Today I would like to share a story about a group of women whose hard work makes it possible for you to learn about the unique story of each Kiva borrower in Tajikistan. Let me introduce you to Nargiza, Fazilat and Nilufar, the all-star female Kiva team members from MDO Humo and Partners (Humo), one of my microfinance field partners in Tajikistan.
Nargiza is the Kiva team leader at Humo and has been with the organization for almost eight years. Nargiza grew up in Dushanbe, the capital city of Tajikistan, and is the oldest child in her family with two brothers and one sister. Nargiza’s mother comes from Uzbekistan and her father is a native Tajik.
Nargiza was an international relations major in the Tajik National University. Her undergraduate studies included translation, diplomacy, the history of international relations, English and Arabic. Upon graduation, she applied for different positions in a number of organizations but was initially unsuccessful in her recruiting efforts due to lack of work experience. Then Nargiza found on a job website that Humo was hiring a secretary and assistant to general director, a position for which she applied. Nargiza stood out from the other 19 candidates in an English and Russian contest organized by Humo and received the job offer.
After working as a secretary and assistant to general director for two years, Nargiza went on maternity leave for one and a half years. When she rejoined Humo in 2013, her previous position was no longer available. At the same time, Humo needed to hire a Kiva assistant for its then one-person Kiva team, to support the organization’s goal to grow the size of its Kiva loan portfolio. Management believed that Nargiza would be a perfect fit for this position because of her excellent written and verbal communication skills in English and Russian. Further, this position would allow Nargiza to learn more about micro-finance, to which she had little exposure previously.
By accident, Nargiza became a Kiva assistant and she immediately fell in love with her new job. She was impressed by Kiva’s ability to unite people from around the world to help the poor live a better life and felt proud to join Kiva’s efforts to reduce poverty in Tajikistan. However, the road to poverty alleviation has not always been smooth. When Nargiza first joined the Kiva team, the volume of Kiva loans was low. The loan officers at Humo’s branches were not interested in promoting Kiva loans which required them to spend extra time collecting borrowers’ stories and taking borrowers’ photos. To incentivize the loan officers to market Kiva loans, Nargiza, together with her colleagues at the credit department, designed a compensation program that tied loan officers’ bonus to Humo’s fundraising performance on Kiva’s website. Following the implementation of the new compensation program, the volume of Kiva loans increased significantly. Nargiza was glad that her team’s hardwork was paid off, and as a result, more borrowers would have access to Kiva loans which had lower interest rates.
Nargiza felt lucky to work at Humo where she has been able to build a meaningful career. Going forward, Nargiza would like to continue to grow her expertise in micro-finance. She also hoped to help expand Humo’s international programs division and work with more mission-driven organizations such as Kiva to extend credits to the poor in Tajikistan.
Towards the end of my interview with Nargiza, I asked what advice she would give to women starting a career in a male-dominated field such as the Tajikistan banking industry.“If a person is determined and works hard to achieve his/her goal, he/she can be successful in any career.” Nargiza said, “Gender does not matter.”
Nilufar, who will be celebrating her fifth anniversary at Humo this fall, joined the Kiva team two years ago as a specialist in international programs. Nilufar was born in the Rushon district of the Gorno-Badakhshan (GBAO) province of Tajikistan and spent her entire childhood there with her parents and three younger sisters. After graduating from high school, she decided to move to Dushanbe alone for better education and career opportunities.
When Nilufar was little, she became really fascinated by a career in financial services after visiting a bank in her hometown. As a banking and finance major at the Finance and Economics Institute of Tajikistan, Nilufar continued to build her knowledge and skills around financial services, and also learned about how microfinance could improve the poor’s living conditions and create employment opportunities in underrepresented communities. This experience crystallized her commitment to join the microfinance industry to empower the poor in Tajikistan.
During Nilufar’s junior year, she received an internship offer from Humo’s credit department and began to work with different international organizations to develop credit programs for the poor. When asked about what she enjoyed the most about working with an international organization such as Kiva, Nilufar became really excited and said, “I found Kiva’s fundraising model very interesting. It is amazing that our borrowers can receive support from lenders from around the world. I also enjoyed meeting Kiva fellows every year. I learned about their countries and improved my English!”
Since joining Humo, Nilufar has also been impressed by every Humo borrower whom she worked with. Many of the Humo borrowers live in remote villages where access to clean drinking water, fresh food and health care is limited. However, none of the Humo borrowers she met complaint about the hardship of a village life. They remained hopeful and worked hard to provide for their families. Nilufar felt extremely lucky to have the opportunity to help those borrowers achieve their life goals through Humo’s credit programs.
When I asked about her future plans, Nilufar said that first she would like to spend more time with her family as she is expecting her first child this summer (Congradulations!). Then she would focus on furthering her micro-finance career at Humo and helping more borrowers in Tajikistan. In addition, she hoped to travel around the world to meet new people and experience different cultures.
Being a female in the Tajikistan banking industry, which has traditionally been dominated by males, is not easy. However, Nilufar firmly believes that women can be just as good bankers as men. “Every woman must have an education.” Nilufar emphasized, “This is one of the key factors for women to achieve career success. Women also should be confident about themselves and learn to lead independent lives.”
Fazilat, the newest Kiva team member at Humo, is a cheerful and sociable working mom with a 14-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son. Fazilat grew up with her parents and two brothers in Nurek, a city situated southeast of Dushanbe.
Fazilat studied linguistics and Tajikistan literature in the Tajik State Pedagogical University. Following graduation, she moved to the GBAO region with her husband who is a geology researcher and became a stay-at-home mom to focus on raising her children. As her children grew older, Fazilat found herself with more free time and decided to join the workforce to explore different career opportunities. With her excellent communication skills, she quickly found a job at Humo’s call center department. As a call center representative, Fazilat spent most of her time answering borrowers’ questions about Humo’s loan products. At the same time, she learned a lot about micro-finance and became increasingly interested in this field.
After staying at the call center department for a year, Fazilat realized that the call center was not the right career path for her. Though she enjoyed interacting with the borrowers, she felt that she had limited opportunity to build more knowledge in accounting and finance as a call center representative. As Fazilat was reconsidering her career options, an opportunity came up at Humo’s credit department: the Kiva team needed to add an additional member. After talking to the existing Kiva team members, Fazilat became very intrigued by Kiva’s crowdfunding platform, fundraising method and global scale. Additionally, she was attracted by the prospect of learning the accounting and finance aspects of Humo’s credit programs. Fazilat’s inter-department transfer request was immediately approved thanks to her fluent Russian and English and outstanding performance at the call center department. It has been two years since Fazilat joined the Kiva team. She was glad that she did the transfer and found herself learning something new everyday through Kiva’s projects.
However, learning does not stop there for Fazilat. In the future, she hoped to get involved in lending projects with other international organizations besides Kiva to further expand her knowledge in micro-finance and help more borrowers.
As a working mom, Fazilat has been able to strike a good balance between her work and family life. When asked about her secret to work-life balance, Fazilat replied: “It takes time to figure out the right balance, but it is achievable. My advice to working moms is to have a plan which lays out their priorities. This will help them manage time more effectively.” Fazilat believes that all stay-at-home moms in Tajikistan have the potential to work outside home and encourages those moms to do so to live their life to the fullest.
As I am wrapping up my fellowship at Humo, the stories of these three Tajikistan heroines will remain forever in my heart. These amazing women have shown me what it means to be self-reliant, driven and hard-working. They are truly female role models whom we should all look up to!
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