kiva
A spinach farmer in Cambodia, a hot dog stand worker in Nicaragua, a fish seller in Uganda, a carpenter in Gaza and a bee keeper in Ghana were microfinance organization Kiva’s initial borrowers in 2005. However, Kiva has grown in scope and microfinance methods by combating global poverty from multiple angles. This week alone, 27,704 lenders made loans through Kiva.

Today, Kiva’s mission to alleviate global poverty through small-scale lending has grown far beyond its original scope. In the eight years since its inception, the nonprofit has sponsored loans totaling over $540 million. These loans fund over 1.2 million borrowers in 73 countries.

In its eighth year, Kiva is a leader in platforms for social improvement and poverty alleviation. The organization aims to empower low-income borrowers around the world to begin their own businesses, invest in home improvement and clean energies and more through small-scale loans of greater than $25.

Lenders are able to browse the profiles of people around the world who are seeking loans, and choose who they would like to support. Lenders then receive updates on the progress of their loan, connecting them to a larger global community dedicated to supporting low-income earners.

This concept of small-scale lending can be defined as microfinance. Microfinance is loans, savings and financial services for the poor or those without access to traditional banking systems, and the idea that these small-scale funds ultimately help to lift low-income borrowers out of poverty.

While effective in many ways, microfinance can also be limited in its reach due to high-risk costs and loans for more impoverished borrowers. In some situations, microfinance may not be the ideal way to assist borrowers, and cannot function as the only tool to fight against global poverty. In order to combat these limitations, Kiva seeks to be a more flexible form of microfinance by moving past economics and deeper into issues of agriculture, education and clean energy.

Currently, only 0.3 percent of microfinance borrowers take out loans for energy solutions. Kiva aims to combat the barriers of high cost and availability faced by low-income earners by taking on more creative, pay-as-you-go lending systems for borrowers. With credit delivered in more flexible ways, users are able to benefit from technologies while making their payments over longer periods of time.

Over the next decade, Kiva hopes to see clean energy products become regularities for its borrowers around the world. The ultimate goal for the nonprofit is the use of sustainable supply chains, improvement of health and well being and falling prices for renewable energy products.

Kiva has also increased awareness of microfinance in educational communities around the world. In August 2013, the organization launched Kiva U, a movement for students and educators dedicated to changing the world through microfinance. The initiative provides toolkits, resources and potential curriculum to promote communities where high school students, college-age students and teachers can connect and share ideas.

In October, Kiva hosted its inaugural Kiva U Summit, where 150 students and teachers came together to connect and discuss microfinance in an evolving world. In the same month, Kiva hit its one million lender milestone.

Through creative mechanisms and user-oriented strategies, Kiva has proven the potential for microfinance success in addressing low-income communities.

“Our approach is to see what works and share the results with a global audience,” Kiva President Premal Shah said. “Ultimately, our hope is to get high-impact products to people who have been too long overlooked, and demonstrate their success to the global market.”

 – Julia Thomas

Sources: The Borgen Project, Kiva, Kiva(2), Triple Pundit, MIT Press Journals
Photo: Design to Improve Life