The Kiva Connection: Our Adventure in Microlending

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Over the holiday season, Inc.com reached out to our colleagues at Mansueto Ventures -- the company that publishes the print and online editions of Inc. and Fast Company -- with an idea to sponsor an entrepreneur through an organization called Kiva.org. As you may know, Kiva.org is a website that facilitates microloans to entrepreneurs all over the developing world.

Since its launch in 2005, Kiva has partnered with 77 microfinance institutions in 39 countries. These "field partners," as they are called by Kiva, identify entrepreneurs in impoverished communities who are in need of loans to purchase the necessary equipment and supplies to sustain their businesses.

Through its Internet-based model, Kiva.org makes it possible for just about anyone to support an entrepreneur in a developing country. The site displays short profiles of all the entrepreneurs who have qualified for loans, so potential lenders can choose who their money will go to. Once the loan is disbursed, the microfinance institution posts progress updates to the Kiva site until the entrepreneur has repaid the money.

At Inc.com, we saw lending through Kiva as a unique opportunity for us to forge a connection with entrepreneurs in other parts of the world and to shed light on their experiences. While our sponsored entrepreneurs may be in a much different place economically than the U.S.-based entrepreneurs we cover, the trials and tribulations that they face as business owners are no doubt similar -- and we will use this blog to examine their challenges as well as their triumphs.

Our company was able to collect enough money to provide $25 loans to eight entrepreneurs. As we receive progress updates on our chosen entrepreneurs, we will be sharing them on this blog. We are selecting a diverse group of entrepreneurs -- by gender, business type, and location -- and we look forward to exploring the powerful role that microfinance plays in each of their lives.

For most of the people that Kiva helps sponsor, entrepreneurship is crucial to their survival. Men and women who may not otherwise have been able to feed their children or send them to school are now able to improve their lives as a result of running a business.

Yet microlending is not without its skeptics. The most common criticism of microfinance programs is that they fail to reach the poorest of the poor. Not only do microfinance institutions have to avoid high risk communities and populations -- those that are geographically secluded or where there is a high rate of illness and disease -- but these institutions must also charge high enough interest rates in order to survive. Some critics have even argued that microfinance institutions often operate in the interest of business first, ahead of their overall mission to tackle poverty.

Another concern has to do with the securing and dispersal of loans. Because many microfinance institutions loan only to women, some studies show that women have been asked to secure loans for other male relatives to go towards a business that they may not be running. We intend to examine these concerns throughout the course of this blog series, as they are part of an evolving and increasingly public dialogue on the impact of microfinance.

And, we have already begun to see the kind of positive effect that microlending can have at the front end. A couple weeks ago as we were browsing the Kiva site for new entrepreneurs to lend to, we were greeted with a message that Kiva was sold out of businesses in need. Meaning, Kiva could not load new loan requests on their site faster than the loans were being fulfilled.

A recent New York Times Magazine article written by Inc. contributing editor Rob Walker, reported on this very issue -- the juxtaposition that occurs when a charity's demand is greater than its supply. Currently, more than 230,000 people have been lenders through Kiva.org, for a total of almost $21 million in loans. The organization's supply has since been replenished, and our lending is already underway.

Check back next time for an introduction to the entrepreneurs we are sponsoring.

Last updated: Feb 6, 2008




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