Michelle Kreger from the Kiva Partnerships Team here. I'm writing from Central America, where I've spent the past week at the Inter-American Development Bank Conference on Microenterprise in San Salvador. I'll be blogging on and off for the next few weeks as I travel through Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador for Kiva. Here we go....
San Salvador, El Salvador
Watching the sun set outside the right side of the plane I prepare myself once again for a few weeks in the field. The destination this time: Central America. 4 days at the Inter American Development Bank conference on Microenterprise in El Salvador, and then 1 week in each country: Nicaragua and Guatemala, training new partners and visiting the folks on the ground. My mind wanders as I gaze out the window at the elongated cloud formations, the vibrant colors and the flat horizon that lays some 40,000 feet below. Listening in to the conversation of the folks a few rows behind me I realize that they too are destined for the conference, a gathering of over 1,200 practitioners, funders, networks, bankers and donors that promises to be a productive gathering full of new learnings and industry contacts.
Touching down I take a deep breath and prepare myself for what is usually a hectic onslaught of taxi drivers, hotel managers, families, and hustlers awaiting fresh, bleary-eyed travelers. To my surprise as we are herded through customs and out into the main lobby the airport in a humane and quiet, respectful manner~ a welcome surprise that is to be one of the many quirks I find this week has in store for me.
To the hotel, on email, and then quickly to bed, I'm up the next morning ready to go. My first stop, the Apoyo Integral offices in San Salvador. A new organizations we're set to launch with in the next week on an innovative housing loan project (more on this later), I've planned to spend Wednesday with their team, and then Thursday and Friday at the conference. Arriving at the Integral offices I'm greeted warmly by Silvia, Integral's housing loan program director and the person responsible for developing the Kiva partnership. She introduces me to the key office players, we make rounds through each of the rooms in the labyrinth that is their central offices. Then it's to work. Sharing best practices, learning about their methodology, internal controls, the manual they’ve elaborated to guide the staff on the posting process, I work with her and a few staff members to clear up their doubts and answer the onslaught of questions that they have about our model.Me and an Apoyo Integral borrower
Then to lunch and to the field, we visit an agency office and stroll through the market, chatting with borrowers and learning about their struggles and triumphs. One particular client that stands out is pictured here, a piñata maker who has been with Integral for 5 years, using loans as working capital to grow her business, educate herself through community learning courses, and scale her business to serve more people year round. She gabs on and on about her businesses (certainly not the shy client in the bunch!), sharing that it takes 3 days to make a mid-sized piñata, from scratch as she demonstrates the process with fluid hand movements and chummy phrases. She sells each piñata for around $10, a good deal even in the dollarized Salvadorian economy. That equals out to about $3.40 / day for her labors.
Back from the field and its off to the Radisson for some evening meetings. I step into the lobby of the 5-star, international hotel and am struck by the sharp contrast from the afternoon in the field. Hundreds of people mull around in 3-piece suits, sipping fancy cocktails and conducting those vital informal meetings that are the real return on investment for any conference-goer. I brush my hair out of my face, gather my bags and enter the crowd that I will begin to identify over the next few days, representatives from the IDB bank, all the major networks, international NGOs, practitioners from every country in the Americas, and of course the funders (that’s me!!). I shuffle through the crowd looking for a place to plant myself and wait for my evening meeting, when, to my delight, I run into the South American Kiva Crew—Iris from FINCA, Martin of Fundacion Paraguay, Diego of Prisma, Aldo of FADES. We exchange kisses—one on each cheek for the Paraguayans, only one side for the others. We laugh, gab, exchange stories and I remember another reason I love my work so much—the people. Such quality, excitement, revolutionary spirits!!
I whisper to one of my contacts that I'm not officially registered (didn't get lucky enough with the waiting list at 400+), and that the conference organizers had denied me a nametag so people could at least recognize that I was from Kiva. He stops me, "Estas registrada?" Are you registered. He asks. Nope I answer. "No, no, estas registrada!" No, no, he says, you ARE registered. Running off to the registration table 2 minutes later he returns with my badge, complete with my name and Kiva Microfunds. Ahhh, to have connections!
Feeling much more official I bid farewell to the existing Kiva crew and meet up with the evening's dinner company- James and Dinos from Argentina. Between the 2 of them these guys wear many hats~ the heads of Argentina Microfinanzas, founder and manager of the Global Microfinance Group based in Switzerland, and director of Johnson Capital in L.A. They've requested a meeting to chat about the possibilities of Kiva working with their MFI in Argentina, and also to just learn more about our model (there will be MANY more meetings such as this to come in the next few days, so it's a great "warm-up"!) We grab a few drinks and start talking. An hour or so later we get hungry and so decide to hit the town, asking the hotel managers for a suggestion of a good seafood restaurant. Over the biggest shrimp I've ever eaten in my life (make a fist with your hand, that’s about the size we're talking…) we talk work and not work, drilling the kids trying to sell us cheap souvenirs about their business models, price points, capital sources. All and all it's a delightful evening with many laughs and dynamic conversation, and bidding farewell to them we promise to stay in touch to explore deeper la tema de Argentina.
Back to my hotel and to the computer for some late-night prep for the day to come, I drift off to sleep mid-email and awake in the middle of the night with a jump. Where am I!? For a moment that disoriented feeling that any traveler in a foreign land has possesses me, and then I quickly remember, right. I’m in San Salvador. This is my life. This is what we do...
More to come soon!