Friday, July 10, 2009

Standing on his own two feet

“I want the Kiva lenders to know that I only borrow what I need, not what I can.”

These words really took me by surprise, when I visited Kiva Enterpreneur Borya Enhbat a few weeks ago. Of all the messages he could have asked me to pass on to Kiva Lenders, this was most important to him.

At first I wondered if this comment came from his feeling apologetic to Kiva Lenders for needing to borrow their money, and wanting to make sure that they knew it was an act of necessity, not luxury.

But as I got to know him better, I realized that this wasn’t about his feelings towards the Kiva Lenders. This message was coming from the pride that Borya has, and has feelings about the way he lives his life. This is a man with dignity, who taught me about “wants” and “needs”, and what it means to live a proud life.

Borya, his wife and his four children, live in a tent. Where I’m from, we use tents on vacation as a temporary shelter. But in Mongolia, many people live in a “ger”, which is the traditional home structure here. Borya’s wife is his business partner, and he is very proud of his son, a miner - mining is one of the biggest industries in Mongolia. His son is married and lives in a ger nearby.

Borya first became a cobbler while working under the former communist system of Mongolia. However, after the fall of the communist system in 1990, which led to massive food shortages, the collapse of most enterprises and high inflation, Borya decided to try to make it on his own under the new democratic system. It’s amazing to me that the dream of making it on our own – the so-called “American” dream – is actually a global dream, shared by billions of people around the world.

At first, Borya was always asking his friends and family to borrow money for his business, a common situation the unbanked population of the world. However, in 2001 XacBank (pronounced “Haass Bank”), the result of merging two non-bank financial institutions combined, launched with the motto “Mongolians can repay.”

Borya has certainly proven that motto. He has become a regular XacBank client (probably to the relief of his friends!) and he can go straight to the bank to take out micro-loans. One of his previous loans was to buy furniture for his son to live independently in a ger with his wife. With his loan funded by Kiva Lenders, Borya is buying supplies for his cobbler business.

And he has reason to need supplies! This weekend is Naadam in Mongolia, a traditional festival locally called “the three games of men”: wrestling, horse racing and archery. The men of Mongolia are a very tough people, and tough people need tough boots. That’s exactly what Borya plans to sell them this weekend.

Borya has already done his research for this weekend’s business opportunities. He has scouted out his competitors and thinks he can sell his boots at 15,000 tugrogs, undercutting his competitors at 20,000 turgogs (1 USD = 1400 turgogs). This will still allow him a significant profit margin and should increase his sales. Borya seems to know his business well; he has already repaid his loan two months ahead of time, and, as a result, he will receive some of his interest payments back from XacBank.

Eight years after opening, XacBank is a completely self-sufficient microfinance institution. 11 years after starting his small business, with the help of XacBank’s loans, Borya is now looking into a new market – making shoes as well as fixing them. He’s looking to open a second shop, and plans to use his next loan to buy a high quality sewing machine, as his current sewing machine is not good enough to make a large quantity of boots.

There is a Mongolian proverb that Borya likes, which says “if one works hard, good destiny follows.” Knowing Borya’s work ethic, and his attitude toward debt, I now much better understand his message to Kiva lenders:

“I want the Kiva lenders to know that I only borrow what I need, not what I can.”

Borya's message was not about the loans he's taken out. His message was about himself, the type of man he is and the kind of life he lives - one of pride and dignity.

(Note: For some more Mongolian pleasure, listen to Kiva Entrepreneur Enhtuya Erdene-ochir playing the yatga, a traditional Mongolian instrument, and singing the song "Full Moon", which she suggested she sing for Kiva Lenders. Enhtuya will also be busy this weekend - in addition to the house shoes she used her Kiva loan to make, she also makes traditional Mongolian hats and costumes which are worn during Naddam.)"

- Tamara Sanderson (seen here, second from the right, at the XacBank retreat in Mongolia) is a Kiva Fellow currently working with XacBank in Mongolia. Click here to read Tamara's blogs about working with XacBank.