Posts Tagged ‘Microfinance’

Arrival in Big Easy

Not every Kiva Fellow is from the United States. So there is a chance that being placed as a Kiva Fellow In New Orleans, Louisiana, USA will be an opportunity to travel to a foreign country. For me that isn’t the case, but I am relishing living here for the next three months in all of the Southern Comfort that NOLA has to offer. If you are an American, you don’t need a passport, a visa, shots, malaria meds, Medex insurance or to register with US Embassy upon your arrival. Everyone here speaks English, there’s electricity, running potable water and good Internet connectivity. The best part is they take US dollars!

All kidding aside, Kiva New Orleans is great. The “MFI” (Microfinance Institution) with which I am working is ASI Federal Credit Union and its community partner, GoodWork Network, a nonprofit microbusiness development agency that helps ASI to source microloans.

Goodwork Network assists small and start-up businesses with classes and advice helping New Orleans’ residents advance their operations to the point where, if it is determined they need a loan, they can be passed on to ASI and then to Kiva. It’s an amazing program. I have only been here a week and I have met dozens of individuals working tirelessly to make this Kiva City NOLA program work. There’s even a television ad.

From day one I fell in love with this city and its residents. I was won over immediately. Back in San Feancisco, during the Kiva Fellows Training week, the Kiva staff devoted some time to “Winning Over your MFI,” because in some placements the Kiva fellow is ignored or under appreciated. Things were easy for me in the Big Easy. Not only was I welcomed with open arms on my first day, I was given a car to use while I am here. Many apologies to my KF-16 & 17 classmates — you can think of me when you are traveling on over-crowded public buses and unpaved roads. (I feel for you — been there, done that.)

I split my time between the Goodwork Network office and ASI’s Community Center in the Bywater area of N’Awlins. There’s much work to be done as evidenced by the houses surrounding the Community Center. They still have the large X’s painted on them by the first responders after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. The X’s were a code that the building was searched, who searched it, the date it was searched and whether anyone was found inside, dead or alive. It’s a bleak reminder of the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina, and the fact that the X’s are still visible means that we all still have a lot of work to do.  If you are an small business owner in New Orleans and are thinking about a Kiva loan got to KivaNOLA.org and click on “to borrow” button.  If you want to lend, go to the same place and click on the “to lend” button.

Charlotte Makoff
Kiva Fellow | New Orleans

Charlotte is a Kiva Fellow in KF-16, the 16th Kiva Fellows Class, with ASI Federal Credit Union and is now living in New Orleans. Charlotte has lived in India, Japan, and has built houses with Habitat For Humanity in Ethiopia, Zambia and India.

For more information about Kiva, click here. To read about ASI Federal Credit Union, click here. You can also follow Kiva New Orleans on facebook, join the Kiva New Orleans lending team.

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Making The Transition From Kiva Intern to Kiva Fellow

I interned at the Kiva Headquarters in San Francisco for six months. If you have six months to spare this is a very worthwhile experience. Never had I met so many great people working toward a common goal. And being an unpaid intern was one of the most satisfying things I have ever done. Kiva depends on teams of volunteers, and it is very appreciative of its teams and expresses it on a daily basis. Sure, I did some collating and copying, but I also was invited to brainstorming sessions, wrote country memos, wrote articles for the Kiva Fellows Alumni newsletter, vetted Fellows’ applications and had imput into the inner workings of Kiva.

Kiva is both technology driven and food oriented. When you work at Kiva, you get 20-30 emails a day, most of which are about some delectable treat on the table of wonders. The remainder of the emails are about happy hour, microfinance cafe, microfinance pub, or a party at a Kivan’s house on an upcoming weekend. I was a Kiva Intern with the Fellows Program. I helped Jacob, Eric and Dave with vetting, selecting and training the Kiva Fellows before they left for their varied posts around the globe. (Kiva is in over 60 countries). I love traveling and living in and experiencing new cultures. Working as a Kiva intern made me want to go into the field with the Kiva Fellows Program.

So here I am, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Not exactly a foreign country, but the most colorful city in the United States. This place is amazing, it’s one big party. On any random weekend I can be found sitting in a cafe or a club listening to live music. I attended the Oak Street Po-Boy Festival with at least 50,000 other revelers. Tomorrow night I am going to have dinner at a restaurant owned by a Kiva borrower and afterward I am going on a pub crawl on Tchoupitoulas (pronounced “Chop-A-Tool-ess”) Street in Uptown. Next week is a Rock ‘n Bowl party with live jazz and bowling with my “MFI.”

For this blog post, I am going to tell you about my typical day here in New Orleans. But first a little about the “typical day” topic. Every Kiva Fellow Applicant has to write what he or she thinks a typical day as a Kiva Fellow is going to be. It’s sort of a wild guess exercise because there really is no typical day. The point of making the applicant write it is to see how creative the applicant is, how well the applicant can write, whether the applicant did his (or her) homework and what his expectations are as a Kiva Fellow. As an intern for the Fellows program, I have read dozens. Some were so good I read them out loud to my colleagues at Kiva. Some were funny and some were like reading a calendar entry — 7:30 Wake up, take shower, 8:00 am Eat breakfast, 8:30 am Take bus to MFI . . .” Needless to say, the calendar entries weren’t the most interesting ones. Some were so unrealistic that it appeared the applicant hadn’t a clue as to what a Kiva Fellow does in the field. Not every Kiva Fellow has the same experience, and my situation, being in the United States, is unusual. If you are an applicant looking for ideas, you won’t find a lot here. Here goes my real typical day in Kiva City — New Orleans.

This morning I woke up in my little rented house in Uptown. Because it’s a Thursday, I have to decide which office I am going to work in today. In New Orleans, Kiva works with ASI Federal Credit Union, ASII, a non-profit arm and organization of ASI called “A Shared Initiative,” and the Good Work Network, another non-profit organization that works within New Orleans assisting microbusinesses. I have a choice of three offices, the ASI headquarters in Harahan, the ASII office in the upper Ninth Ward, or the Good Work Network office on OC Haley Boulevard. Luckily, ASI has given me a car, a blue Toyota Corolla, to use while I am here. I usually gravitate to the Good Work Network office. It has the best internet, and prospective Kiva borrowers come into the Good Work Network office for intial intake. I even have my own, desk, cubicle and computer. I decided this morning to start at Good Work Network. I drive down St. Charles St., a tree lined boulevard with trolley cars running down the center. It’s another beautiful day. I say out loud, to myself, “I love this city.” There are yard signs up inviting me to a street fair, a pub crawl, a block party. There are old faded Mardi Gras beads hanging from the trees. I pass beautiful pristine antebellum mansions and boarded up houses with the large Katrina X’s spray painted on them. I park my car across from the Franz Building where the GoodWork Network is. I park right next to house that hasn’t been touched since Katrina. Plants grow from the roof. It’s missing walls, windows, a roof, occupants, but somehow in all of its wrecked glory, it still looks beautiful. I photograph it and my car. I hope nothing falls over from it onto the car.

At noon, a couple comes in to apply for a Kiva loan. I have to ask them a lot of personal financial questions. I hope they pass muster. My inclination is to give everyone who comes in a loan, but underwriting thinks otherwise. The Kiva Coordinator and/or the Kiva Fellow separates the improbable applicants from the probable applicants. There are guidelines: a borrower cannot have charge-offs on their credit report, and must be current on their existing debts with no 60 day past due notices within the last year. The actual credit score isn’t looked at, but it helps if it’s good and hurts if it’s really bad. If a loan applicant is denied, he or she can work with a business counselor at Good Work Network for credit counseling and business advice. If they can fix their issues they can return and reapply for a Kiva loan. This is just the initial intake for preliminary approval. Once we get to the next stage there is a mountain of paperwork involved and the borrowers need to be shepherded through the system. The Kiva Fellow works closely with the Kiva Coordinator, Leslie, the head of Good Work Network, Phyllis, and Lang, the Business Lending Program Manager at ASII, to make sure all of the paperwork is in order for each and every applicant. Once a loan is approved, a photo is taken, waivers and releases are signed and the Kiva profiles are written. So far, I have written three of them.

After meeting with the clients, I drive 20 minutes to the Lebanon Cafe on Carrollton Ave. to meet with Sarah, the Executive Director of ASII. She’s the head honcho for the Kiva program and she wants to check in on the progress of Kiva. Sarah is wonderful and looks like she could have been Miss Louisiana, but it turns out she’s really from Mississippi. (So, maybe she was Miss Mississippi.) Her goal is to get Kiva New Orleans from pilot to active. We discuss this during a delicious lunch with hummus, pita bread and eggplant sandwiches (that look suspiciously like Po’ Boys). Its a very productive lunch. I learn that ASII has some really innovative loan products — including grocery store loans and education loans. We bounce around some other ideas.

After lunch, I drive to the upper Ninth Ward to work out of the ASII office. At that office is Lang, a dynamic woman who knows her loans, borrowers, practices and procedures backward, forward and sideways. She has a very high energy level and is filled with information about New Orleans and the Vietnamese immigrant community. There’s always lots to learn form Lang. We discuss repayment reporting, underwriting, corporate best practices and loan delinquencies, if any.

I check my work plan. The internet connection is “iffy” there so I work offline on my laptop. I do whatever I can to get my work done. Afterwork, I go straight home to clean up my house. I have guests coming from out of town. When you live in New Orleans, you suddenly become popular. Everyone wants to visit. It’s a fun city, what can I say?

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Charlotte is a Kiva Fellow in KF-16, the 16th Kiva Fellows Class, with ASI Federal Credit Union and is now living in New Orleans. Charlotte has lived in India, Japan, and has built houses with Habitat For Humanity in Ethiopia, Zambia and India.

For more information about Kiva, click here. Kiva.orgTo read about ASI Federal Credit Union, click here. asifcu.orgYou can also follow Kiva New Orleans on facebook, facebook.com/kivaNOLAjoin the Kiva New Orleans lending team.