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Explaining Kiva Zip from a Whitewater Raft

I lived the life of a Kiva Zip borrower for a day as I rafted down the Nile in Uganda. It all started last weekend when the brave expats of Nairobi and Kampala decided to meet in Jinja. Jinja is a quaint city in Uganda serving the best Rolex, and is also the place where the Nile originates. With every natural wonder of the world comes some adventure – a full day Grade 5 rafting trip at the Source.

As a first-timer to extreme action sports in the water, I decided to tune in to every emotion – the anticipation of a class 5 rapid, the heightened fear every time a swirl of rough water came in to sight, the alertness to what the guide was saying, the effort with which I rowed when it felt like the water was taking over, and the huge sigh of relief when you realize you came out on the other side with all your body parts intact.

Looking back, I couldn’t help but wonder – what could I relate this experience to? What does this cycle of emotions remind me of? I instantly drew a connection with Kiva Zip – a revolutionary microfinance model testing the possibility of lenders giving loans directly to borrowers at 0% interest, as long as the borrower has a trustee that Kiva has vetted.

Let me explain the correlation from the eyes of a Grade 5 rafter…

A typical borrower of a Kiva Zip loan is a Bottom of the Pyramid individual who cannot currently access a traditional microfinance or commercial bank loan. They are mostly young entrepreneurs who until now have lived each day in anticipation of the next rapid.  As we floated down the waters of the Nile, we knew that feeling of uncertainty where in a few minutes a slash of waves could flip our raft over.

Heading towards the second rapid

But we also knew that we had two choices, either we lose control of the situation and let nature take over, or we plan for the future, listen to the guide, and row with all our energy.

Rafting in a Class 5 rapid

Like us, Zip borrowers choose to take control of their lives. They are individuals with great ideas, who understand that hard work and perseverance are the only way to change what nature has thrown at them. They have small businesses that range from milk stalls to grocery shops to innovative products like energy-saving baskets that keep food warm for 8-12 hours.

Zip Borrower with the basket she produces

For Kiva Zip to work, one thing can never be compromised — trust. Kiva lenders trust that borrowers will repay even though there is no collateral tied to their loan, trustees believe that their borrowers will not tarnish their reputation by lying, cheating or misusing the funds. And equally critical, borrowers believe that they will receive the financial assistance they need to grow their business.

Without trust, rafting would be a very dangerous sport. We trusted each other, we trusted our guide, and we trusted our tour company to steer away from the areas of low-lying crocodiles, to pull us back if we fell out of the raft, and to avoid much interaction with the parasitic snails that are commonly found in the Nile.

Kiva Zip team with trustee and borrower
Photo Credit – Wilson (Kakamega)

Kiva Zip sounds too good to be true! What I’m saying is that a low-income borrower gets a trustee to vouch for them, their profile gets posted on the Kiva site, then lenders give them money directly at 0% interest? And these borrowers are ACTUALLY paying back their loans without any collateral?

No way.

Yes way.

They repay because they are grateful that someone sitting in New York, Paris, London, Amsterdam cared about their business and wanted to loan them money. They repay because they know that a good performance in this loan increases their chances of getting another 0% interest loan in the future.

Surveying a Zip borrower on her loan experience
Photo credit: Patrick Seeton (Kiva Fellow)

Just like us on the rafts. We knew that the more we paid attention to our guide, the more we focused on breathing correctly when swirling in a rapid, and the more we rowed our oars at the right speed at the right time, the more we enjoyed the experience. And we wanted it exactly that way, again and again and again.

Muskan Chopra is a Kiva Fellow, working in Kenya this summer with Kiva Zip and Kiva Partner Faulu Kenya.  Find out how you can become a Kiva Fellow or just more information on kiva and microfinance in general on

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