Same Rung of the Ladder?

Eric Rindal – KF16 – Bolivia

After Jeffrey Sachs  started talking about ladders, rungs, and poverty, many wondered if there would be an end to poverty. The way he saw it was that if a developing country could just make it to that first “rung” on the ladder, they would reach the global economy and lift themselves from poverty. He augmented this with “clinical economics,” treating developing countries like patients by offering a unique diagnosis, by properly addressing a country’s need. I am not going to analyze Sachs’ book, rather I will compare the differences of my two Kiva Fellowships in  countries considered on similar “rungs.”

Street in Freetown, Sierra Leone

A month ago I was living in Sierra Leone  for my first Kiva Fellowship, today is my tenth day in La Paz, Bolivia for my second Fellowship. These are two very different experiences; sometimes I don’t know where I am when I wake in the morning. In Sierra Leone I was often the only white person (I am part Norwegian) in most situations, and in Bolivia I am often the tallest person in the room (barefoot I’m 6’ 4½ ”). I don’t fit in, so what? Fortunately these Kiva partners in Sierra Leone and Bolivia have looked past what I am, to focus on who I am. Spending time in each country has given me a glimpse into their views on development and microfinance. This has allowed me to not look at what these countries are — considered the poorest in their regions – but who they are – uniquely developing. I am finding the needs of a country vary tremendously.

Street in La Paz, Bolivia

As a “beginner” to microfinance and international development I often asked, “What does it really look like?” I was under the impression that developing countries had congruent needs and utilized similar inputs to achieve desired outputs. But I did not account for their “starting point” or standards of living…until I lived there! The level, or “rung,” at which a country finds itself seriously affects their focus and ambitions. In Sierra Leone, development looked a little like obtaining running water at home, securing reliable electricity, the ability to pay for health care, remaining in school, investing in better infrastructure, and maintaining a job. As I walk around La Paz, most everyone has running water, lights, a more developed healthcare and education system, and the paved roads are lined with tall buildings. Comparing my Fellowships, I catch myself thinking, “If people in Bolivia are not always showering out of a bucket with cold water, using a pit toilet, and burning charcoal in stoves for cooking – as life was in Sierra Leone – then they must be developed.”

La Paz, Bolivia

This is where I am wrong. Bolivia is considered one of the poorest and least developed countries in South America; however that only captures what Bolivia is, not who Bolivia is. If each country is developing in different ways, then what are their needs for progress? This is where I am stuck – two developing countries with two very different levels of need.

Freetown, Sierra Leone

As the “basics” in a country are attained, the society evolves to enrich the multifaceted standard of living. This evolution spans the progression of human rights, political representation, and human equality. Kiva is effective as they intentionally strive to meet borrowers wherever they are on the ladder’s rung. Microloans take on a unique role of strengthening a borrower’s financial base –which enables and improves their life – thus promoting the pursuit toward stability and self-sufficiency. When you see a borrower on, know that your loan is addressing the borrower’s needs and, without a doubt, equipping them (and maybe even their country) to attain their goals for development.

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