The Kiva Fellowship gives one a chance to be a part of a revolution against poverty.
The word “microfinance” may not have the powerful ring of the world of high finance. But microfinance makes a huge difference in the lives of the people who need just that little push to start businesses and beat destitution. In recent years, microfinance has become a powerful tool of change that is emerging as a potent weapon against poverty. The Kiva Fellowship is a chance to be a part of this revolution.
Irene Fung, a Kiva Fellow serving in Odisha, India, says, “The Kiva fellowship is a great opportunity to experience working at the forefront of microfinance.” She has a background in economics and a master’s degree in urban planning. She says the ideal applicant should be interested in this field and have some cross-cultural immersion experience earlier. “Being able to adapt to new surroundings, display cultural sensitivity and being able to maintain a sense of humour will ensure a successful and fulfilling experience” .
Suneetha Kanchustambham, an MBA from Georgetown University, served as a fellow with the Mahashakti Foundation, a public charitable trust to improve people’s livelihoods in Odisha. Her greatest learning has been her understanding of how to strengthen microfinance models so that they serve their audiences better. She agrees with Irene Fung.
The microfinance Web portal, Kiva.org, based in San Francisco, California, was set up in 2005 to combine microfinance with the power of the Internet. It allows individuals to lend to entrepreneurs across the globe. A non-profit organization, Kiva lets individuals lend as little as U.S. $25 to help create opportunity around the world. Since every cent is used to finance projects around the world, the Kiva Fellow is an unpaid, volunteer position designed to increase Kiva's impact and to offer participants a unique insider experience.
It is this learning that changes perspectives about ways to make a real difference and is what the Fellows treasure. “This is what makes being a Fellow both a privilege and a responsibility”, says Muskan Chopra. Chopra, an MBA student at the Columbia University volunteered this summer as a Kiva Fellow in Nairobi, Kenya. She was responsible for strengthening the relationship between Kiva and one of its MFI partners, Faulu. She also worked with the team at Kiva Zip, a revolutionary microfinance model focused on direct lending between entrepreneurs and the lending community.
Navigating the application
“Few people make it past the rigorous selection process, mainly because a successful Fellow requires a combination of well-developed professional and personal skills,” says Chopra. Her tips for aspirants include: Before applying, think about the Kiva model and how your professional experiences can help achieve its goals. Also think about your ability to thrive in the small towns or villages of Guatemala, Cambodia and Ghana. Are you excited about serving for three months in some of Kiva’s distant locations? Have you travelled enough to be comfortable in living conditions different from your own? If the answer is yes, then a Kiva Fellowship is absolutely for you. Since the Fellowship is unpaid, Chopra says, “It’s important you are financially able to support yourself and the benefits of your experience to not care about the money.”