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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Change the World (And Your Life) - Become a Kiva Fellow

By Rob Katz

Kiva LogoIt's the holiday season in the United States, which means many bloggers are talking about gifts, giving, philanthropy and the state of the world.? All this gift-blogging got me thinking about one of my favorite gifts (to give and to receive) - Kiva gift certificates.? If you need to pick up a last minute stocking stuffer, you could do a lot worse.? (Don't know Kiva?? We've written about them before, including interviews with founders Matt and Jessica, as well as a comparison between them and MicroPlace, a P2P microfinance competitor.)

There's another way to give Kiva, but it won't fit in a stocking: you can give yourself.? That's right: if you're looking to get involved in microfinance very personally, Kiva has a Fellowship program that allows volunteers to spend anywhere from 10 weeks to a year working for a microfinance organization.? According to their web site:
The Kiva Fellows Program offers individuals a rare opportunity to travel abroad and witness firsthand the impact and realities of microfinance, by working directly with a host microfinance institution (MFI). The Kiva Fellow is an unpaid, volunteer based position designed to increase Kiva's impact and to offer participants a unique insider experience. Past participants have found the fellowship to be a great first step in a career in microfinance or international development.
All the details are available on their web site.? I've been keeping my eye on the Kiva Fellows program for the past few months, especially as the financial crisis unfolded here in New York.? I wondered, what are all these newly-unemployed finance pros going to do with their time?? Maybe some of them are going to want to give back - but how?? A Kiva Fellowship is a good place to start.Skeptical?? I was, at first.? But I've been following the Kiva Fellows Blog, and it's pretty clear that these guys are the cream of the crop of applicants, and that they do real work for real MFIs.?

Abby GrayThey can be great storytellers, too.? One of my favorite blog entries is by a Kiva Fellow named Abby Gray, who works in Togo with a microfinance institution named WAGES.? Last month, she recounted an emotional encounter with her friend Abozu; the post is called "Why I Can't Give Abozu My Camera" - here's an excerpt:
I'm not writing to share an inspiring microfinance success story or even a heartwarming cross-cultural anecdote, as I was hoping I would be.? I am writing to tell about a conversation that threw an uncomfortably bright spotlight directly on the basis of my being here in Africa, and the basis of Kiva?s mission itself.
Read the rest of the post - trust me, it's worth 5 minutes.

If you're thinking about giving this holiday season, please consider Kiva.? Give a gift certificate - it's a great way to introduce "development through enterprise" or "base of the pyramid" concepts to friends and family (and it's fun!).? Or, if you're looking to give more deeply, consider applying for the Kiva Fellowship.? It's selective, it's difficult and it's a volunteer program.? But if you come away with stories anywhere near Abby Gray's, it will be a gift that gives back to you many times over.
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