I am officially a Kiva Fellow!
It is with great excitement and immense honor that I’m announcing that I’ve been accepted as a Kiva Fellow for the Fall of 2011! Friends know that I’ve been on pins and needles through an intensely rigorous interview and selection process and so I’m just so thrilled that this is the next step on my journey.
My own personal introduction to micro-lending and micro-finance institutions was through a class I took while in college on the U.S. banking system. My professor introduced my class to Kiva and the world of microfinance by funding a small loan to be made on behalf of our class. We would vote for the entrepreneur that would receive our loan and track their progress. A couple of years later I stumbled upon Dr. Muhammad Yunus’ book, Creating a World Without Poverty, while looking for a good read. Through him, I learned that the eradication of poverty does not need to be only based on charitable donations, and that our society on the path to discover the potential that a “social business” represented not only for helping the poor, but also to do so in a sustainable and profitable. I am not going to lie, it took some time for me to come to terms with how I felt about the poor. Since I was about 5 years old until now, witnessing poverty has been something that has struck a cord. However, I always found myself conflicted as to the way I should and could help. At times I felt as if I simply did not have the means, and at others I felt like no matter what I did it would not make a difference. I also felt guilty at times about my relative wealth, and not helping the poor in a developing country for the cost of less than a dollar a day – like they say in those incredibly sad commercials on TV. And so, time passed by, and I went on trying to push away my conflicting feelings about the poor. That is, until a couple of months ago.
A couple of months ago I came across a video of a lecture given by Jessica Jackley, one of the Kiva co-founders, at a TED conference. While listening to the video, I felt that finally someone had been able to put into words all the conflicting feelings I’ve had about poverty for as long as I can remember. And even better yet, I was not the only one that has felt this way.
Jessica and her partner Matt Flannery founded Kiva back in 2005, the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website. Kiva is currently empowering more than 594,000 individuals to lend directly to almost 575,000 entrepreneurs around the globe.
After watching Jessica’s video I felt that I needed to act on this urge to help. I could no longer kick it aside and pretend it wasn’t there. I decided that although maybe I could not solve the problem entirely nor right away on my own, maybe if enough of us do a little something to contribute we can alleviate poverty within out lifetime. So, after realizing it was time for me to move on, I decided that perhaps the best place to start was the place that I first called home, Colombia. I did a bit of online research and came across a couple of foundations doing micro-finance work locally. I found a phone number, called and asked them if they accepted or needed volunteers. They were completely puzzled by my question, but they did mention that the only volunteers they had came through Kiva. Ah ha!
Right away I searched in the Kiva website and found the blog for the Kiva Fellows. As I read about the Fellows and their work out in the field, I realized I was really connected to their vision. I was in luck, and the deadline for the next class of Kiva Fellows was two weeks away. I wrote my motivation statement and other writing samples after work during those two weeks. After waiting patiently for a few weeks, and going through rigorous rounds of interviews (about 6-7 people apply for each Fellowship position), I received the great news that I had been accepted to be part of the 16th class of Kiva Fellows.
I’ll obviously be writing a lot more about Kiva, micro-lending and micro-finance in the months to come. In the meantime, here are some quick updates:
I will be in San Francisco the week of August 15th for training. I will then be leaving for my placement, which is scheduled to start on September 1st.
How long is the Fellowship?
Placements vary on the individual but my current plan is on being gone around 12 weeks.
I have been assigned to a Micro Finance Institution called Fundacion Campo in San Miguel, El Salvador. I will be the first Kiva Fellow to work with Fundacion Campo as they are just becoming a partner as I start my work with them.
Is it paid? How is it funded?
The Kiva Fellow is an unpaid, volunteer based position designed to increase Kiva’s impact and to offer participants a unique insider experience. I have to raise my own funds for my travel. This is where, very soon my friends, YOU will come in. I’ll be launching a campaign to help raise some funds for my expenses within the next couple of days. Your donation will go directly towards all activities around my Fellowship.
What will I be doing?
The Kiva Fellowship is a 40-hour+ a week position. I will be working directly with a local Micro Finance Institution. Part of my responsibilities may include going out in the field and meeting with people who would like a loan and walking them through the process, I will be writing the stories of the potential entrepreneurs which is how people find out about them on the website, and helping people repay their loans, understanding their loan agreements, etc. My understanding is that I may also be sharing best practices with the MFI and maybe giving training sessions to help them streamline and optimize their operations. I will be blogging on the Kiva Fellows blog about my experiences as well as here.
What Am I Most Excited About?
I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to merge together my academic and professional experience with being able to share with all of you my experiences and what the day-to-day is like of being a part of Kiva. More than anything I am thrilled to have the opportunity to do field work and be participating in a very real way, on the ground, in helping alleviate worldwide poverty.
I’d like to leave you with a PBS/Frontline video that explains the real impact of micro-loans and how Kiva works.
If you haven’t ever given to Kiva before, I strongly suggest that you check out their website and the profiles of current entrepreneurs. It only takes as little as a $25 loan, which you will get paid back to either reinvest or withdraw.