I just got back from Uganda on my first ever due diligence trip.
It seems like we go through the biggest surges when I leave the office. Last time it was Toronto, this time it was Uganda. The Frontline special aired again and this time we made it through with our servers down for only 30 minutes. Last time it was 4 days. I’m extraordinarily thankful for our dev team for the improvement since October.
We are on target to do about $2M in loans in April alone. This is some serious growth considering last year we did $2M cumulative. I felt none of none of this while in Uganda. Instead I witnessed the difficulties associated with rapidly building a microfinance organization. Things scale real fast on the web, things are less clean in reality.
Our lenders are flexing their muscles and dramatically increasing the portfolio size of some of our partners. For instance, in this year alone, our lenders sent over $500K to a new partner in Togo and $250K to an MFI in Kenya. These are not inconsequential sums — especially in africa.
Now that we have the ability to send large sums rather fast to the developing world, we have more responsibility to send the funds into good hands. As sums increase, so does the need to conduct constant monitoring and visitations before and during funding. In East Africa, over the past few months, we’ve been sending teams of auditors to visit our newest partners. It’s been a learning experience that will need to be institutionalized into a longer term strategy.
We will need to answer a critical question: how close do we want to be to our partners? If we want to be very close, we might want to form regional offices in several continents. This way, we could send Kiva staff to personally visit every partner multiple times a year. Another way to get close is to send volunteers to frequently visit, assist and report back on each partner. Lastly, we can rely on local and international auditors and rating agencies to conduct yearly inspections.
Making this decision will force a serious reflection on how we view ourselves. Are we simply a technology platform with offices only in San Francisco? Are we an international NGO with local operations in the field? Are we something in between?