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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Fellowship for Good - Kiva Invites You

I have been a Kiva lender for a few months now and am glad I joined every time I get an email notifying me that one of the two Ghanaian women whose business I supported has repaid part of the funds, which I will then be able to make available to other borrowers. Normally I don't do more than read the email and smile to myself at how easy Kiva has made it to share a chance at the prosperity my birth in a rich nation has given me direct access to.

Today, for the first time I followed some of the links in the email to return to the Kiva website to have another look around. I'm glad I did, as I discovered the Kiva Fellows program, which allows people like you and me the opportunity to go to Ghana, Peru, Ukraine, etc. to work with the local Kiva field office which selects businesses for the program and guides them to success with their businesses.

Here is an excerpt from the site - Kiva Fellow Core Responsibilities:

The Kiva Fellow is an integral part of the Kiva Team, acting as Kiva's eyes and ears in the field and helping to extend limited resources to maximum effect. Kiva Fellows fulfill tasks set out in a Work Plan, defined by Kiva along with the host microfinance institution (MFI).

  1. Facilitate Connections between Kiva's Borrowers and Lenders
    Your journal entries, business postings and blog entries will help build the rich content that bridges our borrowers and lenders and makes Kiva's model work!
    • Interview no less than 15 businesses per week to assess loan impact, verify data, and gather information for journal updates
    • Develop innovative ways to facilitate connections via creative journaling, YouTube video and other means
    • Write a blog entry every two weeks on the Kiva Fellows Blog
    • Promote awareness of the host MFI and its programs to the Kiva lender community
    • Promote an understanding of the Kiva lending community to borrowers
There are two more items on the list, and it is recommended you visit the Kiva site for complete details. I highlight this first one here because it reveals an answer to a dilemma I confronted years ago when trying to help an African orphans support non-profit use online technology to grow their international support base. I kept trying to impress upon them how important it would be to have a blog that included entries from recipients so that people who donated money could get direct feedback about the difference their contribution was making in the childrens' lives. I even set up the blog for them and posted the first entry, but they simply never got themselves to a point where they could post anything themselves.

Kiva probably faced a similar problem, and solved it by having westerners who would be there in the field, posting the information on behalf of those who received services. It may seem like a small thing, and you might wonder both why it would be so hard for the local people to do it or why it would be important enough to send people half way around the world to do for them. I still don't know why it is such a seemingly insurmountable hurdle for local agency staff abroad to do the updates, but I can definitely say as a financial supporter myself that those updates mean a great deal to me. They are the human proof that there was a good reason for me to skip those two dinners out with friends to send the money I had worked for and earned to someone I have never met and will never meet. Those updates provide the motivation to keep on giving, so that others too will benefit based on the experience lenders had with those who came before them.

The next deadline for Kiva Fellow applications is coming up Oct. 1 and that trip will be departing in early February. If you do decide to apply, please come back and share insights about your experience in the sidebar comments.

As someone who has traveled and lived in financially impoverished countries, I can definitely attest to the life changing impact such an experience has on you. Though I never went as part of an official program, I always sought out and found opportunities to make a contribution to the lives of those around me beyond simply paying them a good price for whatever products their family business sold. I never saw myself doing the 2 year, government sponsored Peace Corp program, but the 3-6 month non-profit based Kiva Fellows program could be a great fit for anyone who sees economic independence as a key part of self-actualization for people around the world, and who wants to be a part of helping that happen.

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