Who is this crazy gringo?
by Rob Mittelman, KF8 Peru
In the immortal words of Austin Powers, “Allow myself to introduce…myself”. My name is Rob Mittelman from Ottawa, Canada and I’m a member of KF8 headed to Lima, Peru to work with Edaprospo. When I’m not working as a Kiva Fellow, I’m a PhD in Management Candidate at Carleton University.
When I first traveled to South America and was called gringo, I was very defensive. I always thought it was a pejorative term for Americans. I’m a proud Canadian after all; I’m no gringo.
But, at least in South America, gringo refers to any foreigner who isn’t a native Spanish speaker. My buzzed blond hair, blue eyes, and lack of a tan are a dead giveaway that I might not be from around those parts. My Spanish accent is a mix of Anglo-Canadian, Chilean, Mexican, Peruvian, Guatemalan, and probably more Canadian (but I try not to say ‘eh’ at the end of my Spanish sentences and I haven’t found a good translation of ‘hoser’ yet). So, I don’t blend in but I’ve come to love the term and can’t wait to hear it again.
My next venture (or adventure, as it may be) into Latin America is only days away. This time I’m going to Lima. After working in Mexico City and Guatemala City, I think I’m prepared for another large Latin metropolis. I’ll be meeting with and talking with Kiva clients about their business, their challenges, and how access to capital and financial services is helping them work themselves out of poverty to provide a better life for their families. I’m not expecting to see miracles, but positive steps in the right direction. This is, unfortunately, a marathon and not a sprint to alleviate poverty in the developing world. Microfinance and the loans we make on Kiva are just part of the fuel these entrepreneurs can use to run their race towards a better life.
My interviews with Kiva borrowers will undoubtedly focus on how their lives might be improving by having access to financial services but I will also be focusing on some business questions. I’d like to know how they determine pricing, product selection, or customer retention strategies as just a few examples. While these processes might not be formalized the way we teach in business school (and I have no illusions that they are, nor do I think they should be), these small business people are confronted with some of the same challenges that CEOs and business owners face here at home (and wherever your home might be). See Katie’s post, my favorite so far on the Fellows Blog, about how the rice farmer measures profit in Cambodia for an example of the type of thing I’m talking about. I love it.
Entrepreneurship is about innovation, ingenuity, empowerment, responsibility and risk taking. Kiva borrowers are exhibiting these traits. Business and financial services have been getting a pretty bad rap lately (and deservedly so) with bankruptcies and bailouts. BUT, to borrow the tag line from my friends at MBAs Without Borders, ‘Business Can Do Amazing Things’. I look forward to telling some of these stories.