Saturday, June 27, 2009

Kiva Launches in Liberia

Thursday, Kiva quietly launched in Liberia, and Kiva Lenders noticed - within an hour all loans were fully funded, despite the dozens of other loans on the website!

Kiva’s first partner in Liberia is called Liberian Enterprise Assistance Program, or LEAP. The logo demonstrates that this acronym is not a lucky mistake, but an intentional choice to demonstrate that with a micro-loan from LEAP – you can leap into a better life!

Liberia is freshly recovering from two major wars that finally came to an end in 2003. The wars created serious problems with the infrastructure all over the country, which in turn created huge obstacles for anyone working to help the country get back on her feet.

Many people at LEAP say that the inflow of grants after the war made work difficult for microfinance institutions. They say that - these days, many people in Liberia are not used to being supported in a way that holds them accountable for their actions. As many clients convert from taking grants to taking loans, LEAP’s staff makes a strong effort to sensitize people to the importance of making good repayments; they have to remind them - this is not a grant. LEAP’s staff reminds clients that they should pay back their loans on time, because when the aid that is in Liberia now moves on to other places, microfinance institutions will remain as a way for people to build better lives for themselves.

LEAP staff members also explain that they have been pleasantly surprised at the dedications that their clients have in paying back their loans. On Friday, I visited a refugee camp that has two medium sized markets in it. The branch manager that I was with explained that he was very nervous about working in a refugee camp as this was the exact population that has been provided with so many grants over the years.

As we made our way around the market, he introduced me to the sellers, and most of them were LEAP’s clients! A few proudly told me that they were on their second cycle with LEAP, and they had paid well the first time.

LEAP will be posting primarily group loans on Kiva – and most of these groups have just five members. Browse LEAP’s loans and get a feel for the entrepreneurs in Liberia!