Unmasking Kiva’s Face: the Process Behind the Profile

This is Kiva’s face.  When you look the photo in the eye, the borrower’s story below smiles back at you.  Freckles of financial data accents the overall visage: a tidy, friendly invitation to the lending community.

Disclaimer: this post is for the planners and the detail lovers.  An up-close look at the nuts and bolts of bringing Kiva borrowers to the world.  Process geeks, by all means continue.  Other concerned investors, let this shed light on the operational costs of your capital.  Everyone else, I’d like to direct your attention for the inspiration of this post: the first ever Kiva borrower from Burundi!  Please enjoy a video in celebration.


Every organization puts its best face forward, drawing on a diverse cast to fill the role: spokes models for brand names, hostesses at restaurants, costumed characters at Disney World, team captains, news anchors, press secretaries, receptionists, goodwill ambassadors, executive directors, and those hosts in reality TV shows who eliminate someone each week.  A face can be anyone or anything; the point is it serves as the identity of something larger.  Kiva’s identity is the borrower profile: that’s what greets you when you come to the site and that’s the image inlaid in your memory after you leave.  The beauty of simplicity comes from the clarity and comfort it offers the passing viewer.

Simplicity is a marketer’s trademark tactic – a guiding principle, even.  In reality, Kiva’s face is a helpful symbol of a much hairier process.  This isn’t deception as much as protection – the process isn’t always pretty and it’s certainly not simple.  But, if you ask me at least, it is interesting.

In the spirit of Kiva’s commitment to transparency, I’d like to offer a peek at what goes on to package the page you see.  So curious lenders, potential fellows and future Kiva partners, what does it take to create your first borrower profile?  Here are ten, (ahem, simple?) steps.

1. Come on board:

  • Have a successful history of microcredit in your area (2+ years).  This opens Kiva’s eyes to you and helps you with the next step.
  • Apply to be a Kiva partner. (2-4 months)
  • Complete Kiva’s due diligence.  Kiva experts or contracted individuals will research the MFI and prepare a report with recommendations to be approved by Kiva’s investment committee.  (2-4 months)
  • After approval, sign on all the dotted lines and the MFI is brought on in pilot phase. (1 month)

2. Do some prep work:

  • Receive your first Kiva Fellow. *(This and the following steps show the process as it applied to Turame Community Finance.)
  • Create your Field Partner page.
  • Educate your staff on what it means to be a Kiva Partner.
  • Educate your Kiva Fellow on your products and operations.

3. Make key decisions:

  • Appoint a Kiva Coordinator.
  • Determine how Kiva clients will be selected.  This might be particularly strategic in the early days.
  • Decide which staff members will be most involved in the process.
  • Offer them thorough and one-on-one introductions to the Kiva model and their role.

4. Craft your game plan:

  • Create a master schedule of upcoming Kiva clients.
  • Devise a list of interview questions.
  • Translate client waivers that document the clients’ permission to have their information posted online.
  • Create a form that loan officers include in the client’s dossier to identify them as a Kiva borrower.
  • Configure an accounting or Management Information System (MIS) to allow categorization of new loans as Kiva loans.

5. Train everyone involved on the game plan.

6. Stand guard for great ideas and unexpected issues that contort your best effort at planning.  Modify plans accordingly.

7. Meet with your selected groups!

  • Inform them you’d like to share their story with a new partner of the MFI.
  • Ask their permission to participate.
  • Explain that nothing changes with their loan terms and expected repayment.
  • Refuse requests for special gifts even though they are special clients to have been chosen for Kiva.
  • No seriously, the loan terms aren’t gonna change.
  • Complete the first interview.  Get details if it means asking them questions they’ve never been asked before.
  • Take a picture of everyone.
  • Take another one, making sure everyone’s face is seen.
  • Take another – get smiles!
  • Enjoy the photomontage while you pass the camera around.
  • Thank your gracious borrowers.

8. Assemble profile components:

  • Request the loan officer keep all items packaged together.  Then find the missing pieces from the package.
  • Type interview notes.
  • Select your favorite photo (resized for a manageable upload).
  • Format loan terms and repayment data.
  • Be sure all the components get back in the right hands.  Loan officers keep up with forests of papers and they won’t hesitate to hunt down a missing tree.

9. Post to Kiva’s website:

  • Learn the interface.
  • Deal with glitches (i.e. differences in interest rate definitions) by working around them (i.e. learning new file formats like csv).
  • Wait for Kiva translation and review.
  • Respond to any issues that come up (i.e. go back to the group to take a better photo; request more information from the loan officer).
  • Brace yourself…

10. See your first borrowers published!!  See your first borrowers funded!!  Celebrate with the staff!!  Go buy Coca-colas!!  Tell everyone!!

Repay, refine and repeat.

All of these steps are subject to assured of changes and delay due to typhoid, malaria, yellow fever, birth deliveries, field visits, international conferences, system network crashes, afternoon floods, long lines at the bank, midweek holidays, broken down vehicles, gasless gas stations, power outages, data discrepancies, illegible handwriting and other general misunderstandings.

Maybe this isn’t the most fascinating part of the Kiva world (if you’re still reading, congrats on making it this far.)  But in a way, this is the Kiva world.  More importantly, puncturing the simplicity deepens your appreciation for the profile boxed in your browser window.  For Turame Community Finance, steps 2-10 took five weeks, and surely other fellows can offer more details about what happened with their MFI.  The point is this: around the world, Kiva Coordinators and MFI staff work hard to make it look easy.

Next time you lend, know you’re not just rewarding the borrower but also validating the long hours of Kiva and Field Partner staff toiling to simplify the service on your end. The payoff is well worth it – here in Bujumbura, the staff erupted in cheers when we saw the first funded borrower.  Accountants, auditors, assistants and managers emerged to celebrate with the Kiva team.  The sense of achievement and appreciation of lender generosity is hard to describe.  It’s heartening, encouraging, special – someone said it’s like seeing your child succeed. On behalf of the staff at Turame, thank you all for the first loan and the motivation to share many more faces with you.

Taylor Steelman is serving in Bujumbura, Burundi with Turame Community Finance as a member of the Kiva Fellows 10th class.  Please make a loan on Kiva or donate today!

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