Friday, January 01, 2010

2010 Off On the Right Foot

I went to the KIVA site last night and was surprised (and delighted) to see that lenders had funded all the loans requested for December! KIVA has processed almost $115 Million worth of loans since it started in March of 2005.

But a new slate of loan requests were posted this morning, and this month our KIVA loan goes to (in the photo; left to right) Comfort, Joyce, Grace, Mary, Florence, Grace and Dora of Axim, Ghana where the average annual income is $2,643.

Comfort is the leader of the group called ‘Sunset’. Most of the members of this group are small traders, food vendors or farmers. In this group, members access the loan of $2,800 USD ($400 each) equally - and guarantee repayment for one another.

Comfort is 29 years old, widowed, and the mother of four children, all of whom are currently in school. She has run a small food store to make her living for five years. She sells locally popular foods such as yam, plantain, cassava and vegetable oil, etc. Comfort buys her stock from local farmers. This saves her from the mark-up of wholesalers who buy from the farmers and resell to the retailer at a higher price. She wants to use her $400 loan to buy more stock to meet the daily demands of her customers. She will use part of her profit to support her children's education, and part to expand her business.

This is our sixth KIVA loan and I was curious about how KIVA started, so I went to find out.

In 2004, Matt Flannery and Jessica Jackley visited East Africa and witnessed the power of microfinance firsthand. Jessica conducted impact evaluation surveys for Village Enterprise Fund and Matt filmed interviews with small business entrepreneurs. They saw first hand how loans of only $100 - $150 had been used to start and expand small businesses which could then support a family. They heard stories of people who were able to sleep on mattresses instead of on a dirt floor, how parents could buy nutritious food for their families and send children to school.

Instead of meeting the poor and helpless, they found themselves meeting successful entrepreneurs who had generated enough profits from their small businesses to create a real impact on their standard of living.

This experience led them to three realizations:

  • We are more connected than we realize. Even in rural East Africa it was possible to them to remain connected with friends and family in the United States. Distance means little in the world of communication today.

  • The poor are very entrepreneurial. While the profit margins may be very different, but the spirit of entrepreneurship is as strong among the global poor as it is in Silicon Valley.

  • Stories connect people in a powerful way. As they listened to story after story of a fishmonger who needed enough money to buy directly from the fishermen at the lake, or a farmer who needed to buy a better breed of cow to produce more milk, Matt and Jessica knew that their friends back home would want to support these business ventures if they heard their stories. With each story came a human connection, despite differences in language, culture or levels of wealth.

Matt and Jessica returned from Africa with one question in mind: "How can we lend to a rural African entrepreneur?" But they soon found there was no way to make a microloan to a specific entrepreneur in the developing world. And it wasn't easy to figure out how to make it possible.

Thus began a year of phone calls and meetings with microfinance experts, lawyers, economists, Internet experts, and anyone else who would listen to their idea of lending to low-income entrepreneurs via the internet. After meeting a lot of skepticism they finally decided to just begin.

In March 2005, through a local contact in Uganda, seven loans were posted on Kiva for a total of $3,500. They included a goat herder, a fish monger, a cattle farmer and a restauranteur. Six months later every loan had been repaid. These original seven entrepreneurs became known as the "Dream Team" and proved it was possible to lend directly to the poor over the Internet.

In October 2005 Kiva announced to the world the first peer-to-peer microlending website... and the rest is history.

Since its inception Kiva has grown from a small personal project to one of the world's largest microfinance facilitators, connecting entrepreneurs with millions of dollars in loans from hundreds of thousands of lenders around the world.

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