Ibanda are both about 6 hours west of Kampala and have never before been seen on the Kiva website. These two places are completely different than any part of Uganda I have ever seen. They are unbelievably green, the farms people own are enormous, and the milk is plentiful and so fresh. I made a little slide show that you can view.

The trainings are now complete. We have already received what we are calling loan packages (meaning all the forms necessary to post a loan on Kiva’s website) from many of the trained offices and the staff at the branches are very excited about Kiva. Many of the credit officers will be watching eagerly for comments on their posted loans and reading all the information they can about the people who loan to their clients.

I thrilled about the improvement to the experience you all will be able to have making loans to Pearl clients. I am also thrilled that Grace will be able to work more regular hours allowing her to spend more time with her family (she has two young kids!). And selfishly, I am excited that now I will only need to spend hours of hair raising travel on various forms of public transportation risking my neck (and my skirts) a few times a week rather than every day.

.A photo of me at one of the farms in Ibanda!

A photo of me at one of the farms in Ibanda!

~ Stephanie Koczela is in her eleventh week of her posting as a Kiva Fellow at Pearl Microfinance in Uganda. Join the lending team for Pearl for more updates on the borrowers at Pearl and the organization itself! ~

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