My hubby has recently gotten really excited about an international development group called KIVA. This non-profit organization has been featured by everyone from Oprah to Bill Clinton for their stellar methods and results – KIVA offers microloans to poor and working people around the world so that they can lift themselves out of poverty. Using local partnerships and really solid practices to set up the recipients of the loans, KIVA then asks individuals to give loans online (in increments starting at $25), that will be repaid by the recipient at low interest within 1-2 years so that the money can then be re-invested in new development microloans. KIVA is so ‘successful’ in their work (they currently give almost 15 million in loans), that around Christmas, all their possible loans has been covered and people visiting their site and willing to give money had to wait for new opportunities to give loans (which now are availble). The story of the organization is also fascinating – it started with a couple that had a heart for international development who then grew a solid and smart company from scratch. It is so encouraging to me that smart and dedicated, ‘everyday people’ are now helping connect people around the world through loans and through their stories. It is a really great example of what can work in the sometimes overwhelmingly complex realm of international development.
In their words, here is a summary of KIVA:
“Named as one of the top ideas in 2006 by the New York Times Magazine, Kiva (www.kiva.org) is the world’s first person-to-person lending marketplace for the poor. Kiva’s goal is to reduce global poverty by letting consumers lend to and connect with a specific developing world entrepreneur online. In a little over a year, Kiva has rapidly grown to connect 65,000 Internet lenders to thousands of entrepreneurs in 30 developing countries. Headquartered in San Francisco, Kiva is a 501(c)3 non-profit internet start-up that has a rare opportunity for dramatic growth and profound systemic impact.”
I learned about this great group through Peter (hubby), and we decided to give several loans this past year through KIVA to various groups using microloans. One group that we gave a loan to is the Ebony Foundation in Kenya, who is itself a lending organization working with poor and rural populations in their region to create income generating opportunities. One option that KIVA offers are journal updates that help connect lenders/recipients and share the on the ground stories of the mission the money is funding. The recent journal update from the Ebony Foundation is a powerful one, as the Director relates just some of the horrors that Kenya is experiencing right now due to the senseless violence and civil fighting going on in their region. Here is an excerpt from the journal upate relating how much the fighting has affected just the clients of the Ebony Foundation:
“We have recently completed auditing the riot’s impact on our clients and as of yesterday about 4,900 of our clients had been badly affected by the riots:
— About 1,532 of our clients were displaced and both their homes and business premises burnt down. This population is currently housed in church compounds and police stations.
— Another 2,479 clients had their business premises burnt down or looted leaving them with no source of income at all.
— 833 clients had their homes looted or burnt down and about 56 clients are missing and feared dead or critically injured.”
Sometimes I need reminders of the reality of what is happening around the world like this; I knew violence had erupted in Kenya that was serious, but this update was a reminder to me to pray and to be intentional about remembering this reality, not hearing about it on the news and dismissing it. I am now somewhat connected to these people, to this Foundation’s work to help equip this population to pull itself out of poverty, and it matters to me what is happening there.
In addition to this sobering reality check, the journal update ends with a long list of fascinating comments that actually brought me to tears. Literally hundreds of KIVA lenders commented on the Ebony Foundation’s update that they hoped everyone was alright, they appreciated the update, and said that they wanted their loans to various people within the Eobny Foundation forgiven. Some lenders also offered to loan more money, or outright donate funds, or help out in other ways if needed. While I know that a simple expression of generosity can sometimes be a thin answer for people to offer in the face of tragedy (the idea that you write a check and feel better without engaging the deeper issues), I was moved that, again, just ‘everday people’ who have chosen to be connected to Kenya in some way through these loans are affected by violence halfway around the world enough to express their care financially. Who knows if these simple forgiven loans will be ‘enough’ to make a difference in the face of all that Kenya and the Ebony Foundation communities are going through, but it means something. It conveys something to the Ebony Foundation. And I think it shows something significant, maybe transformative, happening on the part of the lenders. To be inspired, just read the update and some of the comments yourself. And if you’re looking for a great way to support development efforts around the world at just about any level of financial commitment, check out KIVA.org.