I quit my job for Kiva

by Teresa Dunbar, KF5, Cambodia and Philippines

It was the summer of 2008.  As I sat and watched the stock markets crash around the world from my Cambodian apartment, I could not help but get nervous about my job prospects post fellowship. At that point, I felt like I’d made a mistake by leaving a great job in philanthropy to follow my heart by becoming a Kiva Fellow to learn how microfinance works on the ground. I remember when I told my family of my decision, they thought I was crazy.  I was beginning to think they might be right. Watching US financial pillars crash and stock markets tumble each day, I worried and seriously asked myself, “What am I going to do once my time as a Kiva Fellow is done?”

Fast forward a year, and three Kiva Fellowship placements later: it’s the summer of 2009 and I sit in my apartment in San Francisco looking up jobs on the internet. I am a natural optimist, but nothing looks right for me. As a woman in her early-30s, I either have too much experience or too little, and my resume clearly shows I am neither an Administrative Assistant nor Executive Director. With unemployment rising and my options limited, it looks like I will need to make my own way.

I searched my soul for what made me happy, what I am good at, and what could make me some money. Inspired by the hundreds of Kiva loan recipients in Cambodia and the Philippines I had interviewed, I decided to start my own food cart and became the newest member of the San Francisco food cart scene. Yup, I started Asian Street Sweets (@asian_st_sweets), and cooked up some of my favorite Cambodian and Philippine street desserts. I would set-up at events or heavily trafficked street corners in the Mission.  My desserts usually included combinations of coconut sticky rice with fruit steamed in banana leaves, maybe some toasted sesame seeds, tapioca balls, or red beans. Many passer-byes were curious, and all were pleasantly surprised once they tried it.

During my food cart adventures, I came to realize that I loved cooking as a hobby and not as a career. And, while I steamed my “nom som cheak” (Cambodian New Year’s Day treat), I searched for other career opportunities.

Trolling through job website after job website, I finally came upon a job opening with Oikocredit USA (www.oikocreditusa.org). Established in 1975, Oikocredit is a non-profit organization that provides loan capital to fair trade businesses, co-operatives, microfinance institutions, and small and medium sized businesses in developing countries. They are able to do this because socially minded individuals invest as little as $20 and chose to make a modest 0-2% interest return on their investment, but more importantly positive social and environmental impact. Investing in fair trade cooperatives, development projects, sound environmental practices, and having conducted social impact studies for the past three years, I knew I had found the job I wanted.

I applied and during the interview process, the Executive Director Mr. Terry Provance stated, “I am impressed to see that you were a Kiva Fellow. Tell me about your experience and what you think about microfinance.” I explained my work with CREDIT MFI and ASKI MFI, and emphasized that I was not interested in working for just any financier of microcredit, I wanted to work for Oikocredit, a company that cared about its clients, the environment, and community development. Through my work as a Kiva Fellow, I explained my thoughts on what unhealthy microfinance looks like, and expressed that I was not interested in that kind of work.

A week later, I received a phone call asking if I wanted the job, and of course, I said, “Yes!” I am now the San Francisco Outreach Coordinator for Oikocredit helping individuals change the world through small socially responsible investments. It is challenging work as I search for new investors, but work I am prepared for thanks to my Kiva Fellowship.

To find out more about how you could have the life-changing experience of being Kiva Fellow, see http://www.kiva.org/fellows.  To learn more about socially responsible investment opportunities through Oikocredit, visit  www.oikocreditusa.org

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