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Kiva Labs brings together nearly 100 partners and experts from across Africa

August 15, 2018

Drive an hour north-west from Nairobi, Kenya, and you’ll come to the famous Hell’s Gate National Park and the beautiful town of Naivasha. This lakeside retreat was the setting for the first-ever Kiva Labs Innovation Conference, which brought together nearly 100 leaders from Kiva’s African Field Partners.

Part of the larger Kiva Labs program, a 5-year initiative in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation, the KLIC conference’s goal was to facilitate intra-organizational learning and innovation.

During KLIC, Kiva held workshops on a variety of topics including human-centered design, Kiva’s portfolio of lenders, the organization’s evolving technologies, and the challenges faced by Field Partners as they attempted to scale impact.

The 3-day event opened with a keynote address by Kiva’s president, Premal Shah, who set the stage for the coming days of peer learning and discussion of practical innovations for impact. Premal primed the room to work together, and to be unafraid to share both their successes and failures.

The next day featured a workshop on the process of design thinking. Facilitated by the Amani Institute, the session split conference attendees into groups of about 5. Each group was introduced to the principles of human-centered design, which include empathy, problem definition, ideating, prototyping, and testing, before traveling into the field together. Groups were tasked with running through a simulation of the design thinking process, interviewing business people in the nearby Karagita town and working together to design mock products to meet their needs.

KLIC then hosted a 90-minute “Fail Fest” session, which was designed to facilitate conversations around different approaches Kiva’s partners had taken to mitigate risk, improve their financial viability, and sustain their business models as they attempted to scale innovative financial products.

The workshop aimed to highlight initiatives that faced challenges, or failures, in the process of scaling. To serve as case studies, leaders from three Kiva Field Partners with whom the organization had developed innovative financing programs discussed the challenges they faced during the implementation of those programs.

The Fail Fest was followed by an interactive session on the subject of Kiva lenders. It was designed to allow partners to see Kiva from a lender perspective and use this knowledge to improve their profiles and understand expirations. Partners were given balances on Kiva ahead of the conference and asked to make loans to Kiva borrowers. They answered questions about why they chose particular loans to fund, participated in small group discussions about their experience as lenders, and discussed how they can implement lender-facing knowledge to better inform their own loan posting processes.

The final session before KLIC’s wrap-up was on the subject of Kiva's evolving technology, and how the organization is driving partner processes behind the scenes. The session goal was to be participatory and develop resources for partners to improve their Kiva operations. This session discussed the main operational problems partners face, shared-learnings partners have come across for overcoming these problems, tech innovations, and what Kiva is doing to automate its processes overall. This session allowed attendees to better understand the operational costs of working with Kiva and how these can be overcome through technological innovations on Kiva's end and in collaboration with field partners. It helped CEOs understand challenges to scale and how investing in an API could help overcome them.

KLIC attendees came away from the conference with a wide range of new experiences working collaboratively with Kiva and its staff. But perhaps KLIC’s greatest value add was simply opening dialogue between partners themselves. Afterall, Kiva’s portfolio of field partners is really a global community that shares a common mission. KLIC was the first of many steps Kiva is taking to make conversations within that community more transparent, open, and impactful.