By: Athan Makansi – KF8 – SPBD, Samoa
Kiva is about stories. From borrower profiles and journal updates, we learn about individual borrowers all over the world and their struggle to work themselves out of poverty. But, some of the people most integral to the daily operations of Kiva are underrepresented on Kiva.org. Rarely do we hear stories about the credit officers all over the world who actually disburse the Kiva loans. Here are some profiles of the credit officers at South Pacific Business Development (SPBD) in Samoa.
At SPBD, the credit officers are called Center Managers (CMs). The center manager’s job is to collect the weekly repayments from each SPBD borrower. Monday through Thursday a center manager travels around the island to different borrower centers to collect repayments. Each center consists of between 5 and 35 borrowers, usually all ladies from the same village. On most Fridays, the Center Manager stays in the office to disburse new loans, prepare paper work for the next week, and count a lot of money. Last week I accompanied one center manager, Ela, on her daily rounds. Here is a video of our adventure.'
At SPBD, there are twelve center managers broken into three teams of four. Three center managers – Ela, Mayvian and Jack – took the time to let me interview them.
Ela is one of the newest members of the SPBD staff. She joined only 1 year ago. Before coming to SPBD, Ela worked in American Samoa as a phone operator and went to nursing school. After being gone from her homeland a few years, she missed Samoa and wanted to see her family again. Now she lives with her family on Manono Island, one of the tiniest islands in the South Pacific. The smallest of Samoa’s four islands, Manono is so small no cars are allowed on the island. Not even any dogs are allowed on the Island. In total there are only 4 villages, encompassing an area of one square mile and housing a population of around 1000.
Her one year as a center manager has only piqued her interest in microfinance. She hopes to manage her own microfinance institution one day or to go to school to earn a degree in business administration. Ela is 29 years old and single.
Mayvian Popese, known by her nickname Mayvi, is 28 years old with 2 children. She lives in Vaipuna, just outside the capital city of Apia. While her nine year old son is in his fifth year of school, Mayvi’s other son, only one and a half years old stays at home with his grandfather, Mayvi’s father. Her husband owns a security company. He trains security guards for government buildings and hotels.
Before coming to SPBD four years ago, Mayvi worked three jobs as an accountant – Radio Polynesia, a computer shop, and the local cinema. Now at SPBD, Mayvi was recently appointed team leader of 3 three other center managers. She has been in this position for one year. Mayvi points to a few frustrating aspects of being a center manager. Dealing with “bad clients,” the ones who don’t pay on time or skip the mandatory center meetings, can be difficult. The center managers get all sorts of excuses. “It’s hard to chase after them” she gripes.
Most parts of the job are really enjoyable though. At SPBD, Mayvi greatly enjoys “serving the hardworking ladies of her own country.” Working with the ladies brings Mayvi much more joy than working with the clients of her previous jobs. In contrast to plain bookkeeping, Mayvi tackles much more practical problems, advising the ladies with their plantation business or their general store. She likes watching the businesses grow and witnessing the impact of her work. Always with a flower stuck behind her left ear, Mayvi is quick with a smile and laugh.
Jack Elisara is physically the most intimidating Center Manager at SPBD. This 6’ 8”, 280 pound, former rugby player has been working at SPBD for just over 2 years. Rugby is certainly his first love. Jack has played rugby in New Zealand, Australia, Italy and Samoa, including a short while on the Samoan rugby union national team, Manu Samoa. Jack describes his role as a prop forward as the “toughest” position and he brings the same toughness to his work as an SPBD center manager. Jack works hard. Almost always finished his work before all the other CM’s he’s the first one to start chatting to me about the latest rugby news or ask me about my weeked.
Jack is 35 years old, married, with 2 children. His son, 6 years old, is in primary school and his daughter, 2 years old, stays home with Jack’s wife. Before SPBD, Jack worked for a year as a tour guide for the Samoan Tourism Authority. As the Tourism Authority went bankrupt, Jack was forced to find a new job and discovered SPBD. Jack loves meeting clients and hearing their stories. He likes working to support the community, especially impoverished women. Many of whom he has seen become very successful, opening multiple businesses, buying new houses, etc. Moreover, he values the SPBD clients as leaders and mothers in his country. Since he still lives with his mother at home, he cites a special connection to these women entrepreneurs. He has a greater appreciation for their struggles to raise a family and also run a business at the same time. He hopes SPBD will “really boost” its clients, especially the lower income ones.
All the Center Managers work 9 hour days. Every day they are on in the office by 8:30 and don’t leave until 5:30. In the morning they arrive and quickly prepare some paperwork for the day and collect their repayment books. Everyone is out the door by 9:15. At around 4:30pm, the Center Managers return from their rounds and the next half-hour will be spent swapping stories from the day. Most of it is done in Samoan so I don’t understand it. But, it must be really hilarious because the office fills with laughter. At about 5pm, the Center Managers realize they only have 30 more minutes before the office closes to count up all their money from the day and finish any paperwork. The chatter slows down and all I hear is the clink of coins or the occasional curse as someone forgot what number they were on. 5:30 everyone rushes home, eager to relax.
Ela, Mayvi, Jack and the other nine CMs at SPBD work tirelessly for SPBD and by extension for Kiva. Moreover, they all have been have been very kind and extremely accommodating to me. Kiva Fellows are often stuck in a strange role: in order for us to do our jobs properly we need to interrupt the daily operations of the MFI staff. Here at SPBD, the staff takes time they would normally spend on other business activities to let me train them on Kiva processes or just answer my questions. Some of the staff has voluntarily stayed later than 5:30 for additional Kiva training and everyone has graciously accepted me into their ranks. For that, I’m very grateful.
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Athan Makansi, KF8, is a Kiva Fellow serving his placement with South Pacific Business Development in Samoa./>