Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Kiva Blog has moved!

Attention Kiva fans and loyal readers! The Kiva Blog has officially moved from Blogger to the Kiva website. Starting now, there will be no new updates on kivanews.blogspot.com.

To get your fix, head over to kivablog.kiva.org, where we'll be publishing more posts on all of our awesome partners and projects -- and how you can lend to make a difference.

Thanks so much for reading! And, as ever, send any questions you have blog@kiva.org.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Investing in girls is paying off BIG in Uganda (thanks to BRAC!)

We're passionate about empowering young women to reach their full potential.

Last year Kiva started offering loans to girls through BRAC Uganda's Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA) Program. In addition to credit for older participants to become entrepreneurs, this program includes training in life skills, support groups and clubs, business development training and more. Today, more than 1,000 ELA clubs reach over 40,000 woman.

So we were thrilled to spot a recent post on BRAC's blog about some of the incredible impact results from the ELA program. Full results from a study conducted by independent researchers from the London School of Economics can now be found online, but we had to share at least a few:
12.6% INCREASE in condom use among sexually-active ELA participants.

28.6% DECREASE in fertility rates among two-year participants.

83% DECREASE in participants' reports of having sex unwillingly after one year.
As BRAC so eloquently states, this is a clear marker in how the program is positively influencing girls' relationships to men.

35% INCREASE in likelihood that an adolescent girl in the program would be engaged in an income-generating activity.

This is some pretty remarkable, irrefutable evidence that programs focused on empowering young women make a big difference.

For a more comprehensive summary by World Bank researcher Markus Goldstein, click here. Or read more about BRAC's takeaways from the study here.

Kiva's beyond excited to see results like these from a third-party impact study, and is proud to play even a small role in ELA's success in Uganda.

A quick, related story from our neck of the woods, as reported by Kiva Fellow Julie Kriegshaber:

Julie met Shamim, a shy 16-year old in the ELA program (pictured above), during her fellowship in 2012. Having forgotten some of the necessary documentation for her loan, Shamim had to return home and had Julie to tag along. It turned out she was living in an informal orphanage run by a local pastor.

In addition to running a small clothing sales business, she was responsible for her two younger siblings and watching over a few of the other children at the orphanage. By the time Julie left, she was in complete awe of how much Shamim had to juggle on a daily basis on top of running a growing business -- and of everything BRAC Uganda was doing to help thousands of girls just like her.

Have questions about Kiva's partnership with BRAC Uganda? Send them our way at blog@kiva.org.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Making fireworks in Nicaragua, literally

This is a guest post from Bob Harris, author, adventurer, Kiva super lender, and captain of the incredible Friends of Bob Harris lending team. Stay tuned for a series of posts from Bob chronicling his travels around the world meeting Kiva borrowers.

I’m about to help a new friend blow up some stuff in Nicaragua. 

This really isn’t what I originally set out to do here. But it seems like a good idea now. Mostly because Luis Alberto is so pleased about it. 

Luis Alberto and I are standing on a deserted rural road flanked by barbed wire, marking the edges of dry empty fields. Just a 20-minute ride from the bustling streets of León, the only sounds here are the rustling of dry leaves, the occasional bark of a distant dog, and metallic hammering from a nearby tin-roofed work site. 

This quiet strip of pavement is a perfect place to light a fuse, plug our ears, and giggle.

Luis Alberto blows things up for a living. He and his employees make fireworks, and his business has been financed in part by Fundación León 2000, the local Kiva partner. They’ve loaned Luis the equivalent of $850 to buy gunpowder, coal, sulfur, nitrate, and assorted kablowie necessities. Fundación León 2000, in turn, has financed Luis’s loan through Kiva. I’ve chipped in $25 here.

A phone camera photo of Luis and Bob.

Meanwhile, I’ve spent sizable chunks of the last few years traveling around the world to visit borrowers in Bosnia, Lebanon, Cambodia, and so on, writing a book about Kiva and microfinance while meeting as many loan recipients as I can. That’s why I’m here. (You can find more about the book on my site if you’re interested.) 

Here in Nicaragua, a Fundación León 2000 loan officer has kindly led me to Luis Alberto’s door in a working-class quarter of León, and Luis’s family has immediately welcomed me with cold drinks, family photos, wedding pictures, and stories.* 

We’ve talked about business as well: the fireworks trade has high periods around holidays, so depending on the calendar, Luis Alberto may have eight, ten, maybe a dozen men working for him. (Knock-on job creation like this can be a positive side effect of many microloans, not always apparent in a Kiva profile.) At the time of my visit, he employs about a half a dozen men, all at a work site safely far from any residential area. Would I like to see it? 

So now, trying to return his trusting spirit, I’ve followed Luis Alberto to his outdoor explosives-making workshop along this rural Nicaraguan road. As he places a single three-walnut-sized firework on the ground, my inner Cub Scout kicks in, compelling me to check the wind direction, raise my arms to warn nonexistent traffic, and scan the ground worriedly for some kind of makeshift ear protection. (Look! Two squirrels! That should work!) 

I’m also hoping that this one demonstration will be the only kaboom that I hear. The manufacturing work is all done by hand, with people sitting between bins filled with various powders, fuses, and kaboom-containers, creating each firework with assembly-line repetition: grab one of these, scoop some of this into there, mash it down with this metal thing, and repeat.

In skilled hands, each firework takes about 45 seconds to make. The guys are friendly and eager to demonstrate the process for their skittish American visitor. Tengo miedo un poco, I manage to summon from my gringo-watching-telenovelas Spanish. I’m a little afraid. This brings only friendly laughter — it’s perfectly safe, they tell me. I should try it myself and see! Um... okay. 

The results, in my hands: grab one of these, scoop some of this into there, drop that thing by accident, spill the powder back into the bin, get some of it on my pants, grab one of these again, and so on. Five minutes later: one firework and all ten fingers. A moral victory. 

Now I’m dripping in sweat from the heat. And I’ve only been out here for maybe an hour, tops. These men work up to ten hours a day, but they have dreams and families to work for, so there it is. 

As with nearly every client and business I’ve visited in these travels, I can barely imagine the patience and physical endurance involved. All I can map it to: when I was growing up in Ohio, my dad spent his entire adult life doing manual labor to support our family. He’d work in a warehouse, take third shift, lay sod in the hot sun, whatever was necessary. It’s hard to look at these workers in Nicaragua—or anywhere I’ve visited—and not see at least some resemblance. And my dad obviously had things a lot easier, given a minimum wage, occupational health and safety regulations, and so on. 

One of the cruelest stereotypes about economic struggle is that it’s caused by a lack of hard work. Just one day in the field with microlending clients should be enough to convince anyone otherwise. 

Finally, out in the street, ready to demonstrate the results of all the handiwork, Luis Alberto has the happy grin of a teenager. He’s 63 years old, mind you, and he speaks to his employees more as a father than as a boss. But when he’s about to light a fuse, he has the same smile he must have had when he was a kid. 

Finally: match, fuse, ba-BAMM! We giggle like ten-year-olds. For one gorgeous instant, language, age, religion, and nationality disappear. It’s only one moment, sadly, and a Beavis and Butthead one at that. But this was hardly the only such moment of connection. 

On my arrival at Luis Alberto’s home, recall, the discussion was immediately of things that matter everywhere: work, love, marriage, age, death, hope for the children, pride in small victories. I bet you feel connected to all of that, too, even through a computer, wherever you are. 

I can’t change the birth lottery, any government, nor the slightest whim of the global economy. I don’t pretend for one second that my $25 loan or the afternoon I spent counting and re-counting my fingers (Ten? Yes!) with Luis Alberto, by themselves, had any great effect on his life. 

But I can and do feel grateful to be able to help this gentle, funny man to create great effects in his own life, to provide a home for his family and employment for those around him. 

And after visiting clients from Kenya to the Philippines, when I look at the Kiva website and scan through the thousands of photos and stories, I can only feel excited for more. 

* Incidentally, I don’t volunteer to clients that I’m a lender. An indebtedness vibe would not only feel kinda gross, but factually inappropriate, what with pre-disbursed funds and the likelihood that some other Kiva lender would have invested in the loan if I hadn’t. I’ll admit that I’m a lender if anybody asks, but almost nobody does, and it seems a lot friendlier, simpler, and more accurate just to say that I’m an American interested in their lives. This is certainly true. 

Bob Harris has had a diverse career as a TV writer (Bones, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation), occasional TV personality (The National History Bee, Mostly True Stories), and AP award-winning radio humorist. An author whose previous books range from a chronicle of his thirteen Jeopardy! appearances (Prisoner of Trebekistan) to a pocket summary of more than 30 conflicts around the world (Who Hates Whom), Bob has also contributed numerous travel pieces to ForbesTraveler.com. He holds an honors degree in electrical engineering and applied physics from Case Western Reserve University.

As a Kiva lender, Bob has made more than 5,200 loans. Bob's upcoming book about microfinance and Kiva, The International Bank of Bob, will be released on March 5th. For more, visit www.BobHarris.com.

© 2013 Bob Harris

Kiva Insights Call recap: Premal Shah and Matt Flannery take on lender questions

Kiva hosted its second quarterly Insights Call last Thursday to discuss a wide range of topics from major accomplishments in 2012 to future goals of Kiva Zip. 

Representatives from Kiva included Matt Flannery, Co-Founder and CEO; Premal Shah, President; Michelle Kreger, Senior Director, Strategic Initiatives; and Brandon Smith, Community Marketing Coordinator.

We also asked representatives from our most active lending teams to join us, so we’re thrilled that lenders from teams like Nerdfighters, Milepoint, Late Loaning Lenders and Kiva Friends were able to join us and ask questions. Together, they explored loan inventory and shortages, charitable tax status in countries outside of the U.S., green loan lending, and more.

A big thank you to everyone who was able to join us for the call and for those of you who watched the live feed online. If you missed it, check it out below!

Kiva hosts Insight Calls quarterly. If you would like to participate in the next one, send us an email at blog@kiva.org.

Kiva SOUP for Social Entrepreneurs: Connecting local business owners to the Detroit community

Kiva Detroit joined forces this month with Detroit SOUP, a local organization that hosts monthly dinners to fund micro-grants for creative projects, to host the first ever Kiva SOUP for Social Entrepreneurs. Kiva Detroit, organized locally by Michigan Corps, selected four social entrepreneurs to present their ideas throughout the evening. At the end, attendees voted for which to support.

“The big intent of all of this is to continue building more connections within the community between people and entrepreneurs,” said event organizer Elizabeth Garlow. “We wanted to give these entrepreneurs a new network of supporters and champions for their business.”

Aware of the valuable work Detroit SOUP had been doing over the past three years, Kiva Detroit/Michigan Corps was eager to partner with them to better integrate both programs into the Detroit community. Of the record breaking 320 attendees, about 80 percent were new to the Detroit SOUP venue and process, and they all had a tough decision to make when it came to the four presenters. 

Each entrepreneur had only five minutes to describe to the audience how their business would benefit the community, followed by five minutes allotted for questions. 

First up was Amanda from Always Brewing Detroit, a pop up coffee shop that she hopes to turn into a permanent community space that features local food, art, and performances in addition to excellent coffee. As a special treat, Amanda served coffee at the event for attendees to sample. 

Next up was Sebastian, a student from Wayne State University who turned his dreams of opening an environmentally sustainable barbershop/salon into a reality called the Social Club Grooming Company.

From top left: Sebastian, Elias, Katie, Amanda

The third presenter was Katie from Motown Freedom Bakery, which produces allergy-friendly sweets and treats. A lifelong allergy sufferer herself, Katie plans to spread these delicious baked goods to all of Detroit and brought in a sampling for Kiva SOUP attendees to enjoy. 

The final presenter was Elias, who after years of financial hardship, is opening his own Pro-Windshield Repair franchise in Detroit. 

Each presenter was chosen by the Kiva Detroit Advisory Council from a pool of applicants that had been nominated to apply for a Kiva Detroit loan. The Council looked at a number of factors during their deliberations including the impact of the business on the Detroit community, the type of loan required, and the specific funding needs detailed by the applicant.

In the end, it was Amanda from Always Brewing Detroit that won the $1,770 grant for her growing business. She seemed to have struck a chord with the Kiva SOUP audience by offering a business that filled a gap in the area. 

“Amanda talked about how she was not just building a brick and mortar space, but how she was building a community, and that Always Brewing Detroit was about bringing people together in a very underserved area of the city where there are no other community gathering spaces. She is building a space where people can come together not just for coffee but for conversation, art, and live music,” said Garlow. 

With the money, Amanda plans to buy new espresso machines for her permanent coffee shop that will open its doors to the Detroit community in February. 

All four business owners are now well on their way to fulfilling their goals. In addition to receiving the grant, Amanda is also in the process of applying for a Kiva Zip loan. Elias, Sebastian, and Katie were able to fundraise for their own Kiva Zip loans during the event while promoting their businesses and getting support from the community.

Organizers from Kiva Detroit found that the event was a great way to find and engage more people who are interested in lending to entrepreneurs on Kiva. They have already received over 50 requests for a repeat event and experienced a surge of activity on the Kiva Detroit site and on the loan sites for the individual presenters. 

“It was phenomenal to see the community respond so positively to all of [the presenters],” Garlow recalled, “people were very enthusiastic and supportive.”

Be sure to visit Sebastian, Katie, and Elias on their Kiva Zip loan sites to learn more about their businesses:

Sebastian (The Social Club Grooming Company)
Katie (Motown Freedom Bakery)
Elias (Pro-Windshield Repair) 

Have questions about Kiva Detroit or Kiva Zip? Send them our way at blog@kiva.org.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Week in Review: Kiva Zip Update

It has now been just over one year since Kiva Zip launched its pilot phase! Since its inception, 126 borrowers have already fully paid back their loans and another 359 are currently in the process of paying back. 

Kiva Zip is currently only serving borrowers in Kenya and the United States, and differs from the original Kiva model in that lending is done directly from the lender to the borrower, eliminating the partner organizations that serve as the middleman in the traditional model. 

Because of this different lending strategy, the clients that Kiva Zip serve sometimes have different qualifications. Kiva Zip’s intentions are to provide borrowers with access to financial services that they would not otherwise be qualified for. This means that borrowers are not always necessarily living in poverty, but may need capital for a start-up that a bank would not provide them. 

Currently in the pilot stage, ‘trustees’ have taken the place of Field Partners. Trustees endorse borrowers after determining that their character and finances would make them a good candidate for a Kiva loan. While trustees never touch the money like a normal microfinance institutions would, Kiva Zip disburses the loans directly to the borrowers at a 0% interest rate. 

A central goal of Kiva Zip is job creation, and on average, every Kiva Zip loan creates 3 jobs. Zip is projected to help over 500 businesses in 2013, yielding 1,500 jobs in just one year! 

Huffington Post recently featured an article highlighting Kiva Zip and some of their favorite Zip borrowers. Below are a few more excellent examples.

Seth Gold, a 22 year old entrepreneur from North Carolina, received a $5,000 loan on Kiva Zip to start his clothing company, Bamboo Apparel. Not only is the clothing environmentally friendly, but uses a one-for-one model. For every Bamboo Apparel product purchased, another is donated to an orphanage around the world!

Ludia is a widowed mother of three living in Sare, Kenya. A Zip loan of $600 allowed her to build a store in which to sell her energy saving stove liners. Having the shed will allow her to build up her inventory and provide a better life for her children. 

Mary used a loan of $150 to buy a deep frier and add utensils to her restaurant in Nakuru, Kenya. Her entrepreneurial spirit and passion for cooking motivated her to open Imani Cafe, and she hopes that one day she can grow her business and create more job opportunities in her town. Mary was able to pay back her loan in just 3 months.

We have been thrilled with Kiva Zip’s progress thus far, especially considering that we are still in the pilot phase. Kiva is hopeful that at its full potential, Zip will be able to reach many more borrowers and continue to further Kiva’s mission of connecting people through lending to alleviate poverty.

You can find current fundraising Kiva Zip loans here!

Have questions about Kiva Zip? Send them our way at blog@kiva.org.

What's New on Kiva 1/27 - PHP update, a tidier basket and more

PHP Upgrade

Our main programming language is PHP. We recently performed a major upgrade from version 5.2 to 5.4. The upgrade was a long process that involved a lot of our engineers. It will all be worthwhile as 5.4 offers many benefits over 5.2 and allows us greater flexibility with our development. 

Basket Credit Tidy Up

To help readability and reduce confusion, we've modified the placement and logic of the "Available Kiva Credit" that appears on the My Basket and Review & Pay pages. We previously displayed the user's total available Kiva credit that they had prior to completion of the transaction, regardless of whether any/all of that credit was being applied to the current basket.

The new implementation does two things:

1) Moves this information to the left side of the page. Because the information is not relevant to the specific transaction, it did not make sense to have it in line with the order total / transaction details.

2) Rather than show the Total Available Kiva Credit, we now only show the remaining Kiva credit that has not been applied to the transaction.

Estimated Repayments Graph

You can visualize the estimated repayments to your portfolio with the Estimated Repayments Graph. We have now added the ability to see how much of your repayment will be promotional credit such as Bonuses, which will be returned to the promotion’s sponsor upon repayment.

Have questions about Kiva site improvements? Send them our way at blog@kiva.org.