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Fueling flames with connections

A repayment meeting with the loan officer

Having finished my second week on the field, I’m starting to gain a greater appreciation for the connections that Kiva facilitates and the work that MFIs do. I’m learning what it takes to introduce a borrower in a remote village in Ghana to you, surfing the net in the comfort of your living room. And not surprisingly, the flow of information is not as easy as Google makes it out to be.

It all starts with that entrepreneurial flame. Over and over in my borrower interviews, I see it burning alive and well. I think this flame is really not all that different across cultures and continents. From a KFC franchise owner in the US to a tomato seller in Ghana, we all have the desire to have a purpose, to call something our own. More importantly though, we all have a desire to provide for and take care of our families. This is another repeated observation during my borrower interviews. When I asked one borrower about her dreams, she responded, “To be able to provide for my children so they lead a better life than I do.” These words touched me so very deeply, because I frequently heard this same testament from my own parents.

Unfortunately, it’s often not enough just to have an entrepreneurial flame. Sticks and stones can only keep it going for so long. This is where the MFIs come in. By extending credit to a segment of the population not served by the traditional credit markets, the MFIs add fuel to these fires. And it’s not easy reaching some of these clients; yet tirelessly, MFIs like CRAN do.

Some of these rural villages are so remote that they only have one water pipe for the entire village. Some can only be reached by unmarked roads that look like overgrown forests instead of roads. Though even reaching the urban clients can be a feat sometimes. There’s illness to worry about or maybe the client has travelled out of town or maybe they happen to leave their shop for a few minutes when you went to talk to them about their loan. How loan officers locate clients so elegantly is beyond me!

This is the only water pipe in one of the remote villages we visited

The road to one of the villages we were visiting

Once you’ve located the clients, assessed their business, processed their loan application, and granted their loan, then starts the task of uploading these clients on the Kiva website. I wouldn’t call this a particularly challenging task because Kiva’s infrastructure and processes are fairly straightforward. However, this all changes once you add regular power outages to the mix. When your finger is hovering over the post button and you’re just about done with the finishing touches of a borrower’s profile, it’s absolutely disheartening to see your screen go blank. Only to be replaced by darkness and a creepy beeping sound. You really have no choice but to laugh it off and say “Well, that’s number two for today.”

As you can see, this information travels up a long, rugged hill before it reaches you over the Atlantic or over other oceans. As someone who believes Google provides all answers in five seconds or less, I never appreciated the complexity of such information flows. Along with that appreciation, I’m starting to understand how powerful Kiva’s mission is – “Connecting people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty”. It’s one I’m proud to be involved with. It starts with that entrepreneurial flame and sends a sliver of warmth your way as you connect. Thank you for being part of it.

The Abura Market houses many of CRAN's Abura branch's urban borrowers

In this village, the houses are made of clay, because many can't afford buying bricks and cement.

By Zerrin Cetin, KF 12 Ghana

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