Michelle from the Kiva Partnerships Team here, representing South America and the Kiva staff;) I’ve so enjoyed reading all of the fellows posts, and am excited to now add my own stories to the mix!!
I’ll be traveling on behalf of Kiva for the next 3 weeks through Bolivia, Peru and Paraguay, with a brief (9 hour, but yep already have a meeting lined up!) stop in Argentina. I’ll be meeting with new and potential partners about Kiva, and will also be visiting two of our superstar MFIs that are already on the platform, IMPRO and Fundacion Paraguaya. I hope to blog every few days, so keep checking back!!
So, the first day: I arrive yesterday to the outskirts of La Paz. Touching down on the runway I gaze out at the expanse of crumbling adobe and brick building, dotted with red rooftops and tiny corner shops, women with heavy blankets wrapped around their backs and traditional hats, dust everywhere, the horizon stretching far into the distance until it intersects with the distant Andean peaks. This is la Cuidad El Alto, the birthplace of microfinance in Latin America, and home to over 1 million of Bolivia’s 9 million people.
After grabbing my bags I grab a taxi and descend from El Alto down into the valley that is La Paz. Weaving through los “Barrios Populares” that line the steep hillsides overlooking the city, I glimpse houses teetering perilously on steep cliffsides, held up by poor foundation that could go at any moment–these are the ex-miners, farmers and coca growers of the country, whose livelihoods and those of the families they support are just as tenous as the foundation of their homes. They are the barrios where Quechua and Ayamara are still spoken, where EVO is painted atop crumbling facades, where Andean socialism thrives. They are home to many of Bolivia’s poorest families.
Arriving in the city, I check into my hotel, take a few hour nap and enjoy some coca tea–yes it does numb your mouth a bit, no it doesn’t do much more than than. I then meet up with the directors of IMPRO, Miguel and Jose Jimenez, and we pop over to a neighborhood cafe where we enjoy a huge meal of trucha and rice and beans. We gab for hours about their work, the Bolivian market, their thoughts on commercialization, future goals, the partnership with Kiva. As we speak, I realize the neighborhoods we passed coming into the city are home to many Kiva clients. It is, indeed, a small, small world, and I take a moment to be grateful for all of the many factors that make our work possible–computers, our generous lender base, local heroes like Jose and Miguel, women and men who, although they have no assets, can be trusted with a loan from far-off investors.
The story of IMPRO is a great one: Jose and Miguel are brothers, and after leaving the commerical banking sector 15 years ago, Jose joined up with a team of volunteers to launch IMPRO, which now serves over 1,200 borrowers, and is well respected for its social orientation in city and outskirts of La Paz. I immediately get the impression that we’ve made a good choice with these folks, and as I hear them tell their stories of a modest beginning, and a passion for their work, I can’t help but smile and think of the Kiva team back home!
During dinner a Spanish reporter who recognizes Jose pops over to our table. After a few blank stares from the Jimenez brothers side, the reporter identifies himself as the gentleman who had interviewed Jose a few years back about his work with the poor during the oil protests of the 2004. They smile, gab, and catch up, and the reporter leaves a DVD with us to check out his latest work. During the conflict a few years ago, IMPRO was one of the few organizations that supported the borrowers in unstable areas during the protests, helping to bring stability to their lives and support their enterprises and families. They were spotlighted in a piece that not even Jose had seen, so the three of us left excited to see what he had put together.
Late into the night and its time to head home. I bid farewell to Jose and Miguel, and we set a date to meet up later in the week. In the morning, its off to ProMujer…./>
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Michelle is responsible for overseeing Kiva's expansion into new impact areas including clean energy, water and sanitation, innovative agriculture and higher education. As Kiva matures, these areas are increasingly relevant to Kiva's work as we focus on expanding our impact to include environmental sustainability and equal access to opportunity in addition to financial inclusion. Michelle began her career at Kiva in 2006 on the investments team, spending three years building Kiva's work in North, Central and South America. After that, she shifted her focus to West Africa and the Middle East, where she spent a few additional years building solid partnerships and an all-star regional team. In late 2011, she moved into her current role as the Director of Strategic Initiatives. Prior to joining Kiva, Michelle founded a non-profit organization in Costa Rica, NatureKids, which is focused on English literacy and environmental sustainability in burgeoning tourist hubs. She also worked at various organizations dedicated to financial inclusion, including ACCION International. Michelle graduated magna cum laude from Boston University with a degree in International Relations and a minor in Economics.