Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Gemma North, KF9, Cambodia
–“I used my loan to purchase a motorcycle to transport my baskets to the market.”
–“My loan helped to buy a motorcycle for my husband to help his moto-taxi business.”
–“We used the funds to purchase tools for our mechanic business so we can fix more motorcycles…”
After nearly a month and a half of helping to post updates on CREDIT MFI’s clients, I have grown used to, and almost expect these descriptions
on loan use. Indeed, a quick search of Kiva’s current loans in Cambodia for the Transportation sector reveals that nearly 10% of the total borrowers decided to use their funds to engage in this industry (and this does not count the many individuals who decided to buy a motorbike after they received a loan). This also seems representative of the local economy as on my daily walks through the city I am solicited by–at the very least–half a dozen moto-drivers offering me rides. Although this becomes a bit redundant after the third or fourth proposal, I make an effort to acknowledge each man with a “no thank you,” as they remind me of the numerous CREDIT clients who depend on their husband, brother or son earning an income as a taxi driver. After reading Fred Strebeigh’s The Wheels of Freedom: Bicycles in China, describing how bicycles represented political freedom, I have realized that the very same can be said for motorbikes in Cambodia. These vehicles allow entrepreneurs to engage in economic opportunities that may have been more difficult only ten years ago when most people traveled by bike or by foot.
There are businesses which are purely based off of their ambulatory nature. For example, it is quite common to see a cart hitched to a motorcycle waiting outside a house while a family brings out their recyclables. The person collecting and buying these cans, plastic and glass bottles will then resell them for a small profit to the local recycling plant. He or she will spend their entire day traveling to as many neighborhoods as possible, honking a plastic horn to announce their arrival, making a living while providing a valuable service to local residents.
Then there are those enterprises that have gained a competitive edge with the purchase of a motorcycle. During an interview with a CREDIT client who sells goods at a stand outside her house, she explains how on a busy day she may quickly ride over to the market several times to restock and meet customer demand. Additionally, on the corner near my apartment I have been able to observe the rotation of food cartsthroughout the day. In the mornings an older woman sells Num Pang (or breakfast sandwiches) to people on their way to work; and in the afternoon she has ceded her spot to a man selling sliced fruit as a midday refreshment. A few hours later, as the school on the corner lets out and students pour into the road, several carts selling fish kabobs, soft drinks, and a variety of crackers and biscuits greet the children with a tempting array of after school snacks. Thanks to the mobility of these carts, vendors can easily travel to different areas of the city at certain times of day when they know they can find additional customers.
On a recent field visit with one of my coworkers we spent a good half hour in the Cambodian countryside trying to find our way back to the road, navigating the narrow paths bordering rice paddies and periodically stopping to get directions from workers in the field. We laughed about how it was lucky we weren’t on foot (as this would be the only other option since some villages are not accessible by car). I realized that similar to how many of CREDIT’s clients are able to find new customers and increase their income by having mobile businesses; because of the ubiquitous motorbike CREDIT staff is also able to cover more ground and travel from rural village to rural village. In doing so, the MFI can offer its services to an increasing number of entrepreneurs, some of which may even take a loan to purchase their first motorbike.