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

Like this post?

View / Post Comments

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.

102644

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

Like this post?

View / Post Comments

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

Like this post?

View / Post Comments

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.

Like this post?

View / Post Comments

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

Like this post?

View / Post Comments

Innovation on the Front Lines

At Vittana we believe in the power of innovation. While student loans are an innovative application of microfinance principles, we want to continue to grow our loan products to best support students around the world. With that goal we’ve built VittanaStudents, an online loan application site to easily connect students to the loans they need.

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 1.46.33 PM

Through our 5 years of work we have found out a few key facts that led us to create VittanaStudents:

  • In countries where student loan markets don’t exist students lack a strong knowledge of finance.
  • Students often don’t have time or resources to visit a bank branch which is often not near their home.
  • Many students have access to the internet either via their phones or from public computers at their school or internet cafe.
  • Many of our MFI partners have trouble marketing their student loan programs.

In creating VittanaStudents we hoped to make applying for a loan a simple and mobile process that didn’t require extensive knowledge of finance. Our site is specially optimized for mobile phones and an intermittent internet connection to ensure that students everywhere can log on and apply. With such an easy tool we hoped our multi-lingual platform would be easy to market to students and could help our MF I partners connect even more students with education loans.

Earlier this year we built our prototype and tested it with four MFI partners in Nicaragua, Cambodia, Ghana, and the Philippines. What did we learn?

  • Students do not have the same intrinsic knowledge of how to fill out forms and interact with computer elements common to us such as drop downs and calendar based date fields.
  • Accessing student applications online needs to be easy and intuitive for MFIs to adopt it as a practice.
  • Marketing efforts need to flow through channels that students already use like peer referrals and social media.
Many student were unaware that they needed to click on the date on the calendar pop up such as this one from Delta.com

Calendar pop ups like this one from Delta.com are very common in the US. When selecting dates on our form many students were unaware that they needed to click on the date on the calendar in order to fill in the form.

We found that students were having difficulty with our application form, had trouble using the form’s design elements, and frequently did not know the answers to required fields like the year of their parent’s birth. To overcome this we’ve drastically pared down the amount of questions we ask and the amount of required fields. Currently we are experimenting with redesigning our form to look similar to other types of online sign up forms the students have encountered before like the ones on Facebook or their email hosts. Additionally, we’ve implemented a student ambassador referral system that helps students find out about Vittana loans and rewards active referrers.

Finally, creating a product that integrates into our partner’s management information systems is going to be the toughest challenge. We’re currently exploring other methods of integration and data sharing. With time and teamwork we hope to create a re-vamped VittanaStudents that meets the needs of our students and our MFI partners.

Like this post?

View / Post Comments

Vittana’s Trip to Jordan

This April Vittana CEO Robin Wolaner, VP of Development Megan Beck, and Mid East Regional Program Manager Kieran Ball traveled to Jordan to meet with our MFI partners and local business and student leaders.

10257071_716081298413897_294653730820644688_o

Meeting at the ASAI Jordan headquarters.

Robin, Megan, and Kieran balanced meetings with MFIs ASAI Jordan and Microfund for Women, students, and leaders in the Ministry of Education with tourism activities that helped illuminate the culture of Jordan and the unique education and employment economy. Robin Wolaner shares her experience,

“Of the ten days in country, one lost to travel, I worked about half the time, but my impressions as a tourist underscored what we learned from our business meetings.  People in Jordan – from a refugee camp in Amman to a Bedouin tent in Dana – are proud of the high level of education in their country, and determined that their children go to university.  The jobs and border picture is complex – one educated Bedouin tour guide explained proudly that their engineers leave Jordan for employment around the Gulf; a highly educated Palestinian told us that government jobs are reserved for “native” Jordanians, while Palestinians run the businesses, Syrians do skilled labor, and Egyptians do construction.  It’s complicated, and most days I felt like my head was exploding with new information and learning. Continue reading

Like this post?

View / Post Comments

A Fertile Land for Education in Kenya and Much More

Nairobi is a city where anything and everything grows. It is a place that is surprisingly green and fertile for an urban hub. I am constantly reminded visually of the concept of ‘Vittana’, as all manner of flora grows by the side of the road.

 Everything seem to grows in Nairobi.

Everything seem to grows in Nairobi.

This fertile land however, is set against the backdrop of youth unemployment, poverty, and vulnerability to climate change, which remain the most critical development challenges facing Kenya, according to the World Bank.

When you combine these challenges with limitless rises in secondary education fees, access to post-secondary education could become an even more insurmountable barrier in a country where parents often foot the bill of their children’s education.

Within this climate, microfinance loans for higher education have the potential to become a vital lifeline for many students.

Continue reading

Like this post?

View / Post Comments

Welcome Charlotte, Vittana’s First Baby

William and Nikki welcoming Charlotte to the world!

William and Nikki welcoming Charlotte to the world!

On a personal note, we have big news at the Vittana Headquarters. We are so excited to welcome baby Charlotte Elizabeth Sanchez Comeau to the Vittana Family!

Charlotte was born on March 29th at 7 pounds and 13.6 ounces and 19 inches long. Nikki Sanchez Comeau, Vittana’s Global Program Associate stopped by the office the other day to introduce the team to little Charlotte.

Join us in wishing Nikki and William congratulations on their newest addition to their family!

From right: Nikki, Sarah, Kieran, and baby Charlotte

Kieran Ball holds Charlotte with Nikki’s help while Sarah Chow looks on.

Like this post?

View / Post Comments

Scaling and transitions in Peru

The last few months have been busy here in Lima as we have been transitioning our students to the Kiva site, modifying and testing a new loan product to meet the needs of our poorer students and piloting our new online application portal.

SENATI main campus in Lima

SENATI main campus in Lima.

Established by the leaders of industry in 1962 to ensure that they had a qualified labor force available SENATI (an acronym for Servico Nacional de Adiestramiento en Trabajo Industriales which roughly translates to “National Service Training in Industrial Work”) is the largest technical school in Peru and perhaps in Latin America. With over 82 campuses throughout the country and an enrollment of about 400,000 students plus an incredibly high job placement rate it is a perfect target for our loan program. It is also a good fit because the majority of the students who attend SENATI come from the poorer segments of Peruvian society. Major decisions at SENATI are made by a consortium of 50 Peruvian business leaders which accounts for the strong links to the job market and the financial sustainability of SENATI as an institution. The directors actually modify the degree programs annually to address labor needs. The arrival of our Kiva partnership provided a renewed focus on the technical students at SENATI.
Continue reading

Like this post?

View / Post Comments