A life-changing experience in Kenya

Mary Joseph (third from right) with her team at Musoni Kenya

As a fresh college graduate looking to break into international development, my job prospects were not ideal. Without much prior global experience, my best options seemed to be volunteering overseas, which would have been financially difficult. I had almost given up when a friend introduced me to Bankers without Borders®, Grameen Foundation’s volunteer program. I soon found “my perfect job” in Kenya--and it was a paid position! 

After a three-week whirlwind of interviews, contract signings, packing, and jet lag, I began one of the most transformative six months of my life as a business process analyst at Musoni Kenya.
Musoni Kenya provides microloans to poor Kenyans using mobile phones and digital technology. Its most radical product is a loan specifically designed for smallholder farmers. Across Africa, less than three percent of credit goes to the agricultural sector, and only a sliver of that goes to small-scale farmers. Without money to invest in improving their farms, most small-scale farmers remain trapped in subsistence farming. 

In this context, the Musoni loan, called Kilimo Booster, was unprecedented. Working with Grameen Foundation, Musoni designed it to correspond with the actual crop and cash cycles of smallholder farmers, creating workable lending terms and a mobile sign-up and repayment system. They coupled loans with agricultural training, improving farmers’ prospects for success. I worked with software engineers to convert Musoni’s paper applications to a digital tablet app that loan officers would use to collect farmers’ information right there at the farms. 

Musoni also wanted to get a better understanding of its clients and to use that data to better serve future customers. My team recorded and analyzed data from 850 loan applications spanning three years, and worked with data scientists to transform this information into a custom credit-scoring algorithm. This allows Musoni to determine a client’s credit risk and also speeds up the processing time for approving loans—two features that are crucial to unlocking credit for Kenya’s rural poor.

It was challenging work and we faced several setbacks, but the outcome was immensely fulfilling. Even more rewarding was interacting with clients and seeing how their businesses have been transformed—it made every 12-hour workday worth it. 

I learned an incredible amount, both professionally and personally, and wouldn’t trade it for anything. 

Since completing my Bankers without Borders assignment, I have begun working at FarmDrive, a Kenyan technology start-up and partner of Musoni Kenya. The knowledge and expertise I gained at Musoni has allowed me to transition seamlessly to FarmDrive, which helps smallholder farmers get loans using mobile technology and data analytics.

Thank you, Bankers without Borders, Grameen Foundation, and Musoni Kenya for allowing me to positively impact the lives of farmers and small business owners in Kenya. 

Visit Bankers without Borders to learn more or to register to volunteer.