Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Kiva Board Visits Lima, Peru!

Written by Lindsey Freedman, Field Support Specialist (FSS), South America

Kiva’s South America Team of Giovanna Masci (Regional Director, Americas), Nicolas Lafaye (Portfolio Manager, South America) and Lindsey Freedman (FSS, South America) were honored to host the very first Kiva board trip in Lima, Peru from October 16-19. Joined by board members Tabreez Verjee, Julie Hanna, Geoff Davis, and Amy Klement along with Matt Flannery (Co-Founder and CEO), Premal Shah (President), and Tim Hassett (Vice-President, Global Partner Investments), the trip was designed to give our board of directors a first hand, on-the-ground perspective on Kiva. This included meeting our borrowers, a deep dive into the inner workings of a few of our partner MFIs and exposure to the operational challenges that partnering with Kiva presents. We kicked off the trip on Sunday afternoon with a breakdown of our roles in the region, which quickly turned into a marathon four hour meeting that set the breakneck pace for the rest of the week.

Kiva board members and staff outside the Microfinanzas Prisma head office - Photo Credit: Lindsey Freedman

We spent Monday with Microfinanzas Prismas (MFP), beginning the day at their head office. MFP is operationally one of our strongest partners in South America, and provided the board with invaluable insight into the heart of an efficient, well-run, large MFI. Diego Concha, the director of MFP, took us through a presentation of MFP’s history and his vision for Kiva’s role in the organization moving forward. I had previously asked the Kiva Coordinator, Betsabe, to show the board how she uploads loans, focusing specifically on the many human elements required to get a loan on to the website: from the loan officer collecting the information from the borrower, to emailing it to her, to the time it takes to upload the loan itself, etc.

In the middle of her presentation the Internet cut out, providing an unexpected but incredibly useful real-time example of the technical difficulties that our partners face on a daily basis. After a delicious lunch at the MFP office, we headed out to a branch office to observe several individual loan disbursements. As an added bonus, there was a group loan disbursement happening at the same time and the board was able to interact with the members of the group and ask about their loan. We then broke out into two groups and headed out to meet several Kiva borrowers.

Kiva board members and staff during their meeting with Microfinanzas Prisma - Photo Credit: Lindsey Freedman

Tuesday began with a visit to Edaprospo’s offices, also in Lima, where we met with Director William Espinoza, Director of the Board, Marcial Abad Pachecho, the Kiva Coordinator, and several loan officers. After a lively discussion that ran the gamut from financial stats to internal operational challenges, we broke for coffee and sandwiches and then split into two groups and headed to the outskirts of Lima to meet Kiva borrowers.

Kiva staff and board members with staff of Edaprospo - Photo Credit: Lindsey Freedman

Through countless visits with borrowers, the most important lesson I’ve learned is that the story you are expecting to hear is most often nothing like the one you actually do. Such was the case with Juana Eulogia Pizarro Peréz, a woman who has a junkyard and re-sells the “chatarra” (junk) that people bring her. Oblivious to the constant rumble of dump trucks rolling up and down the road outside her home, we stood outside and chatted about the loan. In the course of our conversation we learned that the trucks belonged to a clay mine located just up the road from her house. The owners of the mine had tried to get her to vacate her home – without legal grounds - and give up the land so that they could expand the mine’s operations. Their efforts became so intense that she was forced to hire a lawyer and spend all of her savings defending her right to stay. She succeeded, but the whole process took seven years and at the end of it she was in dire financial straits; Edaprospo’s loan helped her get back on her feet.

Premal Shah, Kiva President and Juana Eulogia Pizarro Peréz - Photo Credit: Lindsey Freedman

Kiva board members exploring the junkyard - Photo Credit: Lindsey Freedman

A local child finds treasure in the junkyard - Photo Credit: Lindsey Freedman

Kiva CEO, Matt Flannery, taking in the surroundings while a local child plays in the junkyard - Photo Credit: Lindsey Freedman

The visit wasn’t all serious though: I wandered away for a minute to check out the rest of the property, and when I came back Premal was teaching Bollywood dance moves to Juana Eulogia. Click here to watch the lesson!

Wednesday was a wrap up and brainstorming session. Julie Hanna, Kiva’s board chair, asked us to name issues that we felt were most critical to Kiva’s success in its field operations and she scribbled them down on giant sheets of paper as we shouted them out one after another. Based on the comments, it was obvious that our intense three-day introduction to Kiva operations had made quite the impression. Afterwards, Julie asked us to circle the three we felt were most critical as a jumping off point for the board meeting to follow. The split was unsurprisingly divided up fairly evenly between day-to-day operational challenges and big picture ideas for Kiva moving forward.

I believe that the board came away from the trip with a much deeper understanding of operational challenges in the field, and that those challenges will help to inform their strategic decisions in the future. When asked what the trip meant to her, Julie said the following:

Meeting our entrepreneurs and borrowers, and seeing the impact Kiva's work has had on their lives is a deeply meaningful gift. Their dignity, resourcefulness and ingenuity is life affirming. I come away wanting the world to know these unsung heroes in the same way. I also come away proud and humbled by the skill, tireless efforts and competence of our partners and team at Kiva. From a board perspective, our time in the field has provided invaluable learnings that will serve Kiva for a long time to come.

From a personal standpoint, it was fascinating to see the board members work to address and improve so many facets of the existing Kiva model while simultaneously looking many years ahead. Spending several days with them solidified for me what a unique team Kiva has across the board, and I am proud to be a part of it.

To find out more about Kiva’s wonderful board members, click here!