Thursday, June 9, 2011

Kiva Ecosystem :: Kiva Fellow

The reason for Kiva's success is no secret. Kiva has seen such amazing growth thanks to involvement from such a large, vibrant community of participants. At Kiva, we like to call this our 'Ecosystem'. The Kiva Ecosystem is made up of infinite components. We have chosen 10 contributors of the Ecosystem that we think give a great view into some special parts of how Kiva works. This post will look into the life of a Kiva Fellow, Adam Cohn.

A typical day as a Kiva Fellow in Kigali, Rwanda begins at 7:15 when I rise and shine. I share a house just a couple minutes outside of the city center with a few folks who work for various global health organizations. Finding a house was easy, due to a local Yahoo group where people post rooms for rent in Kigali. I've found Rice Krispies at a nearby grocery store, so that is my typical breakfast. We have hired a housekeeper and a night guard, both of whom have become good friends. We also have a puppy named Cody. While Cody is still too small to be much defense against two-legged intruders, he has innate skills at finding and killing the occasional cockroaches which are unavoidable in Africa.

I purchased a motorcycle for my stay in Kigali. This affords me the ultimate freedom in exploring the country on my time off, and is how I commute to either of the Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) where I work.

A typical day as a Kiva fellow will involve some time in the field as well as some time in the office. My work plan includes a variety of deliverables. Lately, I have been spending a lot of time working on a Social Performance Indicators analysis for both of my MFIs. It is an assessment of the extent to which each MFI meets social goals such as offering credit to the poor, offering credit to those who live in rural areas, how the MFI works to empower women, and how large the reach of the MFI is, among other factors. Other deliverables I have worked on include technology assessments of the MFIs, surveys of all of the loan, savings and insurance products offered by the MFIs, as well as working alongside the full-time staff who are responsible for posting Kiva loans and journals. The photo below is of Urwego Opportunity Bank Kiva Coordinator, Peace, and I working diligently side-by-side.

In the field, I had the opportunity to meet numerous borrowers and to hear their stories firsthand. I've performed Borrower Verifications which serve to look for any discrepancies between the data that the MFI, borrower, and Kiva have regarding a sample of the MFI's loans. This process serves to detect and prevent any potential fraud in the system, as well as allows me an opportunity to interview the borrowers in-depth about their businesses, their lives, and their goals for the future.

Borrower verifications can take us to some of the more remote corners of the country. Here's a GPS track of one of our days in the field:

Trips into the field aren't complete without excitement in one form or another. On most days, a handful of kids will spot our truck and hitch a ride on the rear bumper, and occasionally our driver's ample flair outweighs his skill at driving, causing our truck to get stuck in the mud or slide off the road.

Another field activity I participated in involved working with Peace to train credit officers on how to set up Urwego Opportunity Bank's new Agriculture Loans as Kiva loans.

While the workweek keeps me pretty busy, I am determined to spend my downtime exploring Rwanda. In the evenings, I try new restaurants and explore new neighborhoods. I've also used my motorcycle to explore virtually every corner of the country. It's allowed me to really understand Rwanda's culture and history, and create a lot of friendships and memories along the way!

You can learn more about the experiences of Kiva Fellows on our 'Stories from the Field' blog. If you are interested in seeing microfinance in action for yourself, I'd encourage you to learn more about the Kiva Fellows Program.