I wish I could remember how I first heard of Kiva.org.
It was probably because someone took time to write or send an email telling me about micro loans and what they can do in developing countries. Kiva began because a couple, Jessica and Matt Flannery, listened to the voices that gathered around them. She heard Dr. Muhammad Yunus speak – he was the founder of the Grameen Bank, a pioneer in microfinance, and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. After a visit to Africa, the two began to talk about how they could bring together what they knew about the Internet, what they had seen in Africa, and what they believed could happen to make a difference in the lives of people around the world who live in poverty. You can read their story here. They said they came to three realizations:
- We are more connected to the developing world than we realize. Even when he was in San Francisco and she in rural Africa seemingly worlds away, Matt could reach Jessica on her cell phone as though she were one block away. Distance means little in the world of communication today.
- The poor are very entrepreneurial. While the profit margins may be very different, the spirit of entrepreneurship is as strong among the poor of the developing world 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 any of their friends back home would want to support these business ventures if they also heard their stories. With each story came a human connection as similarities were identified, making an African entrepreneur someone easier to relate to despite differences in language, culture or levels of wealth.
In March of 2005, they made their first seven loans, for a total of $3500, in Uganda. By September, those loans were repaid. Word began to get out and the organization began to grow exponentially. In March of this year – only three years later – Kiva loaned its 25 millionth dollar. Most of those loans are made $25 at a time.
Ginger and I made our first loan in March of 2007. I wish I could remember how we learned about it. We, along with several others, loaned our twenty-five bucks to Maria Guadalupe Martínez Magdaleno in Mexico to help her buy a cart so she could take the hamburgers and tacos she made at home to the nearby factories and thereby grow her business. She paid us back by September. We took the money and loaned it to Angela Kamenge in Tanzania to expand her poultry business. I’ve also taken some of the money from the sales of A Faraway Christmas to help Sok Nea open a grocery store in Cambodia and the Mastula Kagere Group who sell mattresses in Uganda.
My point is this: you can help. You can become a lender and help people all around the world. Pick the place, pick the kind of business that interests you, but please go pick one or twenty-seven of them and become a banker to the world. You can also give the gift of lending to someone else. Last December Kiva raised over two million dollars in gift certificates.
Change somebody’s world for twenty-five bucks. Where else are you going to get a deal like that?