Laura Sellmansberger | KF19 | Uganda
Kiva recognizes the unique power of the interest-free capital it provides through its lenders. The zero-interest aspect of Kiva’s loans enables its partners to act boldly and to try new things, to go the extra mile to reach new groups of people, and to fund loans that Kiva characterizes as highly catalytic. Kiva uses the term highly catalytic to describe initiatives that not only help to provide financial independence to the poor, but also produce far-reaching effects that transform the lives of the people in the borrowers’ communities. Such loans may contribute to green energy and solar power endeavors, education initiatives, water sanitation projects or even agro-technology advancements.
Grameen Foundation is an organization that is going above and beyond to bring highly catalytic programs to Uganda. For this reason, Kiva has chosen to make Grameen Foundation AppLab its first nontraditional partner here. Starting this week, participants in Grameen Foundation’s Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) program will be featured on Kiva.org.
The CKW program is made up of a network of peer-nominated “farmer leaders” across Uganda who use mobile devices to share expert agricultural information with their small-holder farmer neighbors living on less than $2 a day. Community Knowledge Workers use the information provided by applications on their smartphones to help their fellow farmers improve crop yields and to reduce the costs of adopting new agricultural practices.
The CKWs also collect information from the farmers in their communities through phone-based surveys. This information is then used to help other poverty-focused organizations that Grameen Foundation works with, including government organizations and NGOs, improve and expand support services for farmers. The CKWs are paid small monthly salaries based on the number of information searches and surveys they complete. These salaries supplement – and sometimes even double – the amount that the CKWs earn as smallholder farmers themselves.
As a Kiva Fellow working at Grameen Foundation, I have had the opportunity to observe the mechanisms of this project first-hand, and to see just how much work goes into the maintenance and expansion of this incredible program. Over the course of the past five weeks, I have accompanied Grameen Foundation field officers on multiple trips to the central Ugandan district of Masaka. During these trips, I was able to see the various steps taken while selecting and preparing a CKW for his or her new role.
1. Community Mobilization
During this critical phase, Grameen Foundation field officers first meet with community leaders in the area and explain the CKW program to them, as well as the positive change that it will bring to the community. After obtaining buy-in from these influential people (which is absolutely imperative to the success of the program), a time and place are then identified for a village meeting, which takes place about one week later. The village meeting can last anywhere from a few hours to the entire day. A Grameen Foundation field officer explains the CKW program to the attendees and ensures that the program will have adequate support from the community. After confirming this, a date and time are set for a recruitment meeting, during which a CKW will be selected to serve his or her village.
The recruitment meeting should be heavily attended. If enough people fail to show up to constitute a fair vote, the meeting must be rescheduled (this is quite common since time and information are managed in a very different manner here than you readers may be used to – I must say, the Grameen Foundation field officers are some of the most patient people I have ever met!). If enough people attend the meeting, then the nominations can begin. The Grameen Foundation field officer lists the prerequisites that an individual must have to effectively serve his or her community as a CKW, and also explains what kinds of additional qualities voters should look for in their candidate (someone who has served the community in the past, someone who is reliable and can be trusted, etc.). The nominees each make a speech touting their qualifications, and then the voting commences. Things can become quite heated at this stage, as people may have starkly different opinions on who should be selected for the position. After voting takes place, a winner is announced. A Grameen Foundation field officer then visits the CKW’s home to discuss the details of the position with his or her family, since the role is time-consuming and family support is essential.
After the CKWs have been selected by their communities, a training session is held for each district. I went to the four-day training in Masaka, which was attended by 47 CKWs from the surrounding villages. During training, CKWs are shown how to operate and take care of their materials (the smartphone, solar charging device and weighing scale). Innovative farming techniques are discussed and participants are prepped for their new roles as information agents and community leaders. The Grameen Foundation training team is absolutely extraordinary – they spend weeks at a time on the road, teach sessions late into the evening, and never lose their enthusiasm or patience. Since this is the first group of CKWs who are to be funded by Kiva loans, I also had the opportunity to give a presentation on Kiva and its backing of the CKW program. The response was incredible and the CKWs warmly showed their appreciation for Kiva’s support by giving me a wonderful handwritten letter on the last day of training.
The CKW initiative is a program that is truly in line with the broader mission of Grameen Foundation: to enable the poor, especially the poorest, to create a world without poverty. Information is power, and by creating access among rural farmers to information, Grameen Foundation empowers them to create better economic conditions for themselves, their families, and their communities. You can be part of these efforts, too – lend to a CKW today on Kiva.org!
Laura Sellmansberger is a member of the 19th class of Kiva Fellows, working at Grameen Foundation in Kampala, Uganda.