Part of my Kiva fellowship application is to share my statement of motivation on my blog. Here it goes!
Having been brought up in Pakistan, from an early age on I was exposed to scenarios no longer tolerated in the developed world. Extreme income disparities, dismal health and educational provisions by the government, corruption, feudalism and lack of justice were hardships the average Pakistani faced on a daily basis. The only way to survive despite the injustice was by building a wall of indifference, an unfortunate technique many have mastered, passing the responsibility on to another. It is with these thoughts that I chose my university degree, that of Economics. Economic empowerment at any level is one of the many prongs that will take to thrust a country such as my own in the direction of remote development. It is for the same reasons that I wish to become a responsible Kiva fellow, for personal, grass-root level, sustainable commitment to a project in development is paramount to succeed.
Being half Pakistani and half Dutch has allowed me to cultivate a unique perspective on solutions within development. I have completed several internships, notably with the European Union microfinance programme in Pakistan, with the World Bank Child Support programme, a conditional cash transfer programme targeting primary education, with UNESCO, during the 2009 General Assembly, and finally as an intern and then consultant for the Health Insurance Fund, supporting in sub-Saharan Africa through researching health policy and financing. As a student I also participated in a research trip to the Baltic countries, exploring the potential opportunities for foreign investors. In 2010, I worked with Concern in Pakistan supporting both the programme and communications aspect of their emergency response to the floods in Pakistan. I recently returned from Nigeria where I worked for IFC Reports on a publication for Bloomberg Businessweek, producing a socioeconomic report on the country. By working in environments ranging from public to private, international to local, multinational to personal, I have been given a unique insight into each organization’s distinct mind-set, knowledge which I guard closely and can use to foster understanding, for instance, in mediating multilateral donor demands within local NGO capacity. Within my experience in Health, Education and Emergencies, amongst others, I have often played the role of middle-man, bridging gaps in order to work towards a common goal.
It therefore seems a natural step to me to apply for the Kiva fellowship. As a young professional I hold an MSc in Economics, have experience in the international humanitarian context, speak several languages and demonstrate enthusiasm and awareness of the subject. The characteristics embodied within the Kiva design thoroughly align with my personal mandate of grass-root empowerment. Targeting vulnerable individuals that sometimes fall between the cracks of clear NGO definitions, allowing for ownership and choice in development, creating personal relationships between lender and borrower and highlighting progress may seem highly logical concepts, yet can be difficult to implement. Furthermore, allowing for the maintenance of one’s own culture and dignity throughout this process cannot be understated. Learning Kiva’s customized approach and in turn being able to contribute to local community empowerment are experiences I thoroughly look forward to.
In June of 2010 I returned to Pakistan to work with Irish NGO Concern. Three weeks into my position, devastating floods hit the country, leaving a fifth of the country under water and over 20 million people stranded. As the weeks developed, as relevant as my work was with Concern, I felt a need to connect and engage on a personal level with the victims. Next to my job, I established the informal organization ‘Every Little Helps’ where several campaigns were carried out, with fundraising a constant undertone. Flood-struck villages in the North-West of the country were visited, vulnerable families were targeted, guaranteeing our donors that the right people were supported. Schools were approached to provide clothing, toys and school supplies, individuals were approached for food and hygiene supplies and the media and social networking was used to spread the message. As the campaign grew, we expanded our activities to include bedding, hygiene items and medication, providing support to over 600 families. Under the livelihood phase, seeds, fertilizer and materials were provided to 20 vulnerable farmers, and when the soil was ready we moved to the reconstruction phase, where 15 homes were built, and furniture, books and other equipment bought for a school and orphanage. A severely damaged school is still being re-built, where over 300 children are taught.
Having been brought up in the somewhat privileged, isolated city of Islamabad, having to approach and work in harmony with a very rural part of Pakistan provided to be an experience equipped with extreme learning, despite the fact that it was within the confines of my own country. Through the campaign I interacted with women who never had left their homes due to their very conservative religious views, where I was able to absorb, listen and learn, admitting that even though we may fundamentally differ in our opinions, realized there is always need for sensitivity and understanding. Here is a relevant example where innovation and creativity in approach was required, as a one-size-fits-all policy would not suffice: purchasing plastic tents for the displaced, in temperatures hitting the mid-forties Centigrade, with women unable to leave their ‘homes’, was not an option. Upon consulting with locals we reached the viable alternative of bamboo huts, which we were soon to find out, was the more cost effective solution too!
The opportunity to support these resilient communities during moment of extreme hardship, interacting with traumatized families, fostering relationships built on trust, and designing the campaign based on their needs was demanding to say the least, yet gave me great insight into forming a sustainable strategy. Having raised over $40,000 from private donations, this has been my proudest achievement to date.
Typical Kiva day
The first order of the day would be to have a meet with my liaison at the MFI, and having already established areas of support in the beginning of the fellowship, such as Kiva standards, targeting, monitoring and evaluation, communication, report writing, database skills, we would discuss progress in these areas after the daily training. With the district of work for the week selected, we would go through our databases to see which existing borrowers need to have their progress tracked, where identified candidates are, where verifications need to be carried out and perhaps meet with local NGOs to receive their opinions potential candidates and regions, as well as advice on how to approach certain communities. Taking a local is often necessary to spark trust.
Returning from the field trip would mean updating databases, writing field reports, sending communications material and summarizing lessons learned, observations and suggestions for the following update with HQ. At any moment during the day, following blogs of current fellows, as well as previous fellows working in similar regions, the local and foreign press is necessary in order to keep involved. The day would conclude with several notations for the fortnightly blog entry.