My name is Sam Baker, and for the next several months I will be working with Kiva’s field partner Apoyo Integral in El Salvador. Having only been in-country for about a week and recently finished with an orientation of Integral’s microfinancial services, I thought I would take the time to highlight an especially unique feature of Apoyo Integral’s loan offerings in El Salvador: technical assistance in home building. Kiva community feedback coupled with longer fundraising times for home improvement and construction projects on the site suggests a slight hesitation among Kiva lenders considering a loan for the sake of home improvement. Having said this, it is not unreasonable to ask for example how a home improvement directly affects an entrepreneurs income, ability to pay off the loan and more importantly; provide a more secure and sustainable future for their families. Fortunately I had the opportunity to explore this question during my visit with Apoyo Integral’s sister project the Salvadoran Foundation for Integral Support’s housing technical assistance program: Tu Proyecto (Your Project). Tagging along for a day of work withTu Proyecto’s civil engineers, I watched how they offered their FREE engineering expertise to four of Apoyo Integral’s home improvement microcredit clients. Clients are advised on everything from cement mixing formulas, structural design, layout, ventilation, lighting as well as water and electricity issues. (In one case a technical assistance engineer was perceptive enough to recommend that a client might move a window to another wall closer to where he planned to place the kitchen table, thereby allowing his school aged children better light to study by during the day!) In addition to learning about a truly useful and uncommon service to homeowners in El Salvador, I also was also presented some data with which to respond to the “housing hesitation” issue: 3 out of 4 visits to Apoyo Lenders happened to be living and working under the same roof. The first lender was a photographer who was intending on building an addition to his house. The Tu Proyecto engineers advised him of a better way to secure his roof from the weather as they feared rain water might soon leak into his house, effectively destroying all the digital photography equipment he uses for his livelihood. The second lender was a farmer who needed to weatherproof his house to store grain, and the third was a carpenter who was building a larger home and considering how he could incorporate his workshop into the design.
Though these are only several examples from many, I believe it is interesting to illustrate how important a home can be for small Salvadoran businesses and indeed small entrepreneurs around the world. Not to mention all the benefits of health, safety, and personal dignity that come with owning a decent home. In short, here is Apoyo Integral’s value proposition to Kiva users who invest in their housing loans: Apoyo Integral uses the discounted capital received from Kiva to pay the Tu Proyecto engineers to do free construction evaluations for their clients. This means that in addition to clients being filtered for their financial ability to repay a loan, home owners receive professional engineering advice to ensure an effective investment in a family’s future!