I’ve been reading a book this week. It’s called Half the Sky and it’s about the empowerment of women. Actually, about 80% of the book is about the pretty horrible suffering women endure in the various corners of the world. But the rest of it is about successful efforts many of the people of the world (mostly other women) have made to help them.
One of these organizations is a microfinance organization called Kiva.org. The problem with women in developing countries is that they lack access to traditional financing to build up their businesses. Since they don’t own property, they have no collateral for a loan, and the loan amounts are too large for them to handle. Hence the need for microfinance where they can borrow small amounts like $200 dollars to buy inventory or livestock. Many of them band together in groups and the group guarantees each woman’s loan. No collateral is required and they can have up to a year or so to pay it back.
The way Kiva members can help is by providing the money for the loans in $25 increments. So, for a $200 loan, 8 lenders would participate in making the loan. You get a little summary of the borrower – a photo, some thing about their country and the business they are running, and their family. It’s sort of like Match.com meets personal finance. You can choose to loan to specific countries, certain industries, men, women, or groups, even loans to help people get an education or fix up their homes. I typically choose women with 3 to 5 children who are in some type of a business.
The borrower pays back the loan to you in small increments. Then you can either choose to take the money back out, or you can choose to lend it to a different borrower. Surprisingly, it has a 98% or more payback rate.
I have quite a long history with Kiva. I started as a Kiva Lender back in 2007 and a few years ago, I stepped up to become a Kiva Team Captain for my company’s Kiva lending team. I wanted to write this post to commemorate my upcoming 100th loan with them. Sounds impressive, but really all I did was make a few $25 loans and then just kept rolling them over and over to different borrowers. I get little paybacks of $3 to $5 a month and when I get enough, I’m able to roll it over to start a new loan.
As I mentioned, I lend almost entirely to women, I think I lent to a man once because something about his profile really caught my attention, but I really think the women deserve the help more, and studies have shown that women are more inclined to use the money for the benefit of their families. Especially after reading that book and hearing all the terrible stories of women dying unnecessarily in childbirth, systematically raped or being sold into brothels against their will, and being treated horribly by their families, you just want to do anything you can think of to make a positive change for these women.
If you should want to go check out Kiva yourself, here is a personalized link to get you started. I think if you sign up under my code, sometimes they will give you a free loan to try the service. Not sure if that program is running right now, but they do it at certain times of the year.