Same Same but Different
Allison Moomey | KF16 & KF17 | Bénin
One of my favorite aspects of Kiva is the autonomy it gives to partners. While Kiva has strict due diligence standards, the microfinance institution (MFI) partners are the ones who decide what products to offer, what social performance steps to take, and how to execute their plans. This results in a wide range of partners, each with its own unique culture and take on how to best serve the microfinance market in their respective areas of operation.
Having started my second Kiva fellowship a month ago, it has been fascinating to compare and contrast the work culture at each MFI. During KF16, I served as a fellow at Micro Start in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. I am currently in Cotonou, Bénin working with Finadev. Although the countries share a border, the people, language, and culture are very unique.
Burkina Faso is a landlocked country in West Africa about the size of Colorado. The culture in Burkina is incredibly friendly. Whether a friend, neighbor, or stranger, a smile and greeting are always exchanged. Life tends to run on a flexible schedule. The workday starts at 7:30am and ends at 6pm with 2.5 hours for lunch, but these hours are not set in stone. If it is rainy in the morning, I would make my way to the office a little later. I would then stay a bit later in the evening to compensate for the missed time in the morning. The attitude is still professional and focused. Even when sick my colleagues could still be found working. They work very hard when at the office, but they also delight in their time with loved ones away from their desk. Most people do not choose to remain at the office for lunch but leave the office to enjoy it with family or friends. This high value on relationships is apparent at the office; the work culture is very jovial. As someone who relishes the opportunity to connect with others, I jumped at the chance to exchange ideas with my colleagues.
Bénin, just southeast of Burkina, sometimes feels like a different continent. Beninois seem to take life a bit more seriously. Personalities are not as warm, but people treat those they know well with much kindness. The office lacks smiles and boisterous conversation and is filled with focused individuals who quietly complete their work. I have yet to hear a personal conversation of any type, and even work conversations happen at the volume of a whisper. (My typing right now sounds really loud in this quiet office.) The hours worked at this office are impressive. The official workday is from 8am-6pm with 2 hours for lunch, but the reality is that they work far more than this. When I arrive at 8am, I am the last person to walk in the door, and my colleagues are already deep into their work for the day. When I leave at 6:15pm, I am the first to step away from my desk. I still am not sure just how late they stay, but I’m not sure I want to find out. I have left at 6:45pm and still been the first to leave. And lunch. Lunch is often used as an extended work hour (or desk nap time). Very few people return home and many instead spend a good part of it working. I sometimes feel like I’m working at a financial firm in New York.
As varied as the workplaces many of us experience throughout our career, Kiva’s partner institutions are unique in both the products they offer and the internal culture they have created. Both institutions are highly productive, but they approach their work in two distinct ways, both of which seem to be quite effective. On kiva.org it’s easy to see the different products that are offered by different institutions. What I never thought of before becoming a fellow were the different cultures behind the profiles you see.