By Alex Duong, KF9, Vietnam
I’m going to let you in on a secret: Kiva is one big hunk of love. Understanding the phrase ‘Kiva love machine’ sheds light on what motivates the work of Kiva fellows everyday. Why does Rebecca Corey rise at 5:30AM to catch the bus to work? Why does Thomas Gold risk driving in deathly traffic? Read on to learn about the bond that unites fellows.
‘Kiva love machine’ exists and spreads because Kiva is about connecting people. It is infectious and most powerfully displayed through the generosity of everyday lenders. For those lucky enough to become a fellow, it is also the love and affection shown from the moment training begins in San Francisco.
Case in point: In gearing up for the Kiva fellowship, I found it necessary to clear the mind for fresh perspectives. This meant hanging up the career suit, leaving friends and family, and finding time for reflection. And so I left for the most remote metropolitan in the world. Actually, the answer is Perth in West Australia where there are three cousins whom I have never visited. Sydney is the closest neighbor via five hours by plane (flying Los Angeles to New York is six hours).
Realizing Kiva fellow Agnes Chu was stationed along the way in Samoa, I made it a point to visit. The ability for two fellows to relate is unmatched. It is akin to explaining fraternity/sorority life: a true mental picture is hard to develop unless you are American. The underlying unity thread for Kiva fellows is that they are uniquely situated to facilitate communication amongst lenders, borrowers, Kiva, and the local microfinance organization. Though I had not officially started, this common bond allowed Agnes and I to team up and find answers to some elusive goals Agnes wanted to achieve. Hearing about her challenges firsthand was equally invaluable in helping preparing for Vietnam. Flying over one-quarter of the world to visit someone you met for a week at training is not on the typical list of reasons to fly. This, however, is just one event that demonstrates the depth that ‘Kiva love machine’ can bring forth.
In Samoa, I followed Agnes, Kiva’s Samoan partner SPBD, and Mercy Corps volunteers as they distributed aid and clean up supplies to tsunami victims. Agnes has already provided great tsunami coverage here so I will spare the repeat. However, one look in victims’ eyes was all you needed to understand the tragedy that occurred. Some were willing to share their stories but just as many wanted to move forward and never again recall the event.
Shortly following Samoa it occurred to me SPBD operates in a dramatically different environment than TYM Vietnam where I will be working. Kiva partners are indispensable because they understand local terrain and how to best allocate limited resources. Nobody (nor organization) is perfect but behind the logos and names lie people dedicated to doing the right thing. It is not uncommon for loan officers to literally spend the night in a branch office far from the comforts of home.
Blessed is the opportunity to become a Kiva fellow and experience firsthand this young microfinance industry. It is easy to be in the comforts of home and criticize Kiva for lack of full transparency. Sure Kiva COULD do more but adequate disclosure is often a judgment call. Fannie & Freddie Mac disclosed what even financial auditors considered adequate and yet became a prime factor in the financial storm. But this isn’t the point. Look into the eyes of a Samoan who saw 14 family members wash away in the tsunami and tell them to wait a bit longer for loan disbursement because of a small holdup in San Francisco. As stated earlier by Victoria Kabak, in this industry every bit counts. During such times, it becomes important to recall lending is an act we make with our hearts rather than our minds. And just this one time that is probably okay.