Monday, July 18, 2011

Behind the Scenes: Kiva in the Americas

Behind the Scenes is a new series that the Kiva Blog is bringing to our community! Through internal interviews we will explore how Kiva functions, address hot topics and hear stories from the field.

We had the pleasure of interviewing Giovanna Masci and Cynthia McMurry to bring you further insight into Kiva’s work in the Americas! Giovanna is the Regional Director of the Americas; she oversees all of Kiva’s work in the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean. She manages a team that is comprised of three Portfolio Managers and two Field Support Specialists. We had the opportunity to also hear from one of her team members, Cynthia McMurry, the Portfolio Manager for Central America.

Kiva’s Latin America team with Partners at the annual Kiva Summit
Montevideo, Uruguay 2010

To get a more in-depth perception of the region they work in, we decided to ask Cynthia, “What is your most memorable story from the field?

Cynthia went on to explain that here at Kiva “we talk a lot about our desire to work with Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) that really reach remote areas and I think that we talk about it so much but we don’t necessary know what that looks like or what that means for people.”

Cynthia and an Ecuadorian hat-maker (client of Fundación ESPOIR)
Photo Credit: Uncornered market

A lot of our MFI partners are doing great work that often goes unrecognized, or facing daunting challenges that are misunderstood. Cynthia did a great job of bringing to light some of these accomplishments and challenges!

Her favorite memory from the field is of this woman working at one of our Field Partners in Peru. “She worked in this little office in the jungle, six hours from Cusco, on this dirt road on the side of a cliff. There is one tiny market, one tiny karaoke bar, and one café. And she was just so personable, a mover and a shaker, a spunky city girl! I was so impressed that she was dedicated enough to her job to move to this village that had nothing.”

We want to highlight some of the work that is done behind the scenes! The Kiva blog asked Giovanna, “What accomplishment are you most proud of?”

Giovanna expressed how much work went into launching Kiva in the United States. She shared how it got so complicated, between the legal aspects, and the fact that we wanted to make a big press splash, and all the while not neglecting our partners and our due diligence. “But, it was an opportunity to work with a lot of different departments at Kiva and we all had to work together to make it happen. And I was at the center trying to coordinate! I was most proud when it finally came together after a year. It was nice to see as an organization how well we worked together to achieve this one goal.”

But since you can’t have the good without the bad, we questioned Cynthia, “What is the hardest part about your job?

Cynthia explained some of the cultural differences one deals with when working with partners outside of the U.S. “Sometimes working on Latin American time and responsiveness is the most frustrating. Sometimes I feel that it’s hard for me to do my job because other people don’t send me the things I need. But, because I lived there for so long, I understand that people function at a different pace in Latin America.”

Client of Asociación Arariwa in Peru

Finally, when asked, “What separates Kiva from other places you've worked?” Giovanna and Cynthia talked about what makes Kiva a unique work environment.

Giovanna loves how, “Kiva is a blend of a non-profit and a technology company. Usually, in a traditional non-profit you have a lot of the same people, people who are very committed to the mission and come from a non-profit or similar background. Where as, here at Kiva, we have a floor full of engineers who are definitely here because they are committed to the mission but their background in not necessarily non-profit. And they have a way of thinking that is very different, and I think I’ve learned a ton just seeing how they operate, how they think and how they approach problems. That’s something that makes Kiva different from other places I’ve worked!”

What Cynthia finds most interesting is that, “Kiva is just such a free and open and flexible environment, yet everyone is extremely motivated and really productive. It’s just fascinating to me that there’s so much flexibility and people really take it upon themselves to get things done because they do believe in what we’re doing. But this worries me in thinking about ever having to get another job after Kiva. I worry that I’m not going to be able to dress like a pirate at my next job.”

Cynthia and Giovanna hard at work
Photo Credit: Sam Kendall

The Kiva Blog team would like to thank Giovanna and Cynthia for dedicating their precious time to answer our questions! Stay tuned for more upcoming Behind the Scenes action on Kiva’s Blog.