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Kiva Fellows Program Gives MBAs a Different Perspective

Posted By Leslie Brian, Monday, April 15, 2013

Leslie BrianGuest Blogger, Leslie Brian, Kiva Fellows Program Intern

Armed with sharp business acumen and a discerning fiscal eye, Muskan Chopra has a background any MBA candidate would envy. But when Chopra graduates from Columbia Business School in May, she’ll have a secret weapon in her arsenal.

Between her first and second years of business school, Muskan spent three months as a Kiva Fellow in Kenya. There, far away from campus and classrooms, she felt her education truly take shape.

For seven years, Kiva has been a beacon of innovation for the microfinance industry. As the world’s first and largest micro-lending website, the organization has crowdfunded over $400 million in loans for more than 1 million borrowers. Today, Kiva partners with 197 field partners in 67 countries to get loans to the people who need them most. But it’s just at the beginning of a new phase for microfinance.

Kiva is launching initiatives to reach new types of borrowers with products and services tailored to their needs. Branching out, the organization is now partnering with social enterprises, universities, NGOs and others to offer loans for clean energy, tuition, medical care and much more. It’s also exploring the potential of interest-free and mobile lending through its pilot project Kiva Zip.

To sustain this incredible growth, Kiva relies on its Fellows Program.

"The Kiva Fellows Program is perfect for anyone who wants to be engaged in a dynamic community of entrepreneurs, excited to do something meaningful with their lives,” Chopra testifies. "It’s for the strong-hearted, the adventurous, and the flexible.”

Muskan Chopra

This cohort of international volunteers hails from a wide range of backgrounds – from consulting and banking to sales and marketing, journalism and digital media to business and social entrepreneurship. Yet, despite their broad range of experiences, they are bound together by a passion for changing lives through financial empowerment.

Kiva leverages the unique talents of its fellows for a wide variety of projects. They optimize partner operations, train staff, develop new products, streamline lending and repayment operations, create stunning marketing collateral, and scale new initiatives like Kiva Zip. Simply put, there’s no such thing as a typical Kiva Fellowship.

"The fellowship challenged every assumption I held and completely changed my worldview,” reports Sarah Lawson (KF6), a Kiva Fellow in Benin. "It was one of the most formative and fascinating experiences of my life.”

Increasingly, business schools are looking to supplement their curricula with exactly the type of fieldwork-based experience the Kiva Fellows Program provides. While traditional MBA programs have limited their scope to strict definitions of finance, this next century will be all about innovative business strategies that tackle the world’s biggest problems.

"The millennial students -- those earning higher-education degrees in the 21st century -- don’t just want to make money; they want to make a difference,” says Garth Saloner, Dean of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.

Poverty, global warming, education reform, food security. These are issues that require long-term overhauls of established systems. Not only are they technical problems, believes Saloner, they are also business, leadership, and management problems. They demand professionals that can think about and analyze global issues like poverty, and also design and implement creative solutions on the ground.

"After almost 8 months as a Kiva Fellow, I can say with confidence that I've learned more about microfinance than I could have in such a short time through any other method,” says David Gorgani (KF18) who worked in Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.

Taylor Whitfield echoes these sentiments from her current placement in Washington D.C., where she works to scale Kiva Zip in the U.S.

"We think of microfinance as a developing world concept, but the financial system in this country often leaves people in just as much of a mess as in the poorest nations,” she says. "What I'm finding as a Zip fellow is that our definition of ‘needy’ is far too narrow.”

The 480+ Kiva Fellows who have cycled through the program agree: 95% of all fellows would do it again, while 25% of fellows chose to extend their fellowship for an additional 4 to 8 months.

""I know that the Fellowship is sending me in the right direction, both personally and professionally,” reflects Jamie Greenthal (KF17), a Kiva Fellows alum of the Philippines. "I will never forget the amazing experiences I had and the interesting and kind people I met during the Fellowship. For that I am truly grateful.”

So, when Muskan Chopra throws her graduation cap in the air in June, the world had best be ready. An army of Kiva Fellows is waiting to lead the charge against global poverty -- one microloan at a time.

 

More about the Kiva Fellows Program:

Kiva is currently accepting applications for its Fellows Program! The deadline for the 22nd Class of Kiva Fellows is May 26, 2013. Fellows must attend a one-week training in San Francisco from August 26-30, and arrive at their assignments within two weeks of training.

To apply, visit www.kiva.org/fellows/apply. For more information on the application process, upcoming application deadlines and training schedules, visit our website, www.kiva.org/fellows or our application portal at http://kfpappsite.wordpress.com.

 

Leslie Brian is the Kiva Fellows Program Intern. Her passion for international development, specifically human rights, led her to Stanford University (Go Card!). There, she studied international relations while spearheading a wide variety of advocacy and fundraising events for the campus.

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