An Easy Way To Help Others

I thought that this sounded kind of cool.

Through Kiva, anyone with $25 and an e-mail address can make a loan to a small entrepreneur in a developing country. Gabriela Villegas scrolled through the online profiles, searching for a photo and description that appealed to her.

She wasn’t surfing for a date or networking for new friends. She was on the Kiva website, reading through stories of impoverished entrepreneurs in developing countries, trying to decide to which venture she would extend a $25 business loan.

“Twenty-five dollars — that’s probably how much I spend on just one meal,” said Villegas, 25, of Manchester, Conn. “But with that same money, I was able to change someone’s life.”

Kiva, at www.kiva.org, is a nonprofit based in San Francisco. It has not yet celebrated its two-year anniversary but is already attracting international attention for its unique mission — blending the principles of micro-financing with the power of online social networking to deliver business loans to the world’s working poor.

Named after the Swahili word for “unity,” Kiva is getting big-name nods from the likes of Oprah Winfrey and former President Clinton. And with more than $13 million lent to 1,800 ventures, it’s being held as an example of a savvy brand of online activism.

“People are by nature generous and want to help others, but they want to do it in a way . . . where they can really see how they’re making an impact on somebody’s life,” said Kiva spokeswoman Fiona Ramsey. “We all see [the philanthropic work that] Bill Gates and Oprah do, and we’d all love to do that ourselves. But few of us can afford to.”

Enter Kiva, making a micro-lender of anyone with $25 and an e-mail address.

Here’s how it works. The organization partners with 66 nonprofit micro-finance institutions that vet loan applicants in 38 countries. Once they get clearance, the borrowers post their pictures and needs on the Kiva website, where would-be lenders can pore through the 70-or-so listings posted at any given time — a motor-taxi service in Asia, a goat farmer in Africa, a seamstress in Iraq. An average loan request is $650, and lenders can choose how much to fund.

As borrowers repay their loans, they send online progress reports so lenders can see how their money is working. Once the loan is repaid — and most are, with a default rate of just 0.3% — lenders can collect their money or lend it to another entrepreneur. Most lenders choose the latter, Ramsey said.

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3 Comments

  1. Jack's Shack October 21, 2007 at 5:35 pm

    Bracha,

    Any time.

    Feefifoto,

    I’ll have to take a look.

  2. FeeFiFoto October 19, 2007 at 5:06 pm

    Things like this just warm my heart. Check out *Banker To The Poor* by Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

  3. bracha October 18, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    Looks like a wonderful organization. Thanks for sharing!

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