Fellows Blog Posts by leznicki

Aug 21, 2010 BJ Benin

Benin is a country not often in the news.  When I was a Kiva Fellow placed there, I’d come to appreciate this.  It meant we didn’t have the political instability of Togo, the violence of Nigeria, or the food shortages of Niger.  While Benin still had many flaws, it was stable compared to its neighbors.  This gave it hope for the future – hope for growth and international investment.

On Thursday, a story about Benin reached the New York Times.  That article, “Scheme May Unmoor Benin, An Anchor of Stability,” has prompted me to write you.  While it’s nice to see Benin finally playing...

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May 7, 2010 BJ Benin

In Fon, Alidé means “a path always exists (for the very poor).”  This is a touching sentiment matched by the equally strong social mission of the Kiva field partner that bears its name.  During my time as the Kiva Fellow placed with Alidé, I’ve been impressed with the institution’s passion and perseverance.  When I meet borrowers, I consistently see illiterate women who are able to send their children to school and praise Alidé for their success.  It’s easy to start thinking, “wow, there’s really something to this!”

But then there are also the times when I step back and realize that...

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Apr 26, 2010 BJ Benin

I like my bank in the US.  The staff is nice, they have a lot of ATMs in New York City, they once gave me a fruit basket (long story)…  But I would never think about getting together with other Wachovia customers to toast how much we like banking there.  Yet that’s exactly what a number of Alidé (Kiva’s partner in Benin) clients do regularly.

Most of Alidé’s clients don’t have any traditional collateral so they form solidarity groups to back each others’ loans.  These groups then become friends with other groups and usually a leader emerges that organizes weekly meetings for...

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Apr 19, 2010

Just over a week ago, several Kiva staff members and Kiva Fellows (myself included) joined the president of Kenya, the prime minister of Zambia, the queen of Spain, the princess of the Netherlands, the former president of Peru, “inventor of micro-credit” Muhammad Yunus, and over a thousand others at the Africa-Middle East Microfinance Conference in Nairobi.

Not surprisingly, Muhammad Yunus was consistently the most interesting speaker throughout the four-day event (at least in my opinion).  He spoke on a variety of topics – a case study of his company’s work in Bangladesh, a...

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Apr 2, 2010 BJ Benin

There are two responses Alidé’s clients in Benin have when asked to have their picture taken for Kiva: fear and delight.  Generally, both paths end with laughter and a lot of pictures of me, the Kiva Fellow assigned to Alidé.

Fear:  They say that while Benin has about 50% Christians and 40% Muslins, 95% of the population simultaneously practices Voodoo.  This means you can buy fétiches (magical objects like monkey skulls) at the market, and that you’ll encounter a number of clients who fear that having their picture taken might steal their soul.

Delight:  On the...

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Mar 24, 2010 BJ Benin

In addition to loans (and savings accounts, social work, and coming soon – insurance) Alidé, Kiva’s field partner in Benin, offers formations, or training sessions, to its clients.  Some are optional but there are three that are actually mandatory for a loan.

The first class is an informational session, discussing credit in general and Alidé’s offerings as a company.   The second class is about health and staying healthy.  The number one reason clients don’t pay back their loan is for health reasons, so this class is less of a public service than an attempt to get a...

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Mar 14, 2010 BJ Benin

The one income family doesn’t exist in Benin.  Just like their moms and their mom’s moms, Beninese women enter the work force as soon as they’re able and keep going no matter what.  They’ll work through the rain, they’ll work through malaria, they’ll work while pregnant with all of their wares stacked on top of their heads and their children literally strapped to their backs.

For those of you who want to try this at home, here’s one Kiva entrepreneur teaching me the art of baby-strapping (and her amused friends in the background).

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Mar 4, 2010 BJ Benin

Alidé’s Kiva coordinator spends a lot of time on the Kiva site, mainly from the back end, uploading profiles and journals.  But she’s never experienced what it’s like to be a Kiva lender, an experience I wanted to give her thanks to the $25 Kiva gift certificate I’d received at training. Getting her to use it has been a challenge.

I gave her a print out of the certificate on my second day, but she kept putting off when we’d use it.  Last week when there was a lull in work, but solid-seeming electricity, I decided it was time.  She didn’t seem happy about my decision and begged for...

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