News Flash: Kiva Is Not Intuitive
Training microfinance institution (MFI) staff on Kiva never gets old no matter how many times I do it. The excitement lies in the great unknown of which questions they will ask once I’ve said my piece. Across the board, the staff I meet are professional and dedicated to their work. Most have been serving hundreds of clients for years before I dropped in to introduce Kiva, so it is not surprising that they are both slightly perplexed by this new element and also extremely invested in understanding it completely. Their questions illuminate for me how confusing Kiva is upon first (or even second or third) glance. My goal is to make Kiva as small a burden as possible so that the staff both collect the required information and do not have to take much extra time to do it. This is how the trainings tend to go:
Step 1: Introduce myself and make sure to mention Barack Obama in one way or another in order to get spirits high and interaction initiated.
Step 2: Explain Kiva and the MFI staff’s role within the Kiva framework. At Vision Finance Company in Rwanda, the previous fellow trained all staff on what Kiva is and my Kiva summary serves as a reminder of what she taught them several months ago. As such, I keep it brief. I emphasize how the credit officers are the most important piece of the Kiva puzzle. If they were to refuse to gather the information necessary to put loans on the website, Kiva could not exist. I also make sure they understand that information on Kiva-funded clients will be put on the internet. We want to make sure that they impart this to their clients and that their clients sign a waiver indicating that they do not object.
Step 3: Introduce business profile templates I created in order to ease the gathering of client information. Prior to the introduction of the form, they were writing up the stories by hand based on what they knew of their clients. Committed to their work, each would spend upwards of an hour trying to think of how to formulate their clients’ information into a story. This was both time-consuming and slightly confusing since some were not sure where the story went (answer: on to the Kiva website). We go over the form, written in English, with explanations in Kinyarwanda (the local language) of what each question is asking. The forms, much as you would expect, request basic personal information like age, marital status, and number of children. The staff are also to ask their clients business- and loan-specific information like what their business is, how long they have had the business, and what they will do with the loan and the profits that result from it. The form is simple because we don’t want the staff to be scared off from completing it. They already have so much work that the goal is not to create a large additional burden. Staff are visibly relieved at the sight of the form, knowing that this means they will no longer have to struggle with daunting blank sheets of paper as they think of what to say about their clients.
Step 4: Questions. One of the most amusing parts of question time, for me, is that the questions are all asked in Kinyarwanda and usually the Kiva Coordinator takes first stab at answering them. That means that for several minutes there may be heated debate, many players involved, volumes rising, and I will have no idea what is being said. When the Kiva Coordinator determines that I should be privy to the conversation, he’ll inform me of the source of confusion. There has been a great range of questions, all of them valid, since I conducted my first training with BRAC Tanzania until now, 23 trainings later. Some examples:
• How do we know when the loan has been funded on Kiva so that we may disburse the loan?
(Answer: you should disburse the loan according to your timetable at your MFI, not allowing Kiva to dictate the timing. If you disburse the loan before it has been funded by Kiva, the Kiva funds, when they arrive, will back-fill the MFI’s accounts.)
• What if Kiva wants to give the client a different amount than Vision Finance approved?
(Answer: Kiva has no role in determining the terms of the loan. Kiva is only a source of funding and will distribute only the amount approved by the MFI.)
• If it is a group loan, do we fill out one form for each member of the group?
(Answer: If it is a group loan, the group president should answer all of the questions and the rest of the group members should be included in the table where their name, loan amount, and type of business are requested. All group members must appear in the accompanying photograph.)
• By raising funds on Kiva, is Vision Finance exploiting its clients to get money for the MFI?
(Answer: By putting clients on Kiva, the MFI is not exploiting them but rather raising the funds necessary to distribute their loans. The money raised goes only towards that loan and not into the coffers of the MFI or into the pockets of MFI staff.)
• What if the client does not want to be put on the internet?
(Answer: If the client is uncomfortable having his or her information and picture on the internet, then choose a different client to be Kiva-funded. We do not want anyone to be uncomfortable or feel forced to appear on the internet. Just because that client is not Kiva-funded, however, does not mean that he or she will not get his/her loan. It means only that the funds will come from elsewhere, not Kiva. Disburse the loan if it has been approved by the MFI and do not let the client’s choice not to appear on Kiva affect whether or not he/she receives a loan.)
• If Kiva’s funds are at 0% interest, does that mean that our Kiva clients don’t have to pay interest?
(Answer: Clients are still to pay the MFI’s standard interest rates. The 0% rate from Kiva is for the MFI so that they may have more money available to disburse more loans and to help them cover the costs associated with serving their clients. If Kiva clients did not pay interest, all MFI clients would soon hear that certain clients are not paying interest and mayhem would ensue. It is more equitable to have everyone pay interest and for the MFI to use the interest to increase their impact on the community.)
• Why does it matter that the loan amount on the form matches the amount that Vision Finance has approved and will distribute?
(Answer: Kiva values honesty and transparency. As such, all loans raised on Kiva must match precisely the amount that is actually disbursed to the client. Ifs more money is raised on Kiva than is distributed to a client (for example, if the requested loan amount is listed instead of the actual loan amount, and the two differ), the MFI will be responsible for reimbursing the loan to the lenders.)
What the trainings remind me is that if we want quality business profiles and journal entries posted to the Kiva website, then it is important that we fully explain to MFI staff why they are filling out this form in the first place. Though some have never used a camera before and many spend little or no time on the internet, all want to understand the concept of Kiva and where they fit into it. For me, working with the dedicated credit officers at both BRAC Tanzania and Vision Finance Company has been just as rewarding and informative as meeting with their clients.
Julie Ross is currently serving as a Kiva Fellow at Vision Finance Company in Rwanda. She recently completed her first placement with BRAC Tanzania./>