Questionable Answers: Reviewing Borrower Stories

By Kelly McKinnon KF9, Leon Nicaragua

I ask my mom to edit most of my writing because she is super smart (and beautiful and kind and fun and patient) but also because she is a great audience has a general understanding of what I’m doing as a Kiva Fellow.

The exchange that follows is from my mom’s review of my latest blog “The View From Here” in which I talked about two borrower stories. My responses to her questions are far from academic explanations and my terse answers leave an enormous amount unsaid. But this post is less about explanations and more about questions. I believe that sometimes the right questions are far more telling than the right answers. I believe that these questions are an important part of the stories from the field and the narrative of microfinance.

“My mom begins: I am hungry for more of the stories of the loans success… I understand the requests and the hopes… but want to hear more about the outcome.

Do they grow the business? hard to say.
Do the children learn a new trade? perhaps. But, does it serve them? questionable. does it serve the country? doubtful.
How much profit can there be in selling sweets? not much.
Do store fronts work? in some ways yes. in some ways no. Location and an established client base are significant. Lacking these, the wandering method may provide more sales opportunities.
What is “recession proof” in this poor country? I suppose the basic level of need. recession below that would just be desperation. There are not a lot of expenses to be cut out but the price of a sorbet or of ice cream is so small it would hardly effect even the tightest of budgets. perhaps this is the too small to fail category.
How do they survive? It’s just different.
Do you even want to think of their plans in terms of economics, and do you help the borrowers with such business tactics? no. but financial education is an area that I think is suuper important either to educate the borrowers themselves or to reach the children of borrowers so that they can contribute or improve the businesses.
Can we combine “industries”… get one man to make the packaging for the sweets, another to do the sweet? Economically speaking this could be the next step, to get the small businesses to create co-ops of sorts, for all of those bakers, store owners, chefs to pool their talents and resources and increase specialization, market capacity and all that stuff.
I’m trying to think of some green alternative to all those plastic bags? Actually the bags are incredibly efficient, they are thinner than a zip-lock bag, used in place of any other kind of packaging, have a billion uses and take up practically no space in the garbage.

I end: The complexity of beginning to answer to your questions feels like it is enough to break the hope that these stories begin to tell.”

In communicating with my mom I think something is said between her push for answers that explain more than “hope” and my sassy, I-can-write-this-cuz-you’re-my-mom, responses.  Perhaps it is something about perspective and context and pursuing answers. About pursuing answers especially because you don’t have the right ones at hand.

I worry that my responses are discouraging as I write them to my mom, I am even more concerned that they are discouraging as I write them for a wider audience. I don’t worry that microfinance “isn’t working.” I worry that people will forget to ask what happens without it, I worry that people will give up on it. I worry that people will stop asking, because sometimes asking the right questions can help a person a great deal more than giving the right answer.

Kelly is working with Fundacion Leon 2000 in Leon, Nicaragua. You can support Kiva borrowers in Leon here.


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