(Left) Steamboat’s second individual Special Grantee, Prem Thomas '04 (center) at a CCT group event.
(Right) Prem Thomas hanging out with the kids at CCT's school for the children of homeless families.
A CCT borrower surveys her pineapple field in Manila.
(Photo: Prem Thomas)
In 2009, Steamboat chose its second individual Special Grantee: 2004 Steamboat Scholar Prem Thomas. After spending four years working in finance in NYC as an I-banking analyst and at a civic venture capital fund – Prem was awarded a Special Grant to bring his finance experience to the developing world through Kiva.org a microfinance fellowship at the Center for Community Transformation (CCT) in Manila, Philippines. This marked Steamboat’s second Special Grant to a Steamboat alumnus.
Launched in October 2005 and headquartered in San Francisco, Kiva is the first person-to-person micro-lending marketplace that connects micro-entrepreneurs in developing countries with social investors throughout the world. Kiva works in partnership with local Micro Finance Institution’s, providing capital to these partners in exchange for access to the real individuals in need of funding. As a Kiva Fellow, Prem was assigned to CCT to oversee all aspects of the implementation of a new partnership and collect stories of Kiva borrowers.
Although the Philippines claimed the second most powerful Asian economy in the 1950’s, poverty is now prevalent throughout most of the country. Of over 90 million Filipinos, 35-40% live below the poverty line. In dollar terms, approximately 28 million do not even make $1 a day. The majority of the Country’s poverty exists in Manila, where Prem was based.
Microfinance has proven to be an effective tool for alleviating poverty worldwide and has resulted in numerous microfinance institutions (MFI) in the Philippines. MFI’s such as CCT give the poor access to capital to start and sustain small businesses, therefore allowing many entrepreneurs to improve their family’s quality of life through additional income. In many cases, a small injection of capital and banking services can move borrowers out of poverty.
It was a very interesting time to be a fellow at CCT. I landed in Manila just a few days after Typhoon Ondoy flooded much of the National Capital Region and the Philippines. When I arrived, CCT was well underway with their disaster response efforts as 4,803 of the 70,000 borrowers and 26 staff members were affected by the storm. I made sure to visit all the CCT Kiva borrowers affected by the flood. Despite not having much after losing possessions and sometimes their entire houses, all the affected borrowers were positive, hospitable and spoke of rebuilding and eventually paying back their loans.
In 2009, Steamboat awarded Prem a Special Grant to support his work as a Kiva Fellow in Manila, Philippines. As a fellow, he was placed at CCT to oversee the implementation of the new microfinance partnership. During his fellowship Prem aimed to:
(Above) Interviewing a CCT borrower who runs a large grocery store with 4 employees.
As of September 2010, through the Kiva platform, CCT has raised over $350,000 and distributed it to almost 1,000 Filipino entrepreneurs with a 0% default rate.
The most rewarding and eye opening part of my fellowship was meeting and interviewing the actual Kiva borrowers. Two or three times a week I would wake up before sunrise and ride buses, jeepneys (collective transportation), tricycles and pedicabs as far as four hours to meet Kiva borrowers. I had the opportunity to meet with over 60 Filipino farmers, jewelers, grocery store owners, carpenters, trash collectors and direct sellers. Some spoke English and some did not, but they all had something in common: an immense pride in owning their own business and being able to pay back your loans.
- Prem Thomas, '04