Although my future postings will be about the borrowers I meet in Uganda, this first blog answers the question of how I ended up in Uganda volunteering for three months as a Kiva Fellow.
I discovered Kiva in March 2007 after reading a column in the New York Times written by Nicholas Kristof. I was captivated by the Kiva website and the ease of loaning $25 to entrepreneurs around the world. This struck me as an elegant way to participate in the lives of the “poorest of the poor”, as a business transaction rather than a gift. The fact that I received no interest on my $25 loan was immaterial. The important thing was being repaid. To date, my Kiva loan portfolio contains over 25 loans, including 3 loans that have been repaid and then re-loaned.
One fateful day I discovered the Kiva Fellows program while navigating around the website.
The program made business sense to me. Kiva relies on its MFI customers around the world to find borrowers, tell their stories, disburse the funds, and collect repayment of the loans when due. Based on my experience in wholesale sales and distribution, I knew that customer relationships like this work best when you travel to the customer’s place of business.
My business in Buffalo is an internet-based, seasonal, small business, with 98% of sales occurring from March through October. Although I would prefer year-round sales, the benefit of seasonality on the web is the freedom to close your doors when customers are not buying and do something else.
The timing of the Kiva Fellowship was ideal for me. Kiva requires a minimum commitment of ten weeks, which fits neatly into my business schedule.
When I applied for the volunteer fellowship, I couldn’t help but wonder how the application of a seasoned entrepreneur would be received by an organization founded and staffed by bright young people. I was pleased to be accepted. One thing led to another, and I celebrated Thanksgiving on a plane bound for Uganda.
One of my daughters, who has volunteered in an orphanage in Chile and a tribal village in India, administered earthquake relief in Pakistan, and interned with the Minister of Finance of Liberia, gave me the following advice; “Dad, if you’re not wracked with self-doubt on the plane ride over there, you haven’t challenged yourself enough.” By her standard, I am fully challenged!
I have never been a banker, I’ve never been to Uganda, I speak only English, and I have not been away from my family this long since my wife and I married thirty years ago. Despite these limitations, and more, I fully intend to have a positive impact on Kiva’s mission in Uganda. If I lose sight of why I am here, all I have to do is read the words on my ball cap; “Kiva.org… loans that change lives”