Say Hello To Your New Kiva Fellow!

In Otavalo, Ecuador with a Craftswoman

It is with great excitement and immense honor that I’m announcing that I’ve been accepted as a Kiva Fellow for the summer of 2009! 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 reading Dr. Muhammad Yunus’ book, Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty. Through him, I learned that the eradication of poverty, especially in developing countries is not only plausible, but possible, through helping individuals start businesses.

Not long after I came across Kiva which is the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to entrepreneurs around the globe. I had the opportunity to meet the founders, Matt and Jessica Flannery at a Hollywood Hill event called The New High-Tech Robin Hoods and then reached out to Kiva to be a founding nonprofit for the launch of the “do-good” startup I was at last year. I saw the CEO of Kiva, Premal Shah speak at a Stanford University event last Spring called Online Giving Marketplaces: Changing the Face of Philanthropy (see his recent interview on Mixergy). After being laid off, I remembered reading about the Kiva Fellows program and really connecting with their vision. I applied from a internet cafe in Otavalo, Ecuador searching through my GDocs for my resume and writing the cover letter on a South American keyboard. I remember one of the questions was “How would you deal with intermittent access to internet?” and I thought “Welcome to my day!” as I struggled through painfully slow internet access to get everything in for the deadline.

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:

When?

I will be in San Francisco the week of May 16th for training. I will then be leaving for my placement approximately June 1st.

How long is the Fellowship?

Placements vary on the individual but the minimum is 10 weeks. My current plan is on being gone around 10-12 weeks.

Where?

Aha! I don’t have those details yet. It’s a “placement process” like the Peace Corps where you get accepted first and get your placement second. Before I was accepted, I received a list of available countries based on my language proficiency (sadly English only…my French is passable at times and one day hopefully Spanish, but that’s one day.) Placement for English speakers is the most competitive and so I had to number the countries in order of preference. The conversation went something like this:

Kiva: How would you feel about “hardship” or “post-conflict” countries? These are places with State Dept. issued warnings and might be harder placements than say a place where you can go swim in the ocean after work but can also be incredibly interesting places to be. Me: I love hardship! Kiva: Are you sure you don’t want to think about it? Me: What are the countries that are “hardship” Kiva: Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Philippines, because of the political conflict in the Southern islands but know that placement would be in the North. Me: What are the other countries to choose from? Kiva: There are “high-placement” countries. These are places where we really want to place a Fellow. Those are the three hardship ones I mentioned above and in addition Armenia and Kyrghystan. Two French countries if you wanted to take the proficiency test and those are Togo and Benin. Last there are “low placement” these are places where we’ve had a Fellow in the past and it’s not a high priority for us. Those are Vietnam, Cambodia and Tanzania.

So here is what I did. I opened a search on Tweetdeck for Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Philippines. I asked on Twitter and Facebook if anyone was from, had experience or had traveled to those countries and I made one phone call to a friend who was the CEO of a defense contractor company, a former West Point and Marine guy who has spent the better part of the last decade in post-conflict countries and asked his opinion of those three.

The response I got back was incredible. People responded with stories and contacts and I researched and reached out and found that all three are great places to be, granted for the right kind of traveler. Different industries are dominant in each but they are as safe as anywhere. Nigeria was of particular interest to me because it’s the most tech-forward country in Africa with a growing tech community. It also has an indie film scene called Nollywood, like Bollywood but for West Africa. I learned a lot more about all three but ended up saying “YES” to a hardship placement and numbering those countries as my 1, 2, 3 choices.

After being accepted, Kiva works with the MFI in each potential country to place a Fellow and so I should hear about where I’m headed in another week or so.

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 the money for my expenses within the next few weeks. 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 MFI as a loan officer. That means that I’ll be 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 I’ll have about 20-30 cases and over 100 in-person meetings over the course of my Fellowship. 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 fundraising skills, the knowledge of how to write a cultivating appeal to attract people to want to donate to a particular cause, with my social media background being able to share with all of you my experiences and what the day-to-day is like of being a part of Kiva. I’m also thrilled to be doing 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 an amazing video about Kiva made by a past Kiva Fellow, Kieran Ball, called “Fistful of Dollars” which is an A-Z account of how a Kiva loan works. I can’t wait to share more about this experience as the pieces come together. If you haven’t ever given to Kiva before, I can’t suggest strongly enough that you start now. Check out the list of current potential entrepreneurs.

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