Full Hearts, Engines Ready: Going Pilot to Active in Freetown

Tejal Desai, KF 16, Sierra Leone

Just over a week ago, I hopped on the back of an okada (motorbike) to head to my first day as a Kiva Fellow at the BRAC Sierra Leone country office in Freetown. I felt like the giddy new kid on the first day of school, equipped with my oversized backpack, thick binder of training materials, and colossal water bottle. I couldn’t wait to dive into my fellowship, learn about BRAC’s work in Sierra Leone, promote sustainability, and meet the amazing people who implement and utilize BRAC’s services. Above all, I couldn’t wait to be a part of the transition BRAC is undergoing to become an active Kiva field partner.

When BRAC SL met Kiva (abridged version)

BRAC Sierra Leone's country office in Freetown

Kiva’s partnership with BRAC Sierra Leone (SL) was born a mere 5 months ago, thanks to the hard work of Kiva, members of BRAC, and previous Kiva Fellows. Although this relationship is quite new, BRAC, as an organization, has held a strong global presence since 1972, when it was founded in Bangladesh. BRAC has since spread its services and programs in microfinance, health, education, and business development to over 9 countries worldwide, like Liberia and Uganda (both Kiva field partners!), and provides support to organizations in 7 additional countries, including India, Peru, and Haiti.

BRAC uses a unique service model that focuses on creating opportunities that support a country’s economic, health, and agricultural growth from the ground up. BRAC has established over 30 branches in Sierra Leone, 10 of which currently receive Kiva funds, and utilizes the Grameen group lending model.

What exactly does this transition entail?

BRAC SL is currently in the pilot stage of its partnership with Kiva, and on the upward trajectory towards becoming an active Kiva field partner! The pilot phase, as you might guess, is an experimental time for a new partner and for Kiva; a field partner like BRAC is given limited Kiva funding and limited reign to use the Kiva platform, and is required to demonstrate that it can effectively support Kiva’s procedures and policies.

After BRAC SL can successfully fulfill seven criteria (called key performance indicators) that illustrate whether it would be a reliable Kiva partner in the long run, BRAC would qualify to move up the ranks and become an active Kiva partner. BRAC SL has, so far, completed a few of preliminary requirements, and we’re down to the final steps to push it into the active stage! BRAC’s Kiva Coordinator, Mbalu, is playing a large role in this transition, managing the various moving parts.

One of the final steps is what I’ve heard to be one of the most fulfilling projects of the Kiva Fellowship: the borrower verification. This process would involve me going out to the field with a credit officer to meet a sample of ten Kiva borrowers, and verify their loan information against Kiva’s and BRAC’s records. Kiva’s borrowers and field partner staff are the heart and soul of Kiva, and of our work as fellows. I can’t wait to spend time meeting borrowers and collaborating with credit officers and the Kiva Coordinator in the process of moving BRAC and Kiva’s partnership forward.

What will moving from pilot to active achieve?

If BRAC SL becomes an active partner, this means: more borrowers on Kiva + more lenders giving loans to BRAC borrowers + more recognition of BRAC SL’s work + the possibility of Kiva featuring new loan products = more awesomeness, more power to BRAC SL and its borrowers!

Additionally, since Kiva currently funds only a fraction of loans from BRAC’s branches in Sierra Leone, there’s potential to spread Kiva to branches in the provinces, and even experiment with new types of loans on Kiva. So exciting.

Looking forward

A few personal goals I’ve set to achieve during my four months here include helping BRAC achieve and scale its mature partnership with Kiva, and understanding and experiencing the impact of BRAC’s model firsthand. Hopefully in this pursuit, I will be able to visit more branches to meet credit officers and borrowers, collect exciting borrower updates for Kiva lenders, help put new loan types on Kiva, and of course, give more updates from the field.

I am honored to be a part of this transition at BRAC SL, and will maintain a detailed and exciting account of the pilot-to-active transition, as well as report on new developments on the ground!

Tejal Desai is a Kiva Fellow serving in Freetown, Sierra Leone. She is working at BRAC Sierra Leone, and enjoys riding on the back of okadas during downpours and consuming large portions of cassava chips, fish, and rice.

Join the BRAC Sierra Leone Lending Team and lend to a BRAC borrower!

About the author

Tejal Desai