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  ABOUT

In early 2005 Kiva, began with an experiment. It was an attempt to prove that the stories of entrepreneurs in developing countries working to bring themselves out of poverty were so compelling that they could attract direct funding for their businesses online. Each business is represented with an online profile that specifies both their need and plan. Interest from lenders was quickly demonstrated and Kiva is now mobilizing loan capital around the world. Through the use of ICTs Kiva is delivering new opportunities to access capital for microloans by partnering with existing microfinance institutions (MFI). Kiva has created a channel through which those MFIs can market their borrower’s stories via the internet to access inexpensive capital from individual lenders. The goal is to reduce the operational costs of the MFIs and allow them to create more change through microfinance.

Kiva’s partners fund small businesses in a variety of sectors including; agriculture, retail, housing, manufacture, service etc. Kiva allows them to post profiles to attract capital. Typically various lenders collectively provide the necessary capital for each borrower, which is then wired directly to the MFI for disbursal. Lenders who have funded those businesses receive updates during the repayment period regarding the impact and progress of the loan. These updates are made by MFI staff members responsible for each individual business. Once the loan has been repaid to the MFI it is wired back to the lenders accounts. Partnering with Kiva demands that staff become familiar with several technologies so that they can provide and manage content that is created for the Kiva
website, including digital photography and the internet.

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The project was based on Kiva’s goal to continue to scale and improve their offer. Interest and capital flowing from online lenders was not the limiting factor, instead the bottleneck was the ability of their partners to post borrower information onto the web. Kiva partners must have access to the internet and become familiar with web navigation and content management, however many environmental factors can limit their ability to do so easily especially in developing countries.
The principle concern of the project was to research which technology interaction forms are most appropriate for integration into the operational context of MFIs to facilitate entrepreneurs accessing micro credit through Kiva to allow them to continue to connect lenders with entrepreneurs.

Project Structure

The six month plan was carried out through five main development stages: research preparation, context research, design development and testing and dissemination. Half of the total duration of the project was spent in East Africa during two separate phases, emphasizing the need for direct contact with users. Below the activities of each phase are elaborated touching on some of the keys issues that were faced in designing for the context of East Africa.


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Preparation - The Netherlands
Preparation activities had the dual aim of developing research materials and answering the research questions as far as could be done through a review of existing information. Because of the unique needs of the project, modifications to traditional practices were elected. Due to a lack of available literature capable of contributing insights to the specific project goal a benchmark was conducted to provide initial insights. The benchmark highlighted those aspects of development projects, from all over the globe, that have successfully leveraged ICT in order to increase client outreach in terms of efficiency or scalability.

Context research materials were developed for use during the context research phase based on a review of existing practices in the design practice and usability testing field. Anticipating operating in a foreign context the materials were adapted to suit the project’s need for flexibility. Anticipating the unexpected would help to avoid significant hang ups.

Context Research - Uganda & Kenya
This 7 week research phase emphasized transparency during a week spent with four of Kiva’s partner MFIs. The goals of the project and individual activites were communicated clearly to the staff of each MFI. Secondly, a blog was established to communicate insights and observations to Kiva throughout this period to eliminate unnecessary catch up time during the design development phase.


Tools specifically designed to elaborate the context surrounding the users were employed to help uncover those issues that are important to consider in the development of an appropriate solution. They included observation, photography and video, focus groups, individual interviews, role playing, shadowing, and generative sessions. Context research intends to produce a deep understanding of the reality of where, why and how the user works and capture behaviors and occurrences, which reveal information about people, their activities and their environment. In some cases this was made difficult because efforts to acheive an unobtrusive ‘fly on the wall’ perspective of daily activities was complicated by being ‘muzungus’ (white people).

Through observation alone several critical issues were revealed shortly after arrival. Most notable were the ‘day on day off’ electricity schedule, unreliable internet connection and proliferation of cellphones and related infrastructure. kamp Time spent with each organization highlighted other concerns for the development of an appropriate solution. Kiva activities demanded considerable learning on the part of the staff. Primarily these activities were the responsibility of the credit officers, staff that operate directly with entrepreneurs. Costs related to internet usage and the purchase of new equipment were a concern.

Sharing of equipment between staff and the transfer of data including photos and text for updates was a time consuming requirement often necessitating additional trips to the office. Additional travel was also necessary when staff members were forced to make visits to an internet café to complete uploads when office power or connectivity was inadequate. These distances and costs were in addition to those already being made to visit entrepreneurs on site (sometimes at a distance of 35km by bicycle).

Infrastructural, technological and organizational notes were all gathered. Direct contact with staff revealed important tendencies necessary to consider. Staff demonstrated an amazing eagerness to adopt new technologies. In a place where stigma surrounds computers, suggesting that only those with a college degree can operate one, a mandate to become proficient was very empowering. Equipment sharing was fundamental and maximization of available resources was commonplace. Results were translated into a presentation highlighting particular elements of the context that reflected the most important issues to consider in delivering appropriate solutions. These issues were communicated through briefs, profiles and proposals. Profiles distill several sets of information into one set that communicates consistent issues amongst the different cases. A profile of the ‘credit officer’ uses facts that provide rich details to communicate what is important to them. The same method was used to communicate other issues such as environmental characteristics in the field and in the office that are important.

Briefs are a set of guidelines that document themes that have emerged during research. They serve as a set of action items to be acted upon during the design phase of the project. Similar to a program of requirements briefs identify needs, and specify at once an identified need while also suggesting a response tactic. For example, “Decentralize: If Kiva operations require travel to various remote locations then facilitate online processes to occur in situ.” The briefs help to initiate design development.

Design Development - San Francisco & East Africacaler
As a formalized method for solving problems, design has identified several techniques for understanding the needs of the user and responding through the development of solutions. Understanding users through context research can be difficult even in familiar environments. This difficulty can be even more pronounced in foreign settings, such as developing countries, where socio economic and cultural disparities can be considerable. By teaming up with staff to co-create solutions they were engaged early in the problem solving process which was critical in order to take advantage of their knowledge.

Through collaborative brainstorms held with each MFI potential solutions were identified. Later those ideas were discussed with Kiva engineers who selected the MiMoSo as the most successful bet for meeting their goals to improve the efficiency of their service and scale. The MiMoSo was co-developed to effectively respond to project briefs and other concerns such as security. A prototype was created for use during testing.

Testing - Uganda & Kenya
Testing was completed with credit officers from LiA and WEEC. The goal was to field test the MiMoSo prototype in order to gain insight about its ability to meet the needs identified by the briefs as well as those larger system concerns. Testing was done exclusively with credit officers during individual trips to visit borrowers. Staff eagerness was impressive and ease of use was obvious as familiarity with existing cellphone applications is very high. The cost of the cellphone was shown to be affordable. Ulitmately Kiva confirmed receipt of several updates proving the MiMoSo's ability to operate as a channel for content delivery.

Dissemination - The Netherlands
Project insights and recommendations have been communicated through a final report. The report includes conclusions regarding which technology can be most efficiently integrated in order to facilitate MFI's accessing p2p internet micro credit lending systems. Evaluation of the project and recommendations for Kiva’s further efforts are offered from a systems perspective with reference to the service ecology.