By Kim Strathearn, KF16, Turkey
If It Is Tuesday, it must be Izmit. Maya’s Kocaeli / Izmit branch is about 1 ½ hours away from Istanbul and every Tuesday, either Aylin or Asu, or both from the Istanbul office make the trip to approve borrower applications. These visits always take place in the business or home (if that were she works from) of the potential borrower.
The office is located in a small mall in the downtown area. Pelin (now on maternity leave) and Songül staff the office.
The Foundation for the Support of Women’s Work (FSWW) conducted a pilot micro-credit project in Istanbul between 1995-1997. Ninety-one women took micro loans up to $200 with six and twelve month repayment terms. The interest rate was based on the same rate as Halk bank loans. Clients were low-income women with small businesses in sectors such as trade (62%), manufacturing, and service. The businesses were mostly runs from home, the rest in neighborhood markets, street stalls or a rented shop or stalls. Although the arrears rate was 12%, all the loans were repaid.
The 1999 Marmara earthquake (7.2 on the Richter scale) was the impetus for the Kocaeli / Izmit office. The earthquake changed the priority for FSWW and they postponed their project for Istanbul and conducted two market research projects in 2000 and 2002 in the area hardest hit by the earthquake, Kocaeli. Their research found the women micro-entrepreneurs were mostly low-income, primary school graduates, and married with small families of two to three children. As in Istanbul, their businesses were mainly in trade (66%), manufacturing (26%) and service (8%) sectors focusing on food production, small jobs, sales from home, garment stitching / repair, handicrafts and hair dressing.
Mostly home-based (74%) or working out of small shops which they rented or owed, or market stalls, the women wanted financing to improve their business sites, buy fixed assets or for working capital. The only sources of credit were wholesalers or bank credits given against the guarantees of registered businesses. But the vast majority (80%) of the women entrepreneurs’ businesses were not registered or they could not find guarantors. Some of the women did not have the confidence to apply to banks or needed loans below amounts loaned by banks. Some others lacked confidence in the profitability of their businesses and therefore were afraid to take credit from the banks and were hesitant in borrowing even from their relatives because of fears of not being able to repay.
FSWW established Maya Enterprise for Micro Finance in June 2002. Maya disbursed it first loans in Kocaeli / Izmit in August 2002 after the training of personnel, distributions of promotional materials and the establishment of operational procedures. Maya distributed the first loans in Istanbul in June 2003, and started lending in Düzce in August 2004, Sakarya in 2005 and Esikşehir in July 2010. Unlike the other three branches, the Kocaeli / Izmit branch does not receive support (office space, rent, and utilities) from the municipality as it was set up on its own by FSWW.
I have had the pleasure of meeting current Kiva entrepreneurs Nezahat and Asli in prior visits to the Kocaeli / Izmit office. Last week I visited the Kocaeli / Izmit branch and met Filiz. Filiz has worked as a bookkeeper, car painter, and a tailor. Filiz learned the trade growing up helping her mother and father in the family’s home tailoring business. Her father died at a young age and all 5 siblings learned the trade to help support the family. It was during a period of unemployment when Filiz did not want to remain idle that her mother, who is now retired, helped her start her own tailoring business. Filiz has ambitious plans for her business. She is looking at a space in a street off the main shopping area in Kadıköy (district on the Asian side of Istanbul) so she can more easily follow market trends and is planning to create her own brand. All this she hopes will lead to opening her own workshop, where she will be able to offer employment to other women tailors.
Filiz’s energy and enthusiasm are evident by what she has accomplished so far and I have no doubt that she will accomplish even more in the future. I am hoping to talk Filiz into letting me hire her to make me a few pieces for my own wardrobe. You see, I am the opposite of Turkish women who tend to be shorter and more curvy while am taller and more angular. When I first came to Turkey (my first time living here was 1989-1991), I could not buy any clothes –the sleeves of shirts, jackets and coats, and the legs of pants were never ever long enough. Plus if pants fit nicely at my waist, I could gather handfuls of fabric at the hips and if they fit nicely at my hips then I could not get them to button around my waist. Now I can buy a few things but still have to do the majority of my shopping when I travel back to the USA.
Shoes were another story. I still can hardly find size 10 shoes, let alone any with low heels. I am 6 feet tall and do not need or ever wear 3 to 4 inch heels. Ever tried walking in 3-4 inch heels on cobblestones and very uneven surfaces? I hate to admit that once I got to the point where I had a fleeting impulse to smack the smirking sales boy when he pointed to the clunky hiking boots in the men’s section when I asked if the store carried size 42 shoes. Fashionista I am not, so I could not imagine pulling off wearing men’s boots with a suit, skirt or dress! This was after he welcomed me into his shop with “buyurun agabeyi”. This phrase loosely translated means how can I help you older brother? I got that a lot when people just assumed that I was an “ağabeyi” (older brother) from my height without taking a good look and well since I could not find any shoes that fit, I was not wearing dresses or skirts. I guess it did not help that I had short hair as well (majority of female hair length here is long). In all fairness it was not meant disrespectfully. In fact, “agabeyi” or “amca” (uncle) is the respectful way to address a male older than oneself, however he should have called me “abla” (elder sister) or “teyze” (aunt). It is just at that time, I really did tower over both men and women and tall women were very uncommon. Now I do not even bother to look in shoe shops windows and just stock up when I go home.
One time I went to a female dentist. I happened to glance at her shoes and saw her feet were as big as mine. So I asked her where she bought her shoes. She hemmed and hawed for a while. I course I kept pressing because I though the answer would solve all my shoe problems. Eureka, I have hit pay dirt, the mother lode! She finally sheepishly said she bought them at a shoe store in Şişli (a district in Istanbul). I naturally asked for the name and address of the shop. Once again after pressing for an answer, she sheepishly said you know the store were the transvestites shop. Huh no, where is that I asked? No matter that I was pleading with her for the name and address, she wasn’t going to give it up. Then I got the look from my Turkish friend that had brought me to this dentist–her dentist. You know the look that said cease what you are doing you are embarrassing me–yes that look. So I left with nicely cleaned teeth but wondering how I was going to find that shop!
I really really really want to hire Filiz. Ohh how I dream about or maybe more accurately, drool over thoughts of having clothes that fit properly in all the right places, in the colors, fabrics and textures that I want …… but at this point Filiz prefers making costumes. Wish me luck!
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Kim Strathearn is a Kiva Fellow serving in Istanbul with Maya. Kiva’s new Field Partner in Turkey. To learn more about Maya and their clients, please visit their Partner Page, join our newly created Friends of Maya Lending Team, or make a loan to one of their awesome clients. Looking for gifts that make a difference this Holiday Season, consider the gift that changes lives, Kiva Cards. What could be better that giving the gift of helping someone?