IT innovations help Kiva expand microfinance mission

IT innovations help Kiva expand microfinance mission

Doing much more with much less is business as usual for Kiva, its entrepreneurs and its IT team.

And now, Kiva has launched its API, leveraging the talents of technologists who want to develop new ways of integrating Kiva into online venues such as blogs or Facebook pages. "We're going to encourage people to work with the API and give feedback on what works and what doesn't," Woodward says, noting that the goal is to add more features to the application to enable more customizing and more interaction with the entire Kiva enterprise.

For example, he says, a blogger who writes about Cambodia could use the API to direct readers to loan requests that Cambodian businesses have posted on Kiva.

Job 1: Efficiency

While Woodward has looked to the outside IT community, Frazao has focused inward, finding ways for Kiva's IT unit to foster greater operational and fiscal efficiencies. "All our decisions are centered around those two things," he says.

His team spent most of 2008 reworking the partner interface -- the back-end operations that investors don't see and that allow the MFIs to interact with Kiva's systems.

"It's about making our site load much faster, making it interface with video and cameras, making it easier to work from a place like Cambodia or Uganda," Flannery says.

The MFIs were spending an inordinate amount of time waiting for Web sites to load, Frazao says. (Remember, they're working in developing countries where reliable, high-speed connections aren't the norm.) Some workers were spending 90 minutes to upload information for just one entrepreneur's loan request, and any telecommunications hiccup would cause the whole upload to be lost.

So Kiva's IT group rewrote the interface to speed up the process and to protect information from being lost during a disconnection, Frazao says. They cut the time it takes to upload a loan request, including an image, from a high of 90 minutes to just 15. The interface automatically saves information once workers complete a field, so they don't lose all their work if a connection is dropped.

The IT staff also reworked the way investors are repaid. Previously, investors who loaned, for example, US$25 for 10 months would have to wait the entire 10 months to get repaid. Now investors are repaid incrementally as entrepreneurs pay back their loans.

It might seem unimportant, Frazao says, but when investors see that they have money lying fallow, they tend to reinvest it -- often topping off the repayment amount with more money.

"The day we released that code -- it's called 'liquid repayments' -- in August last year, we flooded the system with US$10 million, and that was the single biggest day we had," he says.

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