In my time volunteering with SPBD, I’ve made many trips with the Center Managers (CMs) out on the field to meet clients, interviewing for journal postings, or just to see the atmosphere at center meetings. Often times when I’m introduced to the borrowers, I’m either introduced as an Kiva fellow visiting, or a person from the SPBD office observing. But once I get to sit and talk to clients, and explain to them what a Kiva Fellow is and what we do, I get a number of interesting questions. As the questions tend to be similar on my visits, I figured I share the top 5 questions – and my responses – that clients have asked me each time. (Btw, another great article about client feedback has been written by Jeremy Gordon and Rachel Brooks which you can find here).

1. Can you get the Kiva to lower the interest rates?
This is probably the most frequent question I get asked by borrowers on the field. As many of you know, the MFI sets its interest rates by taking into account current rates plus their cost of funding, loan products, term and size of their loan offerings, etc. (I will not get further into this as many of the Kiva Fellows have blogged extensively about interest rates on the fellows blog, some good examples out of many with relevant commentary being here and here). Kiva as a non for profit partner institution does not set or influence that rate, and therefore its is up to the MFI to determine their rates accordingly and appropriately. In addition to this response, I mention that borrowers should feel free to talk with their Center Managers, or file their concerns / grievances formally to the MFI so that the issue can be dealt with according to SPBD’s grievance process.

2. Then can you get the MFI to lower their interest rates?
This one is similar to the above question, except sometimes borrowers believe that Kiva has influence on the MFI to change the interest rates. Kiva maintains a partnership with the MFIs they work with but has no governance over them. In this case the best thing I advise is for the center to be empowered to talk to their Center Mangers in order to promote formal dialogue with the MFI.

3. Kiva is a bank, isn’t it?
This was one of my very first questions when going out to visit clients. Kiva is not a bank. It doesn’t hold money, or facilitate the transfer of money. Rather, the money is collected from lenders via Pay Pal and transferred to the MFI to disseminate after the posted loans have been funded. Kiva provides the platform to facilitate peer to peer lending between generous lenders and happy entrepreneurs around the world via the established MFI partner.

4. Can’t Kiva lend to us directly?
In a perfect world it would be great if we could facilitate one to one lending, cut out the red tape and go straight to the people, right? But its really not so simple. The partner MFI understands their individual clients needs and capabilities, as well as the lending culture and climate on the ground. They can facilitate the screening and dissemination process, monitor and follow up on the repayment process, and keep accurate records and MIS of each transaction. Additionally, as Kiva is not a bank, getting and moving the source of funds to different global recipients in various currencies, and dealing with multiple Central Banks would be incredibly difficult for Kiva to undertake.  So unfortunately, this is something that the current Kiva platform is unable to do.

5. ‘Ua e fa’aipoipo? (Are you married?)
This is probably the most frequent and hardest question to dodge, and I’ve had to politely and creatively try not to become betrothed to one of my center ladies sons or grandsons. My usual response is “Leai” followed by a shy smile.

So, why do I post these questions and answers? In part to show that borrowers are conscious of what they are getting into, that they are taking the opportunity to ask questions, that they are even more so conscious of what Kiva is and can or cannot do, and to entreat some fellows to share their experiences meeting borrowers out in the field (and to help correct me if I’ve stated something wrong!)! Its been great fun getting to know the ladies of the SPBD centers, and to see them really be engaged in the microloan process. I’ve enjoyed fielding their questions… And maybe if I plan to stay longer, I’ll have a different response to question # 5!

Comments, Questions, your own anecdotes from the field?

And don’t forget to support these lovely ladies by becoming a lender on Kiva today!

Tamara Crawford is a Kiva Fellow, located in Apia, Samoa, and volunteering with the South Pacific Business Development. She’s been enjoying mango season and talking to borrowers about their various business ventures.

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