My Latest Kiva Loan: Meet Ntombikayise

Tonight I made my second Kiva loan!

I’ve been desperate to loan to a South African entrepreneur, but until now I’ve been holding back for a number of reasons- all of them related to concerns I have with the only Kiva MFI working in South Africa. But more about that later…

First, meet Ntombikayise! Here’s her description from Kiva:

“Ntombikayise is 47 years old and married with 7 children between the ages of 10 and 33. She sells mats house to house in Mtubatuba, Kwazulu Natal in South Africa. She is wearing a black and white head scarf in the photo above.

She’s been in this business for 10 years. She also earns income from the government’s child support grant. She says that the main challenge to her business is that her customers do not pay on time.

She requested this loan through Women’s Development Businesses to buy material for making mats. She says that the extra income from this loan will help her send her children to school. In the future, she would like to see herself being a mats supplier.”

I chose Ntombikayise over a handful of other South African loans for a few reasons. Obviously, the biggest reason being that I like the direction she is taking. She has a brilliant business idea and she crafts things (mats) which are both useful and beautiful. There are also some more personal reasons why Ntombikayise was the one:

1. I love mats. They’re very pretty and simple and functional. A few years ago I camped in Mozambique and froze quite terribly in the night. The next night, I was kindly loaned a traditional mat, which kept me warm and toasty. Here’s to many more nights being kept warm and toasty by a mat. Mats are love.

2. There’s a beautiful Zulu film I’ve watched about 12 times called, ‘Izulu Lami’. It’s about an orphaned girl and her little brother who travel to Durban to sell the last mat their mother made. Lots of awful things happen to her, but she discovers her love of craft and starts making the most enchanting things from junk she finds on the beach. It’s a little like flip flop art and she sells it to a high-end craft gallery in the city. This loan sort of reminded me of that.

3. Ntombikayise lives in one of the most beautiful places in South Africa. Her town, Mtubatuba, is remote and surrounded by nature reserves, including St. Lucia. I believe that people who live in beautiful places are inspired to create beautiful things.

4. Mtubatuba is incredibly fun to say! Just try it. It’s awesome.

5. She’s using some of the loan to pay school fees. South African school fees are extremely unfair. Even the poorest parents sending their children to the lowest quality school must pay school fees. And buy uniforms. Knowing I’ve helped someone just a little with this burden brings me comfort.

6. Her main challenge is that her customers don’t pay her in a timely manner. This is a real South African business ethic fail. “Yeah, I’ll pay you now-now. We’ll make a plan”. Ntombikayise has both hair and a smile. I would have neither if I had to operate a business in this environment. Love and respect.

Finally, a note about the MFI. I mentioned that I had some reservations with them. But this time, I’ve decided to loan anyway. I’ve put aside my worries and put some faith in them instead. Here are my reasons.

‘Womens Development Businesses (WDB)’, is a brand new MFI to Kiva, and they still have a ‘pilot’ status. Recently, I read a great article about what they’re trying to achieve and I think they’re worth the risk. Empowering and giving opportunities to rural women is kudutastic.

Here’s a little info from Kiva about the KZN based MFI:

“The core business of WDB MF is making credit accessible and available to rural women who are the poorest of the poor.

The strategic drivers of WDB MF are to:

• Disburse loans to poor rural women using a relationship based methodology, on a professional basis with the aim of supporting their self-development activities and improving the quality of life in their families
• Build women’s financial knowledge and business skills, through participation in the credit scheme
• Support technical, managerial, leadership and other skills, through training to enhance women’s income generating activities and productivity
• Strengthen community and women’s organizations and services by working with them in offering credit, training and technical assistance
• Support, assist and conduct research programmes which are necessary for the viability of projects and women’s advancement as a whole
• Share knowledge, expertise, experiences and information through coordinating with women’s and development groups and producing accessible and relevant material”

So I wish Ntombikayise all my love and happiness and I hope that this loan will provide her with everything she needs it to.

Izulu Lami:

My First Kiva Loan! Meet Essi…

So, my daily browse around Kiva this morning, FINALLY brought my first ever loan!

Her name is Essi and she’s from Togo.

Here’s a description from Kiva:

“This lady was born in Danyi and lives in the Djidjolé neighborhood. She is 29 years old and married with two children in her care.

In order to improve her children’s living conditions, she sells jewelry and flip-flops. She gets her stocks at the Grand market of Lomé and has eight years of experience in this business. She conducts her sales from her home and at the Adidogomé market.”

The things that made this one ‘the one’:

1. She’s from Togo: Long before I ever dreamed about Africa, I kept pet snakes. My favourites were Ball Pythons. I knew that most wild-caught Ball Pythons came from Togo, which is a BAD practice that I don’t support, but it captured my imagination. As a kid in Canada, I couldn’t imagine anywhere where Ball Pythons actually lived in the wild. I’ve been obsessed with Togo ever since, and have supported it at every World Cup. And ‘Togo’ is a really fun word to say.

2. She’s a woman who is about my age. I can relate.

3. What I can’t relate to is that she’s worked very, very hard for 8 years and built up a successful business. She’s a seriously awesome girl.

4. The description hints that the two children she cares for may not be hers. They probably are her biological children, but I like the way it’s worded. People who foster, adopt and love, just rock my socks.

5. Her microfinance institution, ‘Women and Associations for Gain both Economic and Social (WAGES)’, seems pretty solid in their mission. And their interest rate is just 20%, which is well below the Kiva average of 37%.

6. She sells jewelry. Anything that makes people feel beautiful, is uplifting and wonderful.

7. She has the loveliest smile.

8. She may be using the loan to buy jewelry for her business, but she also sells FLIP FLOPS!!! Need I say more?

So here she is, Essi from Togo, my new partner in flip-flop sales:

Kiva or Not?

This is a rant. It’s an attempt to make sense of something i’ve been struggling with.

I’ve been a Kiva member for 6 months now.

Kiva is a very awesome charity that focuses on ‘micro’ loans, mainly in third world countries. Simple concept: People need small loans to help their business or livelihood, so they go to a local ‘field partner’ and ask for one. These field partners work with Kiva (which is based in the US), and they then turn to Kiva and ask them for money to fill each loan they distribute. The individual or group requesting money has a story and photo published on the Kiva website where internet users all over the world can ‘lend’ as little as $25 to whichever cause they choose.

Very cool idea!

I love that it’s not really ‘charity’. It encourages business and development and growth, in a way that simply giving money to someone doesn’t. The borrowers have to pay the money back.

But like i’ve said, i’ve been a member on the site for 6 months now- and I have yet to make a single loan. The average Kiva member supports 6 loans at a time, and many have dozens, even hundreds. I check the site each and every day, hoping to make my first loan.

I trawl through the loan requests. There may be as little as 7 loans going, or there could be thousands. Lots of choice. But I can never find one I feel passionate enough about!

I worry that i’m being too picky. I automatically search for loans in Africa. Then I often narrow it down to just women. Maybe a little sexist, but I really want to support women, especially those in countries where they’re still pretty marginalized.

Tonight I saw the first South African request i’ve seen on Kiva. It was for a group of ladies who run a fruit and vegetable store in KZN. Just what i’m looking for! I’ve dropped meat recently, so fregetables are a big interest of mine right now. I also want to support something healthy. I wouldn’t support a chip stand or a candy store. Fortunately, other people will.

I was really excited and about to push the button to lend my $25. Then I looked at the profile for the ‘field partner’ who disperses this loan. I look specifically for loans from field partners who don’t put any religious or personal conditions on their loans, and this one passed that, but they charged massive interest rates. Like… massive. About 65% interest.

The average interest rate charged by field partners at Kiva is about 37%. That’s a lot, but given the costs of running the things they run, it’s acceptable. But 65% is crazy. I can’t see how a loan with such a huge interest rate can have its benefits outweigh it’s costs. I don’t know much about these things. But I do know that one of my closest family members is in serious trouble with credit card debt. She has it hanging over her. It’s stressful. She’ll never pay it back. I can imagine many people who apply for Kiva loans must feel the same way. This group of South African woman may feel the same way. At the same time, they may not. This loan may be the biggest blessing of their lives and they’ll pay it back (including the whopping interest) with ease. It may kick-start their business and change every single aspect of their lives for the better.. and yet, I couldn’t take the chance.
I nearly supported the loan anyway. I wanted to do it. It checked all of my other boxes. But I couldn’t do it.

At least on Kiva, all loans are filled within a day. As i’ve been writing this, the entire $3000 requested by my group was raised and the loan is no longer available. It’s that fast. That’s how generous and loving the world is. It’s awesome. So any loan I pass up on is filled within a few hours.

But I still feel guilty. I feel like i’m putting too many conditions on giving. Is it right to be waiting to the ‘ultimate’ loan? I want to contribute to a cause I feel passionate about and support someone whose progress I can follow and I want to celebrate their success with them. At the same time, money sitting in my bank account isn’t helping anyone else, when it could be.