Who are you and why do you want me to take pictures with my livestock?
You’re a pig farmer living in a village in West Bali. In the mornings you wake up, feed your pigs, get the children ready for school…the usual business. You’re just taking a break in the afternoon, right when the Balinese sun is at its hottest and people take shelter in the shade of their homes, when your loan officer comes zipping in on her motorbike. It’s not time for repayments, nor is it time for a group meeting with the other villagers who took a loan out with you, but you’re not surprised, as your loan officer often stops by for a chat when she’s in the area.
This time round, though, something’s different – an unfamiliar character, dressed in foreign clothing and wearing an unnaturally big grin, is sitting at the back of your loan officer’s bike. She gets off the bike, shakes your hand firmly (Balinese people don’t do firm handshakes – they shake your hand softly and then brush it on their throat), introduces herself as being from some organization from America that’s partnering with the place you borrow money from, talks about wanting to collect some stories, and proceeds to ask you a billion questions. Why does this strange person want to know what your hopes and dreams are? Why is she asking about the health of your pigs when she has never met them before? Why does she want to take a picture of you? You’re confused, but being Balinese, you smile, nod, and oblige.
One of the responsibilities of a Kiva Fellow is exactly what I described above. In a process called journaling, we visit borrowers in their homes, interview them about their business, and post these updates, along with pictures, in a message that goes to all lenders of that particular loan. The idea is for lenders to stay connected with their borrower after making the loan, and to know how their borrower is making progress. Of course, Kiva statistics also show that lenders who receive a journal update are 2.4 times more likely to make a future loan.
After a month of being in the field and a dozen journal visits I still feel somewhat awkward at the start of each journal visit. Kiva, as you readers know, is a complicated animal, and what makes it even more complicated is when you try to explain it to villagers who have no idea what the internet is. I’m perfecting my 2-minute intro pitch over time, and have started bringing printouts of borrower profiles on my visits, which make things much easier.
With each visit, however, I realize more and more what a unique and strange organization Kiva is. Unlike many other nonprofits that offer grants, Kiva requires its field partners to return the funds it disburses; unlike other microfinance institutions that disburse loans directly to borrowers, Kiva goes through its field partners; instead of sending auditors annually to look at a field partner’s books, Kiva sends Fellows to the field to talk to borrowers. These quirks, however, are precisely what made Kiva special to me in the first place. A successful organization is one that distinguishes itself from its peers, remains attuned and adapts itself to the needs of its constituents, and to me, Kiva has been good at doing that.
As for borrowers being weirded out by random intruders? Well, I think they’re getting used to it. One on of my field visits today, my loan officer had called ahead to let the borrower know that we were coming. As we sat down at the guest waiting area, our borrower emerged from her house, resplendent in a bright yellow dress, sequins glistening in the sunlight. Her family laughs, “She knows you’re coming to take pictures of her, so she got all dressed up!”
All dressed up
Nadia Anggraini is a member of the 10th class of Kiva Fellows, and is serving her fellowship at Koperasi Mitra Usaha Kecil (MUK) in Bali, Indonesia. Help fund MUK’s fundraising loan, or join our new lending team.