Greetings from Lima, Peru. Its Sunday afternoon and I’m sitting in a coffee shop near my hotel, the first time I’ve felt it appropriate enough to pull out a computer and work from the comfort of a public establishment. Big cities do have their perks…
It’s been a busy and exciting week in Peru. Many meetings, many miles traveled. The journey began with my first overland border crossing in Copacabana, and since then its continued through the highland towns of Puno and Juliaca, and down to the bustling, crowded, overcast city of Lima. Some highlights from both (note: no pictures attached as I have misplaced the cord to connect my camera to my computer. Hope to find soon…☺)
Puno, Juliaca and the Altiplano, Peru
Provincial and cozy, the city of Puno stretches across a small range of the hills overlooking a little bay on the shores of the world’s highest freshwater lake. Arriving to the smoky bus terminal, I am met by a delightful young couple who escort me to the house of dona Marta and don Salvador, local pastors who have agreed to house me during my stay in Puno on the shores of the mighty lake Titicaca. I drag my bag up their stairs into their daughter, Gina’s room that they’ve cleared for me (gracias Ginita!), and we sit at their table and enjoy a cup of tea before I’m immediately off for a dinner meeting with Vicente Alavaros, long-time Peruvian microfinance guru and head of the international NGO, SwissContact’s Microfinance division.
I show up late to Vicente’s hotel, and after a hilarious mix-up where I naively mistaken him for another gentleman and end up propositioning a complete stranger to join me for dinner (whoops), we work it out and are soon off to the streets of Puno in search of somewhere that’s open at 8pm on a Sunday night in the dead of winter.
With luck we settle in to a tiny vegetarian restaurant (yes, at least 1 exists in Peru), have a great diner and get ready for an early morning meeting at Caja Rural los Andes, a local NBFI (Non-Bank Financial Institution) that Vicente has been kind of enough to make us an introduction to. He shares with me the history of the “Cajas,” recounting the early days of microfinance in Peru wherein the first organizations to do microfinance were projects support by funds from the municipal governments. Paving the way for the developed and increasingly more competitive market that now exists in Peru today, the Caja system made microfinance a local household term in the rural and marginal areas of the country, and also opened up the market for what would later be the NGOs and Microfinance wings of the country’s commercial banking sector. I soak it all up, ask a million questions, and then its off to bed.
The next 3 days are filled with powerpoint presentations, site visits, negotiations, excited conversation and many new faces and names. I spend Monday morning with Caja Rural, the afternoon with Prisma Peru in Juliaca, Tuesday with ProMujer Peru and Caja again, and anytime I have leftover I’m with my kind hosts, my trusty laptop and my international cell phone. Its so totally fun to confront the new questions that come along with developing such a strong regional presence~ how can Kiva best diversify within Peru through its partnership selection? Which organizations can best use Kiva capital to serve the poor? To reach more rural areas? To offer the unique basket of services demanded by clients living in areas with no access to clean water, poor transportation, temperamental electricity, and most certainly no heat (brrr!!!)
I begin to map out the niche each of our potential new partners fills—ProMujer Peru in the marginal urban / sub-urban areas, working with groups of women and complementary ancillary services such as healthcare and business training courses. Prisma in the surrounding environs, serving more of a rural client base but still in the group methodology. Caja Rural with individuals, driving unique innovations such as rural savings programs for women and individual lending methodologies, as well in the rural areas.
It’s a delightful few days, and as I close out my time in the Andean altiplano and prepare for big city life, I decide to make a point of taking a few moments to breath in the cool mountain air and reflect. Its Wednesday morning and I’m up early before my bus. Climbing up on the hill behind Puno I take in the view. The green algae of the shoreline melts into the deep blue of the mighty lake’s waters. Tiny shuttle boats escort passengers to and from the shore. The city’s taxis begin their unending homage to the gods who invented car horns. Women roll carts out onto the street to begin the day’s sales. Perched on the hill I watch it all happen as another day dawns for Puno’s economy, its moving parts stretching their limbs and preparing for one more day of life. One more day in the intricate ebb and flow of commerce. To the bigger city….
To fly into Lima is to descend into a lukewarm grey haze of fog, smog, and clouds. I’ve been here only once before, but its exactly as I remember it. Grey.
I grab my bags, bid farewell to the sweet couple I shared a cab to the airport with, and am on my way. Outside of the airport I immediately feel the pulse of the big city, 10+ million people rushing about their days, thousands of minibuses, called “combis,” fill the streets, taxis, markets, everywhere people rush about.
A great cabby takes me to a hotel that we identify in the cab, calling around to see who is cheap and provides in-room internet access. The hotel Nirvana (I love the name!!) assures us of its connectivity, and so we head there. Settling in I come to terms with the fact that I’ve been had, and, yet again, no internet in my temporary residence. Ah well…
I get dressed and head over to my first meeting with Caritas del Peru, a Catholic NGO with a large microfinance wing that started in the late 1990s. Their directors, Maria Emilia and Sara have prepared a presentation for me, and we sip mate and gab for hours about their work, who they serve, their hopes, goals and challenges in the executive office. Its so much fun to show them the Kiva site, and watch as they get excited by our usability and simplicity (way to go tech team!!). We close the meeting with about a million introductions, a fascinating conversation about the ethnic makeup of the country (Sara is an sociologist as well as microfinance guru), and bullet points for next steps.
Then night falls and its off to explore my neighborhood. I’m so excited to be in a big city again that I nearly jump of joy when I discover there is a local outdoor climbing gym just blocks from my hotel. Yeeewhoo!!! I discover the site and spend the evening hanging out with the “Banda de Lima” of climbers, playing on new routes and listening to reggae music under the foggy Lima sky. Ah climbing…
The next day is a marathon: 9:30 am meeting with Prisma. Noon with Manuela Ramos. 3pm with FINCA Peru. It’s a crazy rush but so absolutely fabulous to get to know the local NGO microfinance crew. The directors, Diego, Gloria and Iris, respectively, are all friends, and so they share stories throughout the day about each other, their origins, their work. A total success, we define the launch plans for each organization, and I end the day over an amazing Italian dinner with Iris Lanao, FINCA Peru’s founder and director, where we gab about everything possible, and enjoy some of the strongest pisco sours I’ve ever tasted. A beautiful introduction to Lima and as I head back to my hotel I thank god it’s the weekend. I need a day to chill out, write emails, and play in the big city. Lima, here I come!
Until next time my friends…☺/>
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Michelle is responsible for overseeing Kiva's expansion into new impact areas including clean energy, water and sanitation, innovative agriculture and higher education. As Kiva matures, these areas are increasingly relevant to Kiva's work as we focus on expanding our impact to include environmental sustainability and equal access to opportunity in addition to financial inclusion. Michelle began her career at Kiva in 2006 on the investments team, spending three years building Kiva's work in North, Central and South America. After that, she shifted her focus to West Africa and the Middle East, where she spent a few additional years building solid partnerships and an all-star regional team. In late 2011, she moved into her current role as the Director of Strategic Initiatives. Prior to joining Kiva, Michelle founded a non-profit organization in Costa Rica, NatureKids, which is focused on English literacy and environmental sustainability in burgeoning tourist hubs. She also worked at various organizations dedicated to financial inclusion, including ACCION International. Michelle graduated magna cum laude from Boston University with a degree in International Relations and a minor in Economics.