South of Hope
Seaver College alumnus Eric Burdullis joins the microfinance movement and sees its benefits firsthand.
Just one week after arriving in Guatemala City, Guatemala, Eric Burdullis (’10) was robbed of his most valuable possessions while parked at a gas station on his way to work. The vulnerable attendants turned the other way as thugs broke into the locked car in broad daylight and stole Burdullis’ laptop computer, camera, and guidebook.
Stories like this are common in a city considered among the most dangerous outside of an active war zone. But for Burdullis, who arrived in Guatemala as a Kiva.org Fellow optimistic about improving the working conditions of local entrepreneurs, the incident revealed the despondency of his new surroundings. “You start to realize that where there is poverty, there is desperation, and where there is desperation, there is crime,” he says, explaining the harsh reality of need that exists in places where Kiva's field partners work. “A lot of times we want to help without getting our hands dirty. “We want to feel good without seeing the bad. But we should serve, really serve, where there is need.”
With over 160 field partners around the world, Kiva.org is one of the leading nonprofit microfinance organizations that allow people to “sponsor” budding entrepreneurs in underdeveloped communities via the Internet. Inspired by curriculum like professor Regan Schaffer's service leadership class, Burdullis applied to the highly competitive Kiva Fellows program during his senior year. He sought a personally fulfilling opportunity to which he could apply his international business degree—“something that might not add to my 401k, but through service would provide what I was doing with a sense of meaning,” he describes.
One month prior to graduating summa cum laude last May, Burdullis was offered the fellowship, finding the pathway to do just what he’d envisioned. “Being a Kiva Fellow is a way to meet and see the impact that these loans have on the lives of the people they serve. It is a chance to be part of a bigger picture: one that touches people all over the world.”
After spending the first two months fundraising and training with Kiva in San Francisco, California, he completed assignments with Kiva field partners in Guatemala City and Cuzco, Peru. Burdullis currently works with Asociación Arariwa, one of seven Kiva field partners in Peru, which focuses on village banking, a methodology that promotes locally administered funds as opposed to a centralized banking system.
His daily duties include helping connect the borrowers to the lenders, confirming the authenticity of the borrowers, and ensuring that public-facing content accurately represents Kiva and its processes. Another vital responsibility is assuring that each field partner knows and correctly performs Kiva processes, from uploading loans to writing journal entries on their personal blogs.
Burdullis has also implemented the CERISE Social Performance Questionnaire, a practice that monitors and measures how adequately a microfinance institution reaches its own social performance goals, at Kiva’s field partners around the world. “CERISE creates a system of benchmarking which creates competition among microfinance organizations to more directly benefit their clients,” he explains.
In the short time since Burdullis became a Kiva Fellow, he has witnessed the benefits of directly supporting global microfinance institutions in their work. “Through Kiva’s zero-percent-interest loans to these microfinance institutions, we are enabling them to better serve the communities they work in,” he adds. Recently, a microfinance loan funded by the Foundation for the Assistance of Small Businesses (FAPE) enabled a struggling restaurateur earning a meager living grinding tortillas for her community to purchase a corn grinder, expand her restaurant, hire a few employees, and send her children to school. “It is the success story we all dream of when we lend on Kiva,” he boasts. “It gives me hope.”
For every dream fulfilled, real desperation remains for others and the hope for a better future emerges as strong as ever. “One of the questions posed to borrowers in journal updates is about their hopes for the future. While we dream of that new house or retiring happy, they dream of feeding their families and keeping a roof over their heads,” writes Burdullis on his own blog, expanding on the higher purpose he finds in his experience as a Kiva Fellow. “Through financial tools like a Kiva loan, we allow them to dream bigger, begin to think past the day-to-day needs, and look toward the future. Perhaps, in a small way, as we give Kiva loans, we enable them to realize their own dreams.”
The Waves of Service movement celebrates, supports, and connects Pepperdine alumni committed to volunteerism and careers of service worldwide. Learn more about alumni like Eric Burdullis and how you can get involved: www.pepperdine.edu/wavesofservice