Week 1: Q&A
Where am I?
What am I doing?
Who am I?
These are all important questions that Kiva Fellows ask themselves. I imagine that I will spend the duration of my Kiva Fellowship (and probably a long time after) seeking the answers to these questions. So, what of the questions I have asked of my surroundings this week?
Trying to orient myself, I have asked an endless stream of questions to the Prisma staff and to the borrowers we interviewed this week.
My first question Monday morning was far too ambitious: “Roberto,” I asked of the inter-office coordinator, “can you please tell me the effect of last year’s political and economic crisis in Honduras on Prisma’s business, and on the businesses of its borrowers?”. Obviously, the effect was negative. As borrowers lost business and confidence, Prisma lost business. But, having neither learned anything about Prisma’s structure, nor having met any of Prisma’s clients, I had no context by which to engage him in his answer. This question, and its the follow-up “What’s happening now? What’s going on now to improve the microfinance industry in Honduras?” will be the topics of subsequent blogs.
I spent Tuesday with loan coordinator, Susan, meeting clients. We met prospective clients, clients currently repaying and considering taking out additional loans, and clients who were delayed on their repayments. We interviewed one woman applying for a loan to expand her tortilla business. Previously she worked washing clothes and ironing for clients in neighboring communities, but eleven months ago she began making and selling tortillas from her home so that she would be able to take care of her new baby. She wanted to take out a loan through Prisma so that she could start buying materials in bulk, enabling her to make more at a cheaper price. Ultimately, though, she was not a feasible loan recipient.
“WHY NOT?!?!” was my question for Tuesday. I thought that a loan would be just the push she needed to push her tortilla-making towards a higher and more profitable level of output; I thought she had a good work ethic; and she had a cute baby to top it all off. Although I liked it, Prisma cannot run its business on a good story. Prisma’s loan officers are very compassionate, but they run their business on good accounting and good possibility of repayment. This potential client had not done her accounting well: her daily household and business expenditures nearly equaled her daily profits, so she certainly didn’t have the capacity to commit to repayments.
While I understood why the client had to be declined, watching it happen made me feel disgruntled, so on Wednesday I focused on facts and figures. Filadelfo, Prisma’s Kiva Coordinator, lost part of his day responding to my “whats?” and “wheres” and “whys” and “hows” and “oh-can-you-please-show-me-that-agains?” as we went over the process by which Prisma makes repayments to Kiva.
On Thursday I requested of Prisma’s newly-hired loan officer, Manuel, “tell me what you know about Kiva”. He raised an eyebrow and scrunched up his nose: “I have no idea”. So we went over the Prisma-Kiva connection and the he will have in connecting his clients to online lenders. At the end I asked whether he had any concluding questions, and was delighted when he said, “Let me make sure I understand you correctly – this is what Kiva is all about”, and gave me a super-brief and exact summary of what we’d gone over. My goal for the next time I explain Kiva (in Spanish or in English) is to do it as concisely as he did!
Friday, after a morning on the back of a motorcycle with loan officers José and Manuel, I was surprised and taken aback to hear them talking about how excited they were to eat “Gringas”. For lunch. They laughed when my gringa eyes widened and I asked “WHAT is a Gringa?” They assured me not to worry, that I would love them. And love them I did – turns out that Gringa is a fried ham and cheese quesadilla, topped with onions and carrots. Now, after a long day in the sun on the motorcycle, this gringa’s feeling a little fried, too, but happy in Honduras.