Jenara Nerenberg

Prospects of Kiva’s Activities in Asia

Kiva CarbonNextBillion left off in 2008 with Rob’s post about Kiva and that’s where I’ll pick up in the new year. I recently sat down with Matt Flannery, Founder of Kiva, to chat about BOP Source and Kiva’s work in Asia. I wanted to share a brief update on the latter and point you to Matt’s blog, which provides great insight on the triumphs and challenges of running a global organization like Kiva.

Part of Kiva’s success is due to the outstanding Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) they partner with, an aspect of Kiva that also requires a lot of due diligence and a lot of staff. Taking a look around their offices in the Mission district of San Francisco, I said to Matt, “Wow, you have a large staff!” He said, “That’s because of all the due diligence we do.”

Matt has openly blogged about early tribulations with MFI partners in Africa that led to tighter due diligence. Kiva has approximately 15 people on staff solely dedicated to due diligence and monitoring. Additionally, Kiva is hiring local staff in Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America to augment the work of San Francisco-based staff. In May of 2007, Kiva received a $345,000 grant to expand its due diligence operations. Ernst & Young has also donated up to $1 million in audits.

That said, Kiva will be expanding its presence in Asia in the near future and has already identified promising partners and high-impact regions to work in. For the Asia region, Kiva recently signed on 4 partners in the Philippines, a partner in West Timor, and a partner in Vietnam, with a possible partner in Papua New Guinea coming soon. Additional numbers are exciting; 1% of the population of Samoa is funded by Kiva and rural and urban repayment rates in the Asia region are close to 100%.

Microfinance has taken off with wild success in Cambodia in particular, and Kiva has played no small part in that success. Darren Miao, Microfinance Partnerships Manager at Kiva, told me that 13% of all Kiva loans go to Cambodia, which make up $7-10 million. When asked about the success of Kiva in Cambodia, Matt said in Cambodia there is “A dense population who have, until recently, not been tapped by the banking industry.” For all you entrepreneurs out there, this could be a very helpful clue about how to identify the right place for your next microfinance venture.

As a side note, Matt told me that next up, Kiva is headed to the U.S.! Kiva plans to begin facilitating lending to micro-entrepreneurs in the U.S. in March 2009. While Zopa and Prosper are two already-established online lending organizations in the U.S., Matt said they are not direct competitors. Kiva will continue to cater to the “poorest of the poor,” as Matt put it, and they will continue to work with field partners as their current lending model dictates. According to Matt, Kiva’s target borrowers “could not qualify for the direct p2p approach of Prosper and Zopa.”

Kiva is already present elsewhere in Asia, including Nepal, Mongolia, and Pakistan, but Kiva has yet to work in China and India due to government regulatory barriers, a roadblock that Matt and Darren are eagerly trying to push through. While Kiva is also already present in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam, these are places that show huge interest and potential and will see aggressive focus on Kiva’s part in the upcoming year.

Finally, due to the current global economic crisis, there has been a 25% decline in new lending through Kiva, a drop that will hopefully be stymied by Kiva’s expansion in Asia and the U.S. and, perhaps, by this post. You decide.