If you haven’t heard of Kiva.org, let me tell you a little bit about them. They started off as a small operation, lending money to people in Third World countries. The money they loaned was in the form of “microloans,” loans that were small and repayable and at little to no cost to the borrower. There is plenty of evidence (e.g. here and here) that microloans (microcredit) works to empower people to become successful entrepreneurs who take in more of their profits instead of giving the profits back to banks and lenders in the form of interest. As Kiva attracted more attention, more of their loans were funded by private individuals, $25 at a time. Little by little, they’ve grown to lend a ton of money to a ton of people in a ton of countries, people who are launching or keeping their businesses afloat without being beholden to creditors.
If I lost $25 trying to help someone, it’s no big deal. But I haven’t lost that much money. By my counts, and per my portfolio on Kiva, I’ve made 31 loans since 2007 (Kiva started in 2005). About 90% of my lending has gone to women in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. And I’ve only lost about $8 from the $775 that I’ve loaned! With each loan, I get a chance to fund Kiva itself, with those donations (not the loans) being tax-deductible. For me, the tax deductions have more than made up for the $8 loss in lending, but your milage may vary.
But let me show you the biggest reason why I lend to Kiva. It’s this woman (that’s me as a baby):
This woman is Angelica, my maternal grandmother. Angelica is from a very small town in northern Mexico. She had very, very, very humble beginnings. As long as I can remember, Angelica would get clothes and trinkets from the US and take them to our ancestral hometown in Mexico. She would then get up very early in the morning and walk almost the entire town either selling the good she imported or collecting small payments from people who bought them. I remember riding in the bus with her and having with us huge bags of stuff (mostly clothes) that she was taking back to sell. She clothed and fed my mom and my aunts and uncles that way (and with other sources of income).
Had Kiva been around back when Angelica was doing this, she might have been able to open a store and not just sell the clothes out of her own home. She might have been able to sell better products at a better price, or employ someone to help her. These are all good things for an economy and for a community. (Business is not the evil that multinationals have almost convinced us that it is.)
This funding opportunity is not open for women like my grandmother:
“Marisela is one of the members of the group. A year ago she started selling clothing to her friends and neighbours. She notes that when she started out, it was difficult as she had no customers and she didn’t know if she could earn a profit. However, even though it was a difficult time, she did manage to find customers and gradually her customer base grew.
Even today she continues to sell from door to door, and sometimes her customers seek her out to make special orders, or when there is a fiesta, they want to buy something simple from her to give as a present. Marisela says, “I have had lots of good experiences from selling, and I have made good friends, but it has also taught me that I cannot trust everyone. Some people don’t want to pay you and I lose money.”
A loan through VisionFund [a Kiva.org partner in Mexico] will give Marisela the opportunity to buy shirts, blouses, socks, skirts, pants, dresses, shorts, and underwear.
She is 43 years old, didn’t go to school, is married to Epifano, and has two children. In the future she would like to rent a small business in which she can display her merchandise.”
I see my grandmother in Marisela and the women in her group. Like them, Angelica is Mexican, from humble beginnings, and one who strived to feed her children and do good by them. She did this so well that I’m on the brink of starting the doctoral program at Hopkins. Imagine that. From that tiny, little town in Mexico to Baltimore with the support of a strong, able woman like Angelica, the world gets an epidemiologist. Now imagine if women like her are able to borrow money at little to no cost to grow their business, employ someone, and feed their families?
Why, we might just save the world!