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In the summer of 2009, from June through August for 12 weeks, I had the esteemed privilege to be a Kiva Fellow placed in the Philippines with one of Kiva’s microfinance partners, Ahon sa Hirap, Inc. (ASHI) which translates to “Rise out of Poverty” from Tagalog. Based in the Quezon City region of Metro Manila, I worked in conjunction with the staff of ASHI in the Rizal and Antique provinces of the Philippines traveling to villages and working on poverty alleviation with women owned business owners. Those provinces had a total of 11 branches and consisted of over 50 staff members and approximately 1,000 women.
If you’re not familiar, Kiva is a leader in peer-to-peer based lending, part of the overall microfinance wheel. Why does Kiva have Fellows? Kiva Fellows are a crucial part of Kiva. They are the only ones on the “ground” with the Kiva field partners and our workplans entail borrower verification, ensuring there is no fraudulent activity, meeting Borrowers and posting new profiles and journal entries and being representatives of Kiva. I outlined my personal workplan here.
With over $100 million dollars in circulation in over 55 countries with more than 120 microfinance partners, the Fellows are also the tie to make sure the partnerships are as strong as possible and streamlined to make the most benefit from the relationship. It’s a highly competitive Fellowship, with the average age being 29, with 5 years of professional experience. My Kiva Fellows class, the 8th the organization has had, had 32 people. Each Fellow is required to spend 10 weeks in the field, many sign up for additional placements and so at any given time, there are about 40 Kiva Fellows in the field.
The fellowship was 100% unpaid and in order to go on the journey, I created a budget, directed from Kiva, that totaled my costs to be a conservative $7,500. This included airfare from the U.S. ($1275) internal transportation, visa ($60 for first extension, $100 for the second), vaccinations (about $250), internet and cell phone costs, basic needs – lodging, food, misc., for my entire placement.
Fellows come all walks of life, many in my class were Wall Street financial professionals, we had a VC taking a professional break, some management consultants, nonprofiteers, a few economic development and international relations post-graduates or graduate students and a techy or two. This means that some of the people pay for the Fellowship themselves from their own savings, some (like me) fundraise, and others get grants from their University.
In deciding to fundraise on my own, I started like most campaigns do, with an email blast to friends and family. But, my contact lists were tragically out of date, the result of a year on the road, and I didn’t want to bother everyone via email. So I decided to take my campaign completely viral. I used Twitter, Facebook and my blog to spread the word about the Kiva Fellowship and raise the funds. Since I like a good competitive challenge, I gave myself 30 days to rock and roll and raise the funds needed to go on the Fellowship.
In order to kick it off, I contributed $1000 to the Kiva Fellowship myself, and upon launching the Kiva Fellowship Fundraising Campaign, announced the following incentives:
1) All donations of any amount $1 and up would receive a custom mix made by me on mixable.net that included the best of the up and coming bands I saw at SXSW this year.
2) All donations $100 and up would receive a custom postcard from me from the Philippines. Each with a different story and personalized to the recipient.
3) All donors are added to my newsletter to be sent updates from while I’m in the field.
4) Personalized acknowledgment email from me with lots of other great information.
5) Lots of public recognition on my blog, Facebook, Twitter to thank them for their donation.
I also was very specific that any travel I did outside of the confines of my Fellowship would be covered by me. So the money needed to fundraise would go exclusively to the part of my experience that was helping others.
There was one small asterisk. Due to tax constraints from Kiva, the donations would not be tax-deductible. This is because the Kiva Fellows have to fundraise on their own and separate from the Kiva umbrella. There were many emails from Kiva detailing the “why” and I could always explain this in greater detail, but it’s the truth and it’s the way it goes.
The gates were open. I blogged about what I would be doing in the Philippines, about my incentives, about the people who had made donations to me already and then I continued to promote the entire campaign through social networks.
I was able to reach my goal within one month using social media tools alone! 125 people made donations to support my Fellowship ranging from $5 to $500 with 31 people giving $100 or more and who will be getting a postcard! There were also 5 in-kind donors.
You know what was the most amazing part? Of all of my donors, I have met less than half of them in person. HALF! The rest maybe were people I knew online, some were Kiva enthusiasts, some stumbled upon my site. How is that for faith in humanity? It was really tremendous and I can’t even begin to express how moved I was by peoples’ willingness to give to my campaign because they believed in me and the mission of Kiva.
Upon the wise suggestion of one of my readers, I kept the donation widget up on the site throughout my Fellowship because people might still want to make donations while I’m away. $470 more came in and that was a terrific bonus for me, especially when I got sick and needed to go to the doctors and get antibiotics.
In regards to the Kiva experience, my time in the Philippines and my interactions with the Filipino people, I can’t say how much my life was truly touched. I’m a different person today than I was before this experience. Visiting the women borrowers and learning about their businesses was a transformative experience only exacerbated by living with them in their villages and seeing their day to day.
We take so much for granted in the developed world. In developing countries, the basic needs for shelter, food and education are still daily struggles. Yet beyond the struggle there is this enormous light because of the bond and strength of family, friends and community. I was a Kiva Fellow placed in the Philippines with specific tasks and responsibilities that I had to complete, I knew I would meet fascinating people and experience new places, I just had not idea how profoundly it would change me.
I love hearing from people who are interested in Kiva, the Fellowship, microfinance, the Philippines, or anything else to do with my experiences, stories and moments that I share here. Please say hi either through the contact form or by sending me an email to sloane (at) thecausemopolitan (dot) com.
For those of you who want to read more about my Kiva Fellowship, you can always search for “Kiva” in the search bar, the result of which is here OR I’ve aggregated all of my Kiva posts below so you can peruse them on your own.
To all my donors, friends new and old, family new and old, and the readers of this blog, thank you. I could not, nor would I have wanted to, go on this journey alone. I felt like you were with me the whole time, and I hope I inspired you to think a little differently about your world and inspire you to get involved with a cause. That’s my real life goal, and this chapter only further fueled my passion.
Last updated November 11, 2009