My Humanitarian Mission (Impossible)

By tamara on

Ukraine 2014 374Just as most Ukrainians in the US are looking for ways to help Ukraine, I too have been brainstorming ideas. Because I work in finance and my sphere of influence and experience is in this sector, I believe it is in this arena, where I can add the most value.

For the last several years, I have worked with an American micro-finance organization called Kiva. Kiva has created an on-line platform where ordinary people like you and me can make small business loans to individuals or groups of individuals in developing countries. The smallest loan amount is $25 and lenders make these loans interest free. This is obviously not an investment, but more of a charity. To date individuals have collectively lent over half a billion dollars in loans, through Kiva. The default rate is less than 3%.

A few months ago, I reached out to Kiva and told them that I wanted to work more closely with their field partners in Ukraine – both promoting more loans to individuals and marketing Kiva to Ukrainians in the United States. Separately and simultaneously, my company had announced a partnership with Kiva wherein they would give each US employee US$25, in order to get them started with their first loan – a US$250K commitment.

The timing couldn’t be more perfect because I knew that I would have more power and greater influence, if I could reach out to Kiva through my company. So, this is what I did. My company put me in touch with Kiva who then put me in touch with their field partners in Ukraine, Hope International. I then reached out to Hope and set up a meeting. Additionally, I connected with the COO of my company’s office in Kiev, as I thought it would be beneficial to have someone locally, who could assist with this initiative.

This morning I arrived at our offices in Kiev and the COO of the office agreed to join me for the meeting with Hope. So he arranged a chauffeured car to take us Hope’s office, which were on the outskirts of Kiev. The building that houses Hope’s office is a rundown Soviet style apartment building draped with drying clothes hanging from closelines; it was a setting that seemed more fitting for a drug deal than a business meeting.

We circled around for bit before finding the building which I’m sure I would have found, had I been by myself. In hindsight, I’m not sure that I would have pulled off the meeting by myself – between the language, which was a mix of Ukrainian and Russian and the mere fact that I have never conducted business in Ukraine.

The meeting with Hope was constructive. I learned about their lending process and they seemed open to many of the ideas that we had around expanding their scope. But ultimately, I walked away disappointed. During the meeting I had discovered that Hope charges their borrowers between 35-40%; profiting from money which they are getting from Kiva for free. This won’t really help those who really need it. It was a realization of my worst fear.

8 comments

  1. Sounds like an opportunity to me: an opportunity to set up a real Kiva charity in Ukraine that doesn’t charge usury rates.

    • Unfortunately, infrastructure costs money to support and I already have a fully time job so I can’t devote the time a set up like that would take. But that said, this is not the end for me. I think my next step is to go back to Kiva and discuss with them. Hope had said that they have other sources of funding and one source made a contractual obligation with them in order to charge less interest. I think there is still hope (no pun).

  2. Great effort and important cause to be involved in. There is a perception that charities do not pay salaries or have the normal business costs such as rent, travel and office expenses. The reality is charities have most of the same costs as any other business. I’m not sure if there is any corruption with Hope International but the reality is every charity takes a percentage of donations or grants to help fund salaries and other infrastructure.

    Be safe!

    Andrew

    • I understand that, but 35-45% is excessive and with rates that high it can only hurt the poor by creating more debt. There has to be a better solution here. I haven’t given up yet, in fact its only the first step.

      tamara

    • Wow, thanks so much Oksana. I just do what I do.

      if you have chance please share these posts with your mom, or better yet have her subscribe to my blog. I think she will enjoy reading about my trip to Ukraine.

      xo,
      Tamara

  3. Like you say it’s just the first step. Stick with it and don’t give up. You are doing a great job. Very admirable and brave.

    • Thanks Jit and thanks for the support. I won’t let this go- I can’t let this go. There is a solution here, I just have to find it.

      I hope you are enjoying your holiday!

      Xo,
      Tamara

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