“All Corners of the Earth”: Volunteer Travel With Kiva’s Fellows Program

United States Activism
by Julie Schwietert Mar 16, 2008

Opportunity Overview: Less well-known is Kiva’s year-old Fellows program, a natural extension of Kiva’s mission.

Organization: Kiva.org

Opportunity: Fellows Program

Organization Overview: The U.S. based microlending organization, Kiva, has generated major buzz, enthusiastically supported by President Clinton and featured in The New York Times Magazine and a documentary produced by Frontline/World, all of which have praised the organization for its novel approach to linking social entrepreneurs and lenders through the Internet. With a 99.9% loan repayment rate, Kiva is popular with both lenders and loan-seekers, and is positioned to continue attracting attention.

Opportunity Overview: Less well-known is Kiva’s year-old Fellows program, a natural extension of Kiva’s mission. Anyone over 21 can apply for the Fellows program, the purpose of which is to strengthen Kiva’s relationship with its microfinance institutions (MFIs) by placing skilled volunteers on the ground in communities where the work that’s being funded is performed. The Fellows are a vital link between Kiva staff, lenders, and loan recipients, sharing information among the stakeholders, increasing exposure and awareness, and providing technical support to loan recipients.

Ideal Volunteer Profile:

-21+ years of age (current volunteers range in age from 21-60)

-Proficient with photography and blogging

-Strong travel history, especially independent travel

-Language skills: Fluency in French, Spanish, and Asian languages are particularly needed for West Africa, Asia, and Latin America placements

Expectations of Volunteers:

Volunteers are matched to regions, organizations, and tasks based on their experiences, skills, and interests. All volunteers are expected to photograph members of the microfinance institution and post blog entries to Kiva’s site; the blogs are intended to chronicle the lives of the working poor and provide first-hand accounts of how microlending is impacting people’s lives. Volunteers also work in the microfinance institution’s office 2-3 days per week, providing assistance with a variety of tasks, which may include data entry, accounting, document creation, training, and other forms of technical support.

Bonus Points for the Fellows Program!

-Couples can apply.

-The volunteer positions are largely autonomous (no supervisor on site) while also highly collaborative (working closely with the members of the MFI).

-Beyond the required 10 week commitment, the terms of service are flexible. Some Fellows have been in the field for more than a year, and have rotated through more than one organization… or country!

Details: For full details about the Fellows Program and to download an application and instructions, please visit http://www.kiva.org/about/fellows-program/.

Feel Good Story:

Anushka Ratnayake, Fellows Program Manager, shared the following story:

“One of my favorite Fellows stories is about Liz Vilette from Houston who went to Azerbaijan. She was finishing her MBA and wanted to see what she’d heard about in theory in practice. She’s a former soldier and was really gung ho to try anything. We really wanted a fellow in Azerbaijan because it has a really strong microfinance industry and we were sending lots of funds there. Liz was incredibly resourceful. [Even before she left] Liz found out that Houston is a sister city with a city in Azerbaijan and she found an expat community in Houston and got them really excited about Kiva and helped them connect to people at home. They helped her find a homestay and she went to Azerbaijan for over three months and ended up working with three of our partners there. She trained staff and provided English language classes, which really added value to the MFI, and helped improve staff retention. She was making Kiva real to them.”

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