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Lending a Hand

Honors Alumna Kathrin Gerner Shares Her Experience as a Kiva Field Support Specialist

Giving back on an international level takes skill, a passion for service, and a willingness to face new challenges — and Kathrin Gerner has what it takes.

Gerner graduated from the LSU Honors College in 2005, a promising International Trade and Finance major from Germany. She spent her initial years after graduation working in the corporate world as a consultant. Gerner says that it was during these years she realized she needed to pursue a different career.

“To a lot of people, being a consultant was a very desirable job. But to me it just did not feel like what I wanted to do with my life,” said Gerner. “I was looking for something else to do, and I have always been drawn to developing countries, travel, working internationally, and to doing something where I saw a purpose. That's what drew me to Kiva.”

Gerner first heard about Kiva through a news report in 2008. Kiva, a nonprofit organization, works to create an opportunity for people around the world through a system of lending. This lending comes from individuals across the globe who work through microfinance institutions to help eradicate poverty.

It begins with the borrower, likely living in a third world country, who hopes to develop his or her business but cannot afford to do so. The borrowers then petition for a loan through a microfinance organization. These microfinance institutions, called field partners, work with Kiva to approve the loan and post it to the Kiva website. On the website anyone from around the world can contribute as little as $25.00 to fund the loan. Once the loan is funded and the client generates a profit, the lender has their payment returned to them in full.

Gerner said it was this unique model of support that initially drew her to Kiva.

“I thought it was a very interesting model because it allows you to lend money, so not donate money, to someone in another country, often a developing country, for a specific purpose,” said Gerner. “You don't profit but you also don't lose your money — it actually comes back, and then that money gets recycled and you can give it to someone else. A lot of different people can benefit from your $25.00 if it always gets paid back.”

Gerner first became a Kiva lender and then, when looking to change careers, she applied for a Kiva fellowship in Togo, where she worked until she was transferred to Rwanda. This work led her to become a Field Support Specialist for Francophone Africa.

An Honors College student during her years at LSU, Gerner says that this rigorous program prepared her in part for her job at Kiva.

“I think in general the Honors College is pretty good at helping students develop their critical thinking skills, and that comes in handy in any job,” said Gerner. “But especially when you're in a place where you have to come up with solutions and figure out problems, and to go to countries you've never been to and figure out how to get around there, and how to work with people there.”

Through her studies in the Honors College, Gerner said she was better prepared for her job at Kiva. However, nothing could prepare her for the rich experience she has had as a Field Support Specialist.

“[The most rewarding experience is] probably meeting the borrowers themselves,” said Gerner. “I get to go to the countries, visit the partners, and a lot of times I get to go out in the field and see the impact that our loans are having on people's lives.”

Gerner said that she has been able to witness firsthand the work Kiva has done.

“I talk to borrowers who tell me ‘I pay the school fees for my kids, and the profits I'm making generate that,’” said Gerner. “Or sometimes I talk to women who say, ‘Now, with this business, I'm able to contribute financially to the household, and I can buy a sack of rice that lasts us for the whole month.’ That's really rewarding.”

To learn more, visit Kiva at http://www.kiva.org/.

Story by Jacqueline DeRobertis, LSU Honors College

For more information, contact the Honors College at 225-578-8831