21 Jan 2013
This is a guest post by our amazing partners at Kiva, who are accepting applications now for their 2013 Kiva Fellowship Programme: http://www.kiva.org/fellows
“This week, I met a Jordanian widow who is supporting four children and her elderly mother on less than 200 JD ($283) per month. Her income comes from her deceased spouse’s pension. She is applying for a microloan to make ends meet.” – Taline Khansa, November 29, 2012
Taline Khansa has now served four months as a Kiva Fellow in Jordan, where she has partnered with Tamweelcom to promote microloans acros the region. After working in aerospace engineering for six years, this Beirut native is charting a new career course.
Around the world, thirty more Kiva Fellows like Taline are bringing their own unique set of skills and experiences to bear for their respective field partners. Acting as the eyes and ears on the ground of Kiva.org, their work is critical for the successful functioning of Kiva’s mission, which connects thousands of borrowers and lenders every minute on its online platform. And as its ambassadors, they are uniquely positioned to both witness and document the realities of microfinance on the ground
Taline operates in the Middle East, where Kiva hosts six active placement countries (Israel, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Palestine, and Yemen). As she explains: “While the Middle East remains one of the most politically volatile regions, its microfinance portfolio retains one of the highest repayment rates and lowest percentage of portfolios at risk according to 2011 Sanabel and MIX MENA Regional Snapshot.
Solid waste problem in the neighborhood of a Tamweelcom microfinance client
But not only has microfinance funded traditional monetary loans across the region. Microfinance institutions like Tamweelcom also provide clients with alternate sources of money or assets, such as housing and education. These loans come at a critical juncture for much of Jordan’s population. Low-income communities there struggle with a number of pressing issues that Khansa describe, including:
High Unemployment Rates: 18.3% for Females compared with 10.7% for Males. 27.2% of Youth between age 20-24 are unemployed. It is important to note that more than 70% of the population is under age 30.
High Cost of Living: In 2008, the Jordanian government increased its minimum wage to 150JD ($211). However, Jordan remains the 4th poorest country among the Arab states and one of the most expensive to live in. Low-income communities are making tough choices about whether to pay rent and electricity or keep their families fed.
High Inflation Rates: In the first eight months of 2012, the average inflation rate has been4.1%, a sharp increase from previous years according to a report by Jordan’s Department of Statistics, with transportation up 6.1%, dairy products 15.0%, meats 5.6%, and rents 3.8%. This has been further fueled by a recent removal of fuel subsidies which has affected commodity prices across the board.
Water Shortage: Jordanian homes receive water refills for their tanks only once a week. However, pumping interruptions are common, leaving low-income neighborhoods without water for indefinite periods of time.
Unsatisfactory solid waste management due to an increasing population, lack of funding at the local government level and insufficient community awareness.
However, despite these growing problems, Jordanian microfinance institutions remain more committed than ever to their clients. As Ranya Abdel-Baki, the former executive director of Sanabel, says: “You would think that [microfinance institutions] would only be focused on institutional survival, but they have been putting their clients’ needs ahead of their own.”
Microfinance is surely not the magic bullet for poverty, unemployment, and political turmoil. But it is surely one of the puzzle pieces. Kiva.org is currently recruiting for its new class of Fellows, who will be deploying to the field for four months in June of 2013. We encourage anyone with an interest in international development and high Arabic proficiency to apply to the program in order to continue the momentum for entrepreneurship in the Middle East.
Applications will be accepted until January 27, 2013. For more information, visit http://www.kiva.org/fellows/