The following was written for the Kiva Fellows blog. See the original here.
I spent all last week touring a province in the Philippines with a 7-person team in an effort to gather market intelligence about the region. The purpose is to determine whether or not NWTF should open a branch here. Much of our day is spent driving around a town (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) looking for the poorest neighborhoods. The Dilapidated Housing Index is a means of making a snap judgment about whether a community is sufficiently poor for microfinance to be beneficial. If most of the houses on the street are made of bamboo, corrugated aluminum, and bamboo leaves, we know we are looking in the right place.
On Thursday morning, we were driving through a coastal town when the paved road turned to dirt. According to the driver and director of the research department at NWTF, when the road turns to dirt, you know you are headed in the right direction. Sure enough, within a few minutes we reached a squatter community bustling with people. (In the Philippines, the government protects squatters, and large communities spring up on other peoples’ lands.) The road was just wide enough to fit the van and lined with nipa huts and sari sari stores. We passed by two makeshift basketball courts before coming to the end of the road. We parked the van and split up to walk around and talk to the people. Unfortunately, the interviews are all in Illonggo, so I chose to follow the director down to the shore. He began talking to a group of women on the beach holding their infant children. If they could have a loan to spend on anything in their community, what would it be? Their response: diesel fuel or an icemaker. I’ll explain why this is important, but first some background. Continue reading