Staff Spotlight: Betsy McCormick


Tell us a little about Kiva and your role at the organization. is a website where you can make a loan to an entrepreneur who needs capital for their business or for personal use. For example you can make a loan to a student in Kenya who wants to attend college, or a fisherman in the Philippines, or a farmer in Nicaragua. When they repay their loan, you get your funding back. Kiva's goal is to expand options for poor people who are otherwise excluded from the formal financial sector and unable to access basic banking services, including credit, savings and insurance. Our mission is to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. We work with about 150 partner institutions in over 60 countries to fund their borrowers, since Kiva doesn't have the staff capacity to find and vet the thousands of individuals who appear on our website.

My job is to help find and monitor those field partners, to ensure that they are not only financially sound, but also that they are treating borrowers in respectful ways and offering products that are well suited to the populations they are trying to serve.

How did you get involved in the volunteer industry?

I started as a volunteer for Kiva for a number of reasons. First, I really missed Latin America. I studied Latin America in college and was having trouble integrating that interest into my career. Second, I was really fascinated by Kiva's mission and believed wholeheartedly in their model of empowerment. It seemed that so many volunteer opportunities are meaningful while they last, but do not leave a lasting impact on communities. I was drawn to Kiva because I knew that their volunteers were helping institutions to build systems that would enable them to have a really big impact on the populations they were targeting, even after I left. And, finally, I was ready for a break from my job and wanted to have an adventure!

In your experience, what characteristics make a good international volunteer?

A good international volunteer has to be humble and open. When entering a different community, volunteers have to accept that their assumptions and world view may not align with the values of their current location. Volunteers must also be flexible, understanding that time may have a different meaning where they are, and that the individuals they are meeting with have a number of competing priorities. A Kiva volunteer has to be ready to get in the trenches--spending hours on buses, sleeping in very basic conditions, or going to locations that are post conflict and have limited infrastructure. Finally, while volunteers certainly don't have to be microfinance experts, they do have to be excited about Kiva and Kiva's mission.

How do you ensure your programs are sustainable and mutually beneficial for you, the community, and the volunteers?

We send volunteers to local institutions (mostly although not exclusively microfinance institutions) that have already been vetted by our portfolio team after an extensive on-site due diligence process. The goal is to make sure that those institutions are sustainable and acting in the best interest of their clients. Kiva has been particularly focused on the social impact side of due diligence, partnering with institutions that are not only financially strong, but also working to bring really innovative and necessary services to the populations they serve.

The role of the volunteer is to make sure that Kiva programs are well-implemented at the partner institution and that the partner is using Kiva as efficiently as possible. This gives the volunteer the chance to work with a variety of staff members, from loan officers to executive directors, while really crafting the most effective structure possible at the institution. The volunteer also gets a taste of microfinance on the ground, frequently traveling out into the field so as to understand the reality of the clients their institution works with. Finally, Kiva trains volunteers extensively before they are deployed, so that they are experts in mircrofinance, Kiva and their role.

What makes Kiva unique?

Kiva is a really special combination - part tech company, part start-up, part international development organization. We were the pioneers of the crowd sourcing model for mircrofinance and just about the only organization offering interest free financing to our partner organizations. Kiva has gained a lot of recognition for these efforts, and the organization is continuing to grow by testing out pilot projects and partnering with non microfinance institutions such as universities and clean energy companies.

Further, Kiva understands that it could not function without the help of all of our volunteers--we have almost 400 at any one time! We take great care to recruit and train high quality volunteers and make sure that they are fully engaged in their work and assigned meaningful projects.