Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Microlending in the Dominican (What I'm doing!)

Hey everyone!

As you see above, I’m living in quite the beautiful location – I took all these pictures from my house here in the DR. It’s on this beautiful near the ocean and its gorgeous. Although the house lacks some amenities – such as a faucet upstairs, air conditioning, and power in the afternoon (the power turns off between 8am and 5pm) – it makes up for it in location. It’s a beautiful place to wake up to.

I wanted to give a little bit of an update regarding what type of work I’m doing here. I’m working with a Microfinance institituion, or an MFI. Microfinance, for those who might not know exactly what that is, is essentially the giving of credit to very poor people who don’t have access to the standard credit markets in their area. This is usually due to a lack of collateral, which banks demand in case of default. Muhammad Yunus came up with the concept in Bangladesh a couple decades ago, starting the Grameen Bank, and recently was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. If you want more information regarding microfinance, and its history, his book Banker for the Poor is his explanation and history of the concept. It’s interesting to note that the fear of default is something which MFIs don’t deal with – at the Grameen Bank, between 93-97% of loans are repaid. That’s a pretty incredible statistic, especially to those who might not be as familiar with microcredit!

I am working with a group named Esperanza International, which is a partner of Hope International, here in the Dominican Republic. Esperanza was founded by Dave Valle, a former Mariner’s catcher, here in the Dominican in the late 1990s. They are now in various cities around the DR, and have recently opened some offices in Haiti.

Within Esperanza, my internship calls me to help the organization with its relationship with www.Kiva.org. Kiva is essentially a peer-to-peer lending service, which connects borrowers in countries all over the world, to people who want to help support their entrepreneurial activities. That is, you can go to www.kiva.org, find a borrower whom you want to support, and then give anything from $25 on up to the full amount of the loan. Usually, many people end up giving to the same borrower until the full loan is paid. It’s a fantastic idea, and those who give money receive it back as the loan is paid off by the borrowers. That is, you are giving a loan, and you’ll receive the full amount back (the interest from the loan doesn’t go to you – you don’t earn any profit from being on Kiva).

So, with Esperanza, my job is to set up these profiles on Kiva for groups of borrowers, so that they are connected with those who want to help support the little businesses they run. I am going to, and have already begun, to interview groups of five women (every loan comes for a group of 5), about what they are doing with their loan, why they chose that specific type of business, what they hope for the future from the profits from their new business, etc. I just get to sit and hear stories from the most interesting people, attempting to escape from the poverty around them. It really is very inspiring. One woman I talked to yesterday got the biggest smile on her face when she was talking about how eventually she can have a home of her own for herself and her 8 month old child if her business continues to succeed.

That’s much of what I’ll be doing this summer – going with bank loan officers from the office her to go and interview those who will be receiving loans. It’s all in Spanish, and my study abroad trips of a year ago are really paying off now. It’s very rewarding to be a part of this process, and I’ll forward some of my favorite stories to all of you as I hear them!

I’ll try to get a link up on the blog sometime soon so you can see the profiles of the people that I interview, as I put them up. I also encourage you to go check out www.kiva.org, and see if you want to be a part of that community too! It really is an integral way in which people, mostly women, are finding a way to have a consistent income to support their family.


Monday, June 22, 2009

The first fin de semana in Samana (weekend in Samana)

Hey everyone!

I’ve just finished staying my first weekend here in SamanĂ¡, and its been a blast. My host family is wonderful. I’m living with a woman named Sara, her 4 children (3 boys and a girl), and granddaughter. This part of the country is absolutely BEAUTIFUL, and the photos you see above are actually from the porch right outside my room, and from the back porch. We live on a little dirt road off the main road, on a hill a few kilometers out of town. It’s very, very beautiful just sitting in the home reading a book or looking at a storm come in from the bay.

The neighborhood here is like one big family, and everyone gathers under a tree in the shade on a hot day to talk or play dominoes. Playing dominoes is something everyone here does every day – it’s a very Dominican thing to do, as I saw many people playing dominoes when I was here a couple years ago.

I’m still getting used to the pace of life here – let’s just say that its sloooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow. You don’t really go anywhere in the day. Or do anything. This leaves lots of time to rest or read or whatever else. Books certainly help a lot, especially since there is no internet in the house. I’m getting to know the neighborhood a bit more, and soon I may perhaps feel comfortable enough to take a place under the tree outside…for now, it’s somewhat daunting to join that sort of group who have known each other all their lives.

There is a beach about 15 minutes walking away from here, but really, it isn’t very nice. Henry and I walked down there and it was a little underwhelming. We are hoping in the future to go to other beaches perhaps a little father away and nicer on other weekends.

One last thing to note, which I find very interesting around here, is that there are no taxis in SamanĂ¡. Rather, you take what is called a “motoconcho”. Essentially, everyone here has a motorcycle with two seats on it (essentially, an extended back seat). For about a dollar, you can wave down anyone on the road, and you hop on the back of their motocycle and they’ll take you into town, or to the beach, or wherever else. I usually ask them to go a little slower than they usually do, just for safety reasons, but it’s really a very convenient way to get around town.

Today, I start my first day of work, and I’m excited to begin working in the villages. I’ll write a post in a couple days describing to you exactly what I’m doing – I’m writing up profiles for groups of women who want loans to post on www.kiva.org. This is a peer-to-peer sharing website where people can loan money to anyone around the world who is seeking a microloan to start a business. It’s a very novel idea, and it’s exciting for me to be part of this.

I’ll describe it more in detail, and perhaps a couple of stories, when I finish my first few days of work!

Friday, June 19, 2009

In the DR!

Hey all!

I have now been in the Dominican since Tuesday, and I wanted to give a quick update of what’s been going on. I’m currently in my last night here in Santo Domingo (the capital of the DR), and the last couple days have been filled with training for us new interns. We’ve been going over some of what our jobs are here in the DR, and it’s finally becoming a bit more clear on what exactly I’ll be doing. I’ll be in the city of SamanĂ¡, which is in the northern part of the country, on a peninsula. Look it up – it’s gorgeous! I’ll have an update after the weekend talking about the city. For now, it’s time to move cross-country (for the DR that means a 3 hour bus) and get myself established in a new place of the world!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Off to the DR in a few hours!

Hey everyone -

This will be the place to look at my blog while I have an internship down here in the Dominican. I have committed myself to having a better blog, with more updates. I am extremely excited for what is going to happen in the DR this summer, and I'll let you all know what's happening.

For those who might not know, I am interning for Esperanza International, a microfinance NGO. I'll be in the city of Samana (in the north coast - you can look it up on Google Earth). It should be BEAUTIFUL. They haven't given me specific tasks yet, and I'll let you know how I'll be aiding in the distribution of credit to the impoverished when I find out more!

Talk to you upon arrival!