Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Making a Difference—One Word at a Time

Each borrower profile you see on Kiva has been translated (or edited, if already written in English) by one of over 400 volunteers. Handling around eight thousand loans every month, this team makes an enormous contribution to Kiva. What fuels volunteers’ enthusiasm, and what do we gain from volunteering?

Volunteers working together at a December 2009 marathon to prepare for holiday traffic to (From left, Shelly Willard, Joe Castrovinci, Amy Schapiro, Lisa Shah, Catherine Coffman)

Borrower Stories

We’ve all heard statistics on global poverty, but if asked why we volunteer, many of us will cite a story—not a statistic—that made us want to help.

  • “I think we've all been moved by stories of hardship and triumph over adversity, but I also love the ones that make me laugh... I love the twinkle in the eye, the determination and good heart I see in the borrowers.” –Meg Matlach, Kiva Editor and Kiva Loan Review Team Leader

Window to the World

The fun of virtual “travel” is a big attraction. Each loan is a “visit” to one of the 52 countries Kiva lends in, and a snapshot of life there.

  • “[Translating gives me] a reminder of travels I've done (‘that rickshaw reminds me of that terrifying but memorable ride one night in India’).” –Emina Tudakovic, Kiva Editor
  • “You never know who you will 'meet' that day… It's a 5- to 30-minute 'mini-trip' to somewhere else in the world that gives me perspective on how I want to lead my life. It also feeds my wanderlust and makes for 'itchy feet'—where can I go explore next?!” –Meg Matlach, Kiva Editor and Kiva Loan Review Team Leader

Visible Contribution

Seeing the results of our work as loans are posted and funded is another draw.

  • “I like the instant feeling of having done something worthwhile—at times, I log onto Kiva to see the loans I've edited as they go live and are funded.” –Valerie Williams, Kiva Editor
  • “It's the numbers that draw me… I want to see how many loans are in the queue waiting to be edited and whether that number is going up or down... Am I pulling my weight for my team?” –Jeff Avery, Kiva Editor
  • “If I can see that there are 50+ loans waiting to be translated, I'll carve out some time, roll up my sleeves, and get to work.” –Dan Kuey, Kiva French Translator
  • “That warm fuzzy feeling you get when you've done something nice for someone [makes me look forward to translating].” –Emina Tudakovic, Kiva Editor

Detective Work

Often, a profile will contain a term or concept that sends us into detective mode—what could a “jabal-jabal” be? How should I translate “greffages”? We end up learning new words and getting insights into concepts we’d never even thought about.

  • “I'm developing sprinklings of knowledge [in new areas], from West-African legislation to Sri Lankan names.” –René McConnell, Kiva French Translator
  • “I like the thrill of the unexpected.” –Valerie Williams, Kiva Editor

Nearing our goal in this tally at the holiday marathon


Although we do most of our editing and translating alone, we are connected through an online forum where we collaborate on perplexing terms and concepts.

  • “Being part of a team that shares linguistic and altruistic interests makes an important and positive impact on our lives away from Kiva.” –René McConnell, Kiva French Translator
  • “Over the Christmas period, I liked the sense of being part of a team as we'd all dive in to try to find a loan to edit.” –Valerie Williams, Kiva Editor
  • “[Communicating with my fellow volunteers has] brought me renewed interest in sharing some of the knowledge and experience accumulated over many years, be it in linguistics or other areas.” –René McConnell, Kiva French Translator

Editor and Kiva Loan Review Team Leader Catherine Tran likens keeping up with loan volume to surfing: At the beginning of the month, volume is low, so it’s like “lying on your board, just paddling... waiting for a wave to come.” Later in the month, the “loan queue starts to ramp up so it's paddle, paddle... PADDLE… and the last two weeks of the month [when volume is highest], we HOP UP and riiiiiiiiiiide the wave!”

From “meeting” the borrowers to making a visible contribution, many of the things that keep Kiva’s volunteers coming back also make great reasons to lend to Kiva entrepreneurs.

Click here to view loans edited and translated by Kiva’s amazing volunteers!

Click here to learn more about volunteering as a Kiva Editor, Translator, or Loan Review Team Leader. We add new volunteers to the editing and translation teams periodically as loan volume grows, so your application is welcome even if teams are currently full. Kiva Loan Review Team Leaders lead teams of up to 30 volunteers to keep them working smoothly. We’re taking applications for the next group of Team Leaders until July 5, 2010.

Patricia Wada is a Kiva Editor and an intern on Kiva’s Review and Translation Team.