Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why is the last borrower of the day always the most interesting?

By Meg Gray

Kiva Fellows 10th Class

Costa Rica

Well obviously that’s not always true, but it feels like it sometimes. In this case, I have a particular day and a particular borrower- Yorlene Solano Rodríguez – in mind. At the end of a very long day last week, I met Yorlene at her house. It was getting dark and the FUDECOSUR loan officer I was with was anxious to get home. And of course, she had the most interesting story I had heard all day. All borrowers have interesting stories, but Yorlene was eager to tell me hers, which often makes all the difference.

Yorlene showing off her organic lettuce starts

Not surprisingly, Yorlene’s business is much more complicated than it appears in her profile on Kiva. As her profile says, she used her Kiva loan to buy 3 calves. She is planning to keep the calves for a year or year and a half until they are fattened up and big enough to sell. Though her borrower profile stops there, her business initiatives certainly don’t.

While she is raising the calves, she is collecting the cow poop and, in collaboration with 4 friends, composting it into organic fertilizer. They are selling the fertilizer to a local store in the nearby city of San Isidro and making a nice profit. And she doesn’t stop there. She is also using a small covered area behing her house to grow organic vegetables using the fertilizer. She sells the vegetables from her house. Right now her biggest money makers are cilantro and lettuce, but she is currently working 2 days a week for a farmer down the road who grows peppers. She is trying to learn as much as she can about peppers, so she can start growing them too. This is where I will be able to earn the most with vegetables in the future she said.

Worms turning her cow poop into compost!

At this point, all sorts of light bulbs and questions were going off in my head. And there are 4 main reasons I was getting so excited by her story.

1) This was exactly what I was talking about when I wrote a blog about green loans several months ago. Though this loan doesn’t fit into the green loan category (it was filled under “Cattle) at first glance, it clearly belongs there. And I love thinking about all the other Kiva loans that probably belong there just like this one and others I’ve seen.

2) I grew up on an organic farm that uses almost the exact same fertility model. At my parent’s farm, cows poop, they turn it into compost, and use it to grow veggies in rural Oregon. Having this background added a whole extra level of questions and shared interests that I wanted to talk to her about.

3) Yorlene was talkative and excited. Not all clients open up so quickly. And she also understood the concept of Kiva quickly and was excited by it. Read Maia’s blog about trying to explain Kiva to clients for more insight on this. When a client understands and is interested in Kiva immediately, it is always really exciting.

4) Perhaps most importantly, she is a clear success story! For Yorlene, one loan for $925 has turned itself into not one but three businesses. She is looking for other places to sell her fertilizer and is hoping to pay back this loan ahead of schedule, so she can get another to expand her fertilizer business.

So many more questions were on the tip of my tongue. What is your profit on each bag of fertilizer? What markets do you want to expand into? When do you hope to add peppers to your repertoire? How do you divide the work (and the profits) of the fertilizer business between you and your partners? What gave you the idea to get into these various businesses?

But it had been a really long day. I could only ask the loan officer to stay for so long. So instead of talking to Yorlene for hours, which would have been easy, I settled for 30 minutes with a quick tour. I didn’t even see the cows because it was dark, starting to rain, and they are kept away from the house.

As a Kiva Fellow, it definitely wasn’t the first time I wished the day was longer.

Meg Gray is currently working as a Kiva Fellow with Fundación Mujer in San Jose, Costa Rica. Though as evidenced by this blog, she spent a week working with FUDECOSUR (another field partner in Costa Rica) earlier this month doing borrower verification. Make a loan to another entrepreneur like Yorlene today!

Meg's story was originally posted on "Kiva Stories from the Field" on March 25, 2010. Please click here to see the original post.