Bonjour, Bamako: Soro Yiriwaso’s Monument to Sustainability
By Jessica Chervin, KF7 Mali
Save for the high beams of the Land Cruiser and a few fluorescent lamps, I couldn’t see much as we drove off the paved road and onto a bumpy street, nestled deep within the quartier Cité UNICEF, a relatively poor neighborhood of Bamako (the capital of Mali) and my home base for the next few months. Then, from the darkness and dust, it rose: a glistening yellow building that, against the local backdrop, appeared rather like Oz…
I am Jessica Chervin, age 24, from New York, New York, and a proud member of the seventh class of Kiva Fellows. I have had the tremendous fortune to be placed with Soro Yiriwaso (which means “fructify the revenues of the home” in Bambara), Kiva’s first and only field partner MFI in Mali. As the first Kiva Fellow ever to work with Soro, I am charged with getting to know their organization deeply in the spirit of strengthening its partnership with Kiva. So, what of this “Oz”?
Soro, which is currently headquartered in small town called Bougouni, has just constructed its first facility in Bamako. On my third day there, Soro’s director invited me to attend their direction’s official walk-through and reception, at which the architect and several members of the board were also present. The mood in the conference room was solemn. This building, for them, is a dream realized. Soro’s arrival in the capital heralds the organization’s coming of age. But as I listened to each of them reflect on the project, a deeper and greater symbolic power of the building emerged.
I thought of Soro’s mission, “To increase economic opportunities of disadvantaged Malian entrepreneurs, particularly women, in offering them enduring access to financial services”. And of Soro’s vision for itself: “A solid, autonomous, and perennial microfinance institution”. In every way, this building is the physical embodiment of each of Soro’s values. The idea of accessibility, for example, cannot be overstated. Soro’s choice to erect its magnificent headquarters in a poor neighborhood of the capital sends a bold message to its target population: we are HERE, for YOU, and we are not going anywhere. It beckons. It inspires.
We members of the Kiva community, Kiva Fellows and lenders alike, see everyday that the basic and empowering principles of microlending work. But the consistent and enduring provision of financial services by microfinance institutions, the superstructure over a world of people ready to put their dreams into motion, is what makes the system run. Soro’s monument to sustainability is bona fide proof that, at the institutional level, microfinance can, does, and will work. And, as Kiva lenders, each of us has the special privilege of partnering in this industry-building effort.
I look forward to sharing stories of Soro in action with you in the months to come!