After Five Years….

Vittana was founded to help students finance the last step of their education, helping them escape poverty by vastly increasing their lifetime earnings potential. Over the last five years we have worked with 50 microfinance institutions and specialized student lenders to introduce student loan programs where they never existed before and refining them along the way. After reaching nearly 20,000 students worldwide, we have great evidence that these graduates are on their way to much better lives and we’re very proud of that work http://vittana.org/about/impact. We have been successful in catalyzing the creation of student loan programs; we are no longer the only people who think that students are worthwhile investments. We have built a team of dedicated, hard-headed idealists dedicated to transformational change for students around the world.

We currently work with 35 partners in 17 countries and have decided that we will not begin new programs. We still believe that millions of poor students around the world need access to finance to go to school, and we are working to determine how pieces of our programmatic work can continue as part of other existing organizations. As soon as we have finalized arrangements, we will announce them here.

In any event, our microfinance partners now lending on the Kiva platform will continue to offer our loans to an ever-increasing number of students: http://www.kiva.org/vittana . In fact, today there are more Vittana loans on Kiva than ever.

Vittana has never been a conventional charity. One of our founding beliefs was that once we reached scale, we could do our work sustainably, without shifting costs and risk onto the students. We have had wonderful donors support this effort but after five years and a few different approaches, we haven’t found a robust business model to wean ourselves off that support. We want to be true to our original promises that we would not be philanthropically funded forever.

As a result, our team has decided that Vittana should cease to exist as a standalone organization. We have made the painful decision to begin winding down the organization in its current form.

We would like to thank all of the incredibly generous Vittana donors and lenders, our board, our team, and our microfinance partners. (Lenders can access their accounts at http://my.vittana.org/login — and withdraw credit balances, or donate future repayments.)

To the students — working with you has been a privilege and we wish you continued success.

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Steady Progress in Kenya

The last two months at ECLOF Kenya have been both exhilarating and enlightening. I have had the opportunity to help in creating strategy for the higher education loan product at the MFI and supporting staff in setting up processes and training. Gayle and Van Anh, my predecessors at ECLOF Kenya, did an amazing job in conducting research, creating the product and helping launch it.

In May we disbursed a tuition fees loan to our first student who has since been able to continue with his education; he will complete his program next year. Recently, we helped finance education needs for our 5th student! To get to our 5th student since the program launch, we have had a period of learning and development of the higher education loan product at the partner MFI. A majority of students who did not know about the product now do. This was done in the better part of June where I visited schools within the extensive Nairobi region to talk to groups of students and individuals about the opportunities available to them through Vittana. Because of that, we now have an increased volume of applications and inquiries.

We applied some key strategies to reach the students and through each one of them, we got at least one student in the months of June, July and August. Continue reading

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Combatting the Cultural Clash with Credit: La Paz, Bolivia

“That’s right, you’re from that bank!” he told me. I took a deep breath and without sounding short I said for the hundredth time “Oh, we’re not a bank. We are a foundation that provides economic opportunity specifically for students. But we’re not a bank.”

La Paz is separated into three areas: El Alto, the Center, and the South Zone. Most of the clients that the student financial institution, EDUCA-PRO, works  with come from the latter of the two, but Vittana’s mission was to enter into the most difficult and lowest-economic area in La Paz to see student microloans open access to higher education, empowering students to not only graduate but to excel in their studies. With an incredible loan offer that doesn’t require a guarantor, offers a declining interest rate that is the lowest in the market, a reduced loan payment throughout the time of study, and a 10% discount in their tuition, we expected to have a very high demand once the product was launched. However, culture always dictates the response.

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INFOCAL El Alto

Within the population in El Alto, there is a large amount of distrust towards banks, credit, and loans. Many families have been stripped of their cars or houses because of unwise lending situations and with the promise of a better life or a more thriving business they have ended up under suffocating debt. Our challenge was to find out how to break into a market that has a fear of the very product that will help clients complete their educational and professional dreams. Continue reading

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Promoting Education in India

Disclaimer: English is not my first language, so please excuse grammar and typos. Otherwise, enjoy my blog!

I am in the third month of my fellowship in India. As a fellow, I had the opportunity of assisting in the launch of educational microloans in the country and development of tie ups. Orissa, a coastal state located in Central India, was chosen as the launch pad for the product. The state has a literacy rate of 73%, lower than the average national literacy rate of 74% in India. The state also has a large number of tribal people, with very limited resources at their disposal.

Rashmita

My work started with the fine tuning of various loan variables to meet the specific requirements of the region. Next, we undertook data mining to understand the demand pattern for loan products. It was found that people are more interested in taking up loan products for vocational and professional courses. These courses offer high rates of success for obtaining jobs after the course completion.

Continue reading

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Nicaraguan Partner, MiCrédito, Ready to Scale

Working in a microfinance institution requires flexibility, patience, and persistence. Many times objectives are not clearly defined, pertinent information is difficult to obtain, and cultural differences leave you guessing if that ‘yes’ was an affirmation or a passive ‘no’. When you read a job description that states, “able to work in ambiguous situations,” that’s not a desired quality, but an absolute necessity.

Fortunately for me, Vittana had clearly defined objectives and MiCrédito was in an ideal position to grow and knew they needed the help. This is not to say I never dealt with the above-mentioned challenges, but working as a liaison between two incredibly dedicated and mission-driven organizations made the daily struggles of working in a developing country seem a whole lot less significant in comparison to the larger goal.

The student loan coordinator and I presenting about the marketing plan

The student loan coordinator and I presenting about the marketing plan

For some background, MiCrédito is one of Vittana’s smaller partners, having launched a pilot student loan product about one year ago. What they lack in size, they make up for in heart. Their social impact is an evident core value and their staff is constantly looking for creative solutions to the poverty Nicaragua faces. MiCrédito and Vittana are on the same page when it comes to defining the base of development in a country: education. Continue reading

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Saving a Technical Vocational School in the Philippines

“I came from a poor family background and paid for my studies while working as a janitor, therefore I’m dedicated to helping out of school youth acquire skills for a better future” said Pastor Gana. Pastor is the President of St. Paul Colleges Foundation, which is a private university located in Central Luzon, Philippines. Their mission is to help low-income students complete higher education through technical vocational courses. They have 1,000 students studying in a range of courses including hotel restaurant management, computer hardware servicing, consumer electronics, food and beverage and housekeeping courses.

students we helped

St. Paul Colleges Foundation relied on government scholarships to support their operating costs because most of the students came from very poor families. In the Philippines, most of the government scholarships were administered under the Priority Development Assistance Fund where local senators allocated scholarships to higher education institutions in their areas. Financing for higher education scholarships was halted in 2013 and St. Paul College suffered a financing gap. After operating for 27 years, Pastor told us they may have to close their operations because they might not be able to pay their teachers and operation cost. Continue reading

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Passion is the one word to describe Ecuadorians

Disclaimer: English is not my first language, so please excuse grammar and typos. Otherwise, enjoy my blog!

During my fellowship in Ecuador I got the chance to do a little bit of traveling during the weekends around the region. Every time I leave Quito, I was able to explore more of the diverse culture and its geography. What I love about Ecuador is that even though it is a relatively small country, it is impossible to get bored. There is always something new to see, to try, to eat. Its people are some of the nicest people I have ever met, but if I was to describe Ecuadorians in one word it would be PASSIONATE. I don’t think I’ve ever met people more passionate than Ecuadorians. Why? Well let me tell you a story of a man that I met during one of my weekend trips, and you decide for yourself if Ecuadorians are the most passionate people or not.

I went to Baños de Agua Santa a small city three hours away from the capital city, Quito. There are so many activities to do in this city that an entire week is not enough to do them all, let alone in a weekend. Therefore, I had to prioritize the activities and choose the ones that I found more appealing to me.

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On the way to Baños de Agua Santa. This is the view from the bus’ window.

I decided to go to one of the highest mountains in Baños de Agua Santa to check out the “Tree House” (La Casa del Arbol). I had heard that a man lives at the top of the mountain and is the person in charge of overseeing the volcano that is next to the city. This man, Mr. Carlos Sanchez, has been in charge of this job for the last 20 years. He oversees the volcano 24 hours a day, and almost never leaves the mountain (when he does, his oldest son takes his place in the tree house). And get this, he is a volunteer for this job so he does not get a penny for doing it. Mr. Sanchez told me that he does this job because he loves his country and he wants to protect the people that live in Baños de Agua Santa. Mr. Sanchez is in charge of warning the population of Baños de Agua Santa if the volcano becomes active again (last time it became active was in 2008). In the case that the volcano becomes active again, the population of Baños de Agua Santa has about an hour to evacuate the city. If this happens, Mr. Sanchez will not have time to abandon the house and he will not be rescued. Knowing this Mr. Sanchez still wants to do the job and protect his people. Continue reading

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Hope in GOAL

GOOAALLL!! This is the chant I hear outside my window every time a goal is scored during one of Ghana’s highly viewed “football” (that’s soccer for us Americans) matches. It’s no secret that Ghanians love their football and with 2014 being the year of the World Cup, one is hard pressed to go a few hours without someone mentioning their beloved Black Stars national team.

Black Stars World Cup send off game

Black Stars World Cup send off game

Goal is not only the desired objective in the sport cherished by so many Ghanaians, but is also the name of the student loan product offered by the MFI partner that I have been working for in Ghana. Opportunity International Savings & Loans Limited (OISL) in partnership with Vittana launched their first student loan product, GOAL (Greater Opportunity Access for Learning), back in 2012 and has since grown their student loan portfolio to nearly 600 students. Continue reading

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Video Blog: A few words from student borrowers in Lima, Peru

During my Vittana fellowship I had the opportunity to meet and to interview many inspirational student borrowers who have received loans administered by Vittana’s microfinance partner the Instituto Peruano de Fomento Educativo (Ipfe). Here are a few words from the students which express their feelings about the support they have received from Vittana and Ipfe. The song in the background is el arbolito by the Peruvian group nectar.

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A Manuel (EM-MANUEL)

Stop by our bank on Monday or Friday mornings, say around 8:00 am, and you will not find us crunching numbers or doing reports. All of that comes a bit later in the morning on days of worship. Every week, all of the staff gathers together for “Devotional”; this entails about an hour’s worth of singing, choir performances, a sermon, and announcements. I recall my first day at UOB (Urwego Opportunity Bank) when I was whisked away to prayer before I had even set my bags down. This was different, I told myself.

get singing; it's choir time at Urwego Opportunity Bank!

get singing; it’s choir time at Urwego Opportunity Bank!

Truth be told, I wasn’t surprised. Having had spent two years with the United States Peace Corps in Rwanda, I was quite familiar with shouts for Imana (God) and an often unshakable affinity for church attendance around three hours. Religion is a major influence in the lives of many Rwandans; you would be hard-pressed to live here a day and not hear some kind of prayer or appreciation for a higher power. Additionally, Urwego (which directly translates as ‘ladder’) proudly cites their mission as a micro finance bank,

“motivated by Jesus Christ’s call to serve those in need…to provide a ladder of opportunity to the underprivileged of Rwanda so they can attain dignity and hope, improve their lives, and become contributing members of their communities.”

I knew what I was getting into. Continue reading

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