Conversations that Change Lives

It's a warm Sunday afternoon and I'm hiking in a volcanic gorge just outside Hells Gate National Park in Naivasha. A slender Maasai man named Joe is guiding my friend and I up the steep, slippery walls of hardened lava. After climbing a steep cliff, we sit down at the top to take in a view of Kenya's stunning Rift Valley. Joe asks us for how long we are visiting.
"I'm here for awhile," I reply. "I'm working with a company that helps people get loans."

Not surprisingly, Joe's face lights up. He wants to know more. I explain the Kiva Zip model of trustees endorsing borrowers instead of MFIs and immediately he starts telling me about the entrepreneurs in his village without resources to grow. I already know that he comes from one of the most famous indigenous herding tribes in East Africa, one that has been forced off their land and often reduced from cattle farming to selling crafts at tourist sites. Maasai continually deal with harassment from police, government, and neighboring tribes. What I don't know is that Joe is a decision-maker in his community and has started educational programs to aid its development.

What could have been the usual obligatory exchange of small talk questions turns into a much deeper connection. I am no longer a tourist and he a guide. We are collaborating as leaders about basic human needs and how to improve life for those we care about. The most exciting part for both of us is that, through Kiva Zip, we have the tool to do so.


In my six months as a fellow, tasked with improving and expanding this pilot program, I have noticed a transformation in my interactions with people, especially strangers. I am always listening for what they are passionate about and how they could bring it to a global platform. When I tell them of the potential I see, it encourages them to share with me more deeply about their situations and we skip past the formal pleasantries to what is really important to them.

Despite our discussion at the end of our hike, I am still unsure whether Joe will remember me among the countless other muzungu NGO workers he meets daily. When I followup with him weeks later, though, he greets me warmly by name.

"The day we met, I told some people about these loans you talked about," he says. "We had a very good talk and look forward to participating."

Not only did Joe and I grow closer, he had also shifted the conversation in his village that night, from one of everyday survival to one of possibility; a crucial respite given the struggles they face as Maasai and hopefully the beginning of a new chapter.


Posted by Taylor Whitfield, Kenya Kiva Zip Fellow

Aug 13, 2013

Growing up in Silicon Valley, Taylor has engendered the entrepreneurial spirit since starting her own business at the age of eight, thanks to a $50 loan from her dad. Although she ended up breaking even, the experience of marketing her product developed her leadership skills and interest in helping individuals realize their potential. In college, she studied abroad in Ghana, where she also volunteered at an NGO for street girls. There she befriended a widowed woman with two kids and no home. Taylor decided to mobilize family and friends to fundraise $11,500 and build a house for them. While it was an incredible gift, Taylor soon learned it was not a long-term solution and began searching for more empowering ways to contribute. Traveling to places like Colombia, Ethiopia and Turkey left her with a passion for other cultures, yet she saw there was much to be done from home in San Francisco. Working at the Department of Public Health and a local free clinic the past two years, she was frustrated by the disparities in access to healthcare. She is now committed to building a career that addresses the underlying cause—poverty—and believes Kiva is the perfect place to start. She served her first placement with Kiva Zip in Washington, D.C.


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