COVID-19 Impact and Updates: Listening, Adapting, and Learning into 2021
With the support of Kiva’s lending community and strategic partners, Kiva continues to fuel response and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic in communities across the globe. Together, we’ve sent $109,902,200 in loans to 243,175 borrowers affected by the pandemic.
COVID-19 IMPACT ON FINANCIAL ACCESS
A global pandemic with universal but distinct impact across regions and countries is exacerbating financial and systemic inequities and underscores the importance of Kiva’s global network of nearly 200 lending partners and U.S. Hub partnerships. Kiva turned to these partners when we were first faced with the scope of the pandemic, to reach out to hear and understand the pandemic’s impact on staff, operations, and the borrowers and communities they support. The impact was nearly universal — necessary precautions and government lockdowns halted economic activity in most countries and our lending partners and Hubs were unable to operate “business as usual” and provide essential capital for Kiva borrowers.
Support for Kiva enabled us to quickly adapt in 2020 and focus on flexibility, innovation and collaboration with our community of lending partners. We swiftly moved to negotiate debt forbearance with partners in collaboration with groups of other social investors; organized revised payment plans; and waived financial covenants. Alongside this, we designed and offered a new financial product, the Crisis Support Loan, to directly help lending partners whose liquidity had been negatively impacted by the slowdown in repayments and in investment from other funders. We were proud to raise $7.5 million in funding enabling us to extend Crisis Support Loans to 38 lending partner organizations.
Our lending partners worked rapidly to adapt to an altered commercial and impact landscape by designing new products and services to support COVID-impacted customers, and to adapt their existing processes to the pandemic by rescheduling thousands of customers’ repayments, implementing digital financial services, and ensuring that clients understood that they cared about their well being, not just their debt.
LEARNING INTO 2021
At Kiva we are now focused on continued learning and recovery as we work with partners and communities to persevere through the pandemic and work toward greater resilience. Going into 2021, we’re developing COVID-specific technical assistance offerings and adding to our family of financial products in order to broaden and deepen our support for vulnerable populations and the organizations that serve them. The gut-wrenching hardships engendered by the pandemic are at the forefront of our minds, and we’re focused now on how we can help the communities we serve rebuild and work toward greater and more resilient prosperity.
Pairing Kiva’s risk-tolerant capital with more active collaboration with our lending partners has only accelerated during this crisis. Informed by ongoing research and impact evaluation, enhanced technology support and non-financial services enable our partners to design and launch loans, products, and services meeting the needs of the communities they serve, as well as to sustainably scale their business models. To that end, we are looking for opportunities to continue to form partnerships with local technical assistance providers, while also working directly with partners to strengthen their services through digitization, new product design, and borrower data collection.
The following three international lending partner updates and one Kiva US HUB spotlight illustrate key learnings on how we can collectively continue to impact the lives of women and men around the globe and their ability to recover and thrive following the COVID-19 pandemic.
ASSILASSIMÉ SOLIDARITÉ – LOAN PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT
Assilassimé Solidarité offers financial support, financial literacy, business training, and broader social support for vulnerable individuals living in the Togolese Republic in West Africa. Borrowers include individuals from very low income households, people living with disabilities, people living with HIV or AIDS, unmarried mothers and other vulnerable women.
Assilassimé’s approach to financial inclusion allows vulnerable individuals who are traditionally unable to develop financial stability to gain access to credit in progressive stages through their group lending model and eventually access to individual loans. Loans support agriculture and household assets such as solar energy lamps in order to reduce ongoing living costs.
Learning: Rapid survey delivery and loan product development can be used to support partner organizations’ responses during the Covid-19 pandemic
‘We don’t wait for [borrowers] to come to us, we go out to them; we touch most people in the quickest time this way.’
Assilassimé was keen to understand and respond to the impact of the emerging Covid-19 pandemic for its borrowers. They quickly collected, analyzed, and responded to survey data in order to adapt products and services to meet emerging needs during the crisis. The survey tool is part of a wider global initiative meaning that the data will also feed back into a sector level understanding of the impact of the crisis on microfinance clients. Questions focused on the impact of Covid on the income and livelihood, food security, mental and physical health, and future prospects of borrowers. In response to emerging survey data, Assilassimé has adapted its loan products to allow credit to be established without a guarantee. Kiva has also supported Assilassimé’s response to the Covid crisis with additional funds to support their borrowers: ‘the financial envelope that Kiva has provided has really helped during these difficult times to support people really impacted by the Covid crisis.’
AFRICAN ENTREPRENEUR COLLECTIVE (AEC) – TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE
African Entrepreneur Collective (AEC) works to support entrepreneurs in Rwanda and Kenya to grow their businesses and create jobs. It has expanded operations to include loans for refugee entrepreneurs and is currently the largest refugee lender in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Borrowers receive a mix of business training, advisory services and direct access to capital, and all clients are required to complete one of AEC’s business programs as a way of ‘de-risking’ the investment. This model means that AEC can offer collateral-free loans to borrowers.
Learning: Investments in digital loan operations can ensure greater accessibility for borrowers
A technical assistance grant disbursed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic has allowed AEC to create a digital loan application portal enabling borrowers to apply online, and also supported AEC’s move toward digital training solutions: ‘When Covid hit, we knew that our participants needed access to capital, but movement restrictions prevented any in-person visits. Immediately, we needed a digital way to engage with our current and prospective borrowers.’ Within the space of a few months, AEC staff in six refugee camps have been equipped with the digital support needed to accept lending applications via a mobile app, with due diligence conducted remotely by staff working in Kigali. AEC are currently exploring the next steps in how to harness the full potential of this new technology
APOLLO AGRICULTURE – TECHNOLOGY
Apollo Agriculture provides financing and bundled farm input packages for small-scale farmers in Kenya to optimize farming practices and increase yields and profits. Apollo’s packages, available on credit, provide farmers with the comprehensive support needed to transition to higher-yield, commercially profitable farming.
‘[Our] training covers everything from how to plant, how to space crops, how to use the fertilizer, how to identify pests etc., as well as the role yield insurance plays in the event of issues like drought.’
Learning: Technical assistance and capacity building support can enable further efficiencies through technology
Apollo uses mobile phones – the form of digital technology most commonly owned by rural agricultural farmers – in order to most efficiently reach the greatest number of borrowers. With their focus on streamlined, automated services, Apollo was the first partner to work with Kiva to create an integrated API system when they first established their partnership in 2019, which has had a positive effect on its operations: ‘We have found the transition onto the system to be a relatively seamless process overall, and it has made a huge difference to our efficiency.’
In response to the Covid pandemic, Apollo also received technical assistance primarily focused on rigorous experimentation and analysis of new approaches, including, for example, local language SMS, new communication formats, and an emphasis on establishing customer relationships to support an early path to repayment. The effect of Covid-19 on customers’ ability to repay their loans was a key area of concern for both farmers and Apollo’s ability to grow. The aim was that access to better data would enable Apollo to tailor repayment plans and support customers on a healthy pathway to repayment despite fear and uncertainty around COVID-19.
The grant has enabled Apollo to experiment with and develop new strategies to better support customers, which has already had a positive effect: ‘We have already seen positive impacts of these strategies, and we believe they will continue to be powerful in both COVID and non-COVID contexts.’ Alongside improved technical capacity, Apollo has also started to offer existing customers smaller loans to increase opportunities for in-farm investments at any time of year.
‘[Kiva has been] incredibly supportive and responsive in moving it all along quickly and the work we have been doing with them since has been really impactful.’
CAUSA LOCAL – COMMUNITY AND PARTNERSHIP BUILDING
Causa Local is a Puerto Rico-based nonprofit organization and Kiva US Hub partner focused on financial inclusion for all small and medium businesses within the Puerto Rico ecosystem. The organization seeks to promote alternatives to predatory lenders on the island. They have been a Hub partner with Kiva, facilitating 0% interest loans, since 2018 and to date have supported hundreds of entrepreneurs with loans from $1,000 – $15,000.
Learnings: community and partnership building can elevate and deepen impact during times of strain.
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Causa Local, like many other organizations, was forced to take their in-person support and outreach events online. And for a territory that constantly faces power outages and natural disasters even without a global pandemic, this could have been disastrous. Instead, the team pivoted and began hosting online meetings welcome to all borrowers with Kiva loans and hosted a Holiday Marketplace via zoom to help create avenues for the entrepreneurs to share their goods and services at the end of 2020. They also released a catalog to promote purchasing from small businesses for the Holiday season – highlighting all their Kiva borrowers.
Causa Local also harnessed partnerships with organizations to implement local loan matching at a crucial time in 2020 that led to a deeper localized impact and accelerated the funding of larger loans. Causa Local saw a steep increase in loan volume in response to Covid-19 and was able to fund more than 80 borrowers during the shutdown. They have provided essential funds to businesses who would have had to close their doors with no other viable options for financing to be found.
“This has been a tough year for our local businesses, but we strongly believe that through these non-traditional access to capital tools, our entrepreneurs and small business owners can not only stay afloat but can grow and prosper.”
At the heart of Kiva’s response to COVID-19 and our learning are the thousands of people whose lives have been transformed by loans and access to capital from Kiva.
They come from diverse regions and diverse entrepreneurial sectors:
Here are just a handful of stories from women and men impacted by COVID-19 and the generosity of the Kiva community:
Maria Fernanda, Ecuador
Maria Fernanda lives with her family in Tosagua, an agricultural town. She sells catalogue shoes as her main source of income. At the start of the pandemic, she was unable to sell shoes due to local restrictions. With this loan to buy more shoes and trainers, Maria has started selling them through social media, which has helped her to support her family.
Mbalu Female Farmers Group, Sierra Leone
This group of women includes Mbalu, Mahawa, Marawa, Hawa, Aminata, Fatmata, Sallay, Fatmata, Adamsay, and Mariatu. They are third-time borrowers, with Kiva loans allowing them to break free from local lenders who were charging them nearly 100% interest. COVID-19 has caused an increase in imported rice costs, creating food shortages in certain areas. This loan allows the group to increase their rice production, grow their businesses, ultimately contributing to local food security.
With her first Kiva loan, Shirin established a clothing store that has become popular in her town. Over the last few years, she has been able to strengthen both her business and her family. During the COVID-19 crisis, Shirin has kept in touch with her customers and has begun reopening with restricted numbers in her store. Her second Kiva loan has helped her to maintain regular payment of rent and expenses, and she plans to sell clothing online in the future.
Roy has been running his small tailoring shop for about 15 years now. Roy slowly expanded his network of customers until he was able to get contracts to make subcontracted garments, mostly employee uniforms. He also helps neighbors by providing them sewing jobs in his tailoring shop. During the COVID-19 pandemic, his shop was temporarily closed until restrictions were lifted. Roy’s Kiva loan helped to buy fabric and pay the salaries of shop helpers to fulfill orders of hospital scrubs.
Pranvera is a teacher of foreign language in one of the public high schools of Elbasan city. She loves her job and is always searching for how to improve her lessons so they would be enjoyable for all her students. Since the schools closed due to the pandemic, Pranvera is using this Kiva loan to start an online specialization course so she can provide better lessons for her students.
Tiffany, Missouri, United States
Tiffany created Pure Vibes in 2013 to create natural products that were gluten-free and vegan to help her live well and feel well while struggling with PCOS. During the 2020 pandemic, she quickly realized that everyone was searching for Pure Vibes to have a sense of community, togetherness, and to create equity and ownership in spaces where it simply wouldn’t exist. Pure Vibes transitioned into a worker-owned cooperative. The Kiva loan helped the cooperative to expand production and bring on more employees at a living wage.