Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Twin Tea

Before leaving London for Entebbe we discussed our project with Robin Murray from Twin Trading at a BBQ and he invited us to give a presentation on our return. With only a small group in attendance the discussion the followed left me with a lot to think about.

Robin was interested in investigating the role that ICT can play in connecting them with the farmers that they deal with around the globe, including Uganda. Two Twin staff with E. Africa experience contributed some nice comments on the potential of the future exchange between the lender and the borrower. Jenny and Chris, two designers from the Design Council with plenty of user research experience, suggested the further investigation of appropriate social technologies that may help to ensure the success of our final solution. It was also suggested that the opportunity to connect natural communities within the Kiva ecosystem of stakeholders (lenders, borrowers etc) had the potential to create additional untapped exchanges of value.

Between their comments and those of the rest in attendance including Kelsey, her mom, Jared and Chika I filled up a page of notes in an attempt to capture the results of the discussion. I think that Kiva has proven to be is a concept strong enough to stimulate thinking from people across disciplines who can apply feature of the model to what they do. The idea of drawing value from an individual story and increasing transparency along the value chain seemed to be enough for this group to chew over for quite a while.

I have been thinking in a relatively closed loop while concentrating on getting the best results our of the context research phase in Africa and it was very exciting to see that loop torn open and plugged into a number of new loops of thinking. Thanks to all those at the table.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Maite ditut maite gure bazterrak lanbroak izkutatzen dizkidanean

Eating, drinking, sleeping, cleaning, talking and shopping. New laptop at home, my parents are getting excited with technology and I realized that some things are similar here and in Africa. When choosing the laptop to buy at home which is the appropriate? El mas caro, of course. I had to continue with the IT education role started in Africa and I can ensure that the speed of learning here is slower and is more difficult to teach to your father than any one else. I think I will have to change to Spanish in the blog entries; the blog address is already next to the increasing list of telephones at home.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

1 (GBP) = 3,406 (UGX)

Feels good to be home an back in the land of leisure.
Upon boarding a bus Jon an I didn't attract the usual handful of looks that we have grown accustomed to. That doesn't bother me at all. Its nice to pay established prices and avoid the standard haggling that we have been forced to do for all of our travel needs.

Speaking of money, I carried back some Ugandan shillings and had them in my pocket when I added some British pound coinage to the same pocket. When I pulled out the collection I noticed that the Ugandan 500 shilling piece looks an awful lot like the 1 pound coin without close inspection. Sure wouldn't want to confuse those two when you pay considering that one is roughly 1/10th the value of the other, or would you?

Budgeting in Uganda was a breeze but a few days in London will remind you what a budget is all about.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Landing in London...

We landed in London yesterday, back to asfalt, fast train and fast internet connection. We had a hard time choosing between our dirty clothes in our bag to go to Kelsey's graduation presentation at Central St. Martins. And we even had a harder time today when we had to present at IDEO. But it was worth it to be there. Cale's friend, Kate invited us to give a presentation there today, it was a good opportunity to put a presentation together (Power Point made our life difficult again just 30 minutes before the presentation) but it was good to have a bunch of smart people listening and asking questions togeter with some beer and nuts. And now to Spain, hogar dulce hogar and the first time without Cale for more than some hours. Maybe I'll miss him. Maybe.

Friday, June 16, 2006

4 days and a wakeup

It’s the end of the week here with Life in Africa and as much as we look for similarities among the organizations the more we are faced with the fact that they are very unlike each other. Sometimes it’s the structure of the organization or the lending model and sometimes its one character that defines the group. With LiA its Christina Jordan, the director, as well as the lending model. The community model operating here is very unique. She likes to term it a “physical and virtual space.” It’s worth taking a look at on the web to see what she has built up.

With a primary interest in hearing about Kiva a journalist from Reuters visited yesterday to have a chat with her. We were invited to attend as well and responded to some questions about Microsoft’s intentions in Uganda. No idea whether to expect to see an article or not but it would be great for LiA. Christina has been more than happy to let Kiva take over the marketing role for the community’s borrowers and mentioned that advertising expenditures typically require an excessive amount of her time.

Today Carl arrived at LiA to sit it with us as the community served as a jury for 9 loan proposals. There must have been about 30 people sitting to listen to 9 proposals. All were supported and should appear on Kiva soon.

Earlier in the week we visited one of the businesses that was funded by Kiva. Its located in an Internally Displaced Persons camp in the Acholi quarter here. A sharp guy from the community asked for enough money to fund the installation of a water tap in his area. We showed up and found a structure just big enough to house a tap and a queue out the door. From what I saw the tap never stops. The proprietor is clearly making a good profit represented by the fact that he smokes cigarettes. Here you don’t smoke unless you have some surplus cash. Of all the loans posted by LiA his was the one that was funded first. One of the loan agents mentioned that he is sure that those loans with a social benefit are the ones that get funded fastest.

Its our last weekend in Kampala and as the Lonely Planet recommends, I think we will stay out all night in one of the safest capital cities in the world. Tomorrow morning I have an appointment to take photos of boxers from another gym in the area. Back to London on Wednesday.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Invisible children

Being Mzungu and being invisible is something impossible. I was walking yesterday around the center of Kampala looking for a "fast" internet cafe. I asked a Ugandan with a tie about a suggestion and he helped me till one in town. He started asking me the typical questions like what are you doing here and so on... After a short brief on Kiva and the "woman willing to buy a cow" example he presented himself and invited me for a chat that night. He happened to work in the parliament.

I asked Cale what chances do I have when I go to US to meet someone in the parliament if I'm not shaved, wear old sandals and some bracelets, I guess none the same as Spain. It looks like Uganda is a coutry with opportunities being Mzungu.

We also met some people from the "invisible children" documentary this week. Life in Africa is making some (thousands) of bracelets for the DVD. It looks like a nice story sells. Kiva, Inv. Children... Is all about nice stories isn't it?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Time for reflexion

We have been relaxing and working at the same time in lake Bunyoini south-east part of Uganda (6 hours bus if the driver doesnt stop for every person in the road+some vegetable shopping that make the trip 8 and a half hours).

Lake Bunyoni is the deepest lake in Uganda and for some reason it has no mosquitoes which makes it even nicer. We have been putting all the research in a report working with our laptops in front of the lake. Some kind of idyllic working situation. Between chapter and chapter we decided to take a canoe (or a tree with a hole) and test our team building capabilities. Cale! Right, Cale right!! Caaaaaaaaale... Joder. We said we were going there no?

Anyhow, we arrived to some of the nicest places we have visited in East Africa. Beautiful islands with nice local people. We got even a tour to one of the mountains which was done by "hello my friend" Roger who asked for "one thousand" after the walk. We decided to test friendship next time before we get in a guided walk: - Ei Cale I forgot the money, do you have money? Oh, no! Ok it doesnt matter...

We have started to work with Life in Africa already and things are rolling. We have kind of "automatic pilot" context research process already and we are testing new tools with the group. We bought some disposable cammeras to ask them to take their own pictures of their context. Let's see how it goes.

Ah, and we bet who was going further in the World Cup Spain or US. What do you think? Je,je...

Monday, June 12, 2006


that is the sound that you hear when the power goes off when you are putting the final touches on a blog entry at an internet cafe in Kampala. This is a place holder for a blog that will be added later. i dont have the steam to retype it.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


I was in charge of dinner last night and on the way home from town I stopped off to pick up vegetables and chicken. I had only seen large sides of beef in the stalls nearby so I asked about chicken and they pointed to a stack of cages. I chose one of the chickens and then waited 5 minutes for it to be prepared. Not much meat on a Ugandan chicken once its all said and done. It was the freshest chicken Ive ever had in my life but something went wrong. I made teriyaki chicken with the parts and when it hit the table the fight began to pull the meat off of the bone. it was extremely tough meat. Tougher than usual. I dont know whether you need to let the meat sit for a few hours or a day before cooking it or whether I just botched the job.

It reminded me of having a fresh presentation of a fresh idea for the crowd at Uganda Martyrs University and after serving it up getting torn limb from limb. Some of our other recent meetings have been equally tough. Tough love in some cases.

Microcredit is a contentious issue and we are hearing about the larger issues that are being faced in the industry. One contact very adamantly pushed for the integration of other banking services into the offering of many microcredit institutions. There is quite a lot of profit being made of loans that is not leading to more stable economic situations for those who are loaning. A cultural of financial planning needs to be encouraged. A second contact gave us some the confirmation we needed to test out a concept that we have been thinking about.

We went to the MTN business solutions office and had our phone equipped to handle sending MMS and then sent a file with 1000 characters and a photo to Carl’s email address . We are still waiting to get confirmation that he received it and hear about the quality of the image. It may be a reliable solution for sending in Kiva profiles and journals from the field in order to save on travel costs and time.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Any Questions?

We were at the grand imperial at 10 in the morning waiting for Martin O Reily to pick us up and drive us 82km away to Uganda Martyrs University to give a talk about our project. We stopped at the equator where for $2.50 a few guys on the side of the road would show you that water does not spin in either direction when a basin of water is emptied at the equator.

We weren’t exactly sure about the details of the presentation until we were in the car. Our talk wasnt until 5:30 so we took advantage of Martin’s suggestion to create a survey to be filled out by the audience. I presented the powerpoint on time which meant that half the room filled up after I had begun. The presentation was split half and half between an explanation of Kiva and intocontext. My playful presentation jokes fell on 80 or so sets of deaf ears. I finished with a recap for late arrivals.

When I opened it up for questions we got slaughtered. Actually, there were no comments on our project. The response was very critical with very pointed remarks about the failures of Kiva even in a large sense about what their intentions were. They brought up issues we had never considered like what if people use Kiva to launder money. What measures had Kiva taken to protects the MFIs. We dealt quite particularly with a number of individuals who had lots of comments. The presentation lasted 15 minutes and the discussion for an hour and a half. Jon and I were shocked and collectively were able to put together a response but clearly our presentation had holes. When I wrapped up and thanked everyone that is when it all came clear. The most critical people were the most interested.

I handed out tons of business cards and fielded questions for another hour. We didnt realize that these people who hold upper level positions in MFIs think that Kiva is a threat to them. They suspect that Kiva is offering a great product in order to build up a base of clients that they can then access directly and cut out the MFI's. It was all new to us. We aren’t Kiva veterans so we don’t have all the details to defend some of the moves or intentions of Kiva other than to say "come on this is my friend Matt Flannery not a criminal."

People were very excited about the idea and see the potential, that is for sure, but they also recognize the threat. It was very interesting for us. We have lots of surveys filled out and that should help us understand further what hurdles exist for Kiva.

We left the auditorium after it was already dark and it was very clear that we had been abandoned. We hadnt seen Martin since he left us at the dining hall for lunch. After poking around a bit and asking some questions and calling Martin we realized that we were not going to get back to Kampala that evening so we settled for a room on campus. We visited the campus bar and watched a nature program about the wildebeest migration. The peace and quiet of campus life felt good.