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Microlending Organizations
In the fight against global poverty, one hot-button issue is how to provide aid without the implication of paternalism, the idea that one person or group knows the interests of another group better than that group knows its own interests. Tariq Fancy, the founder of the nonprofit The Rumie Initiative, recalls hearing a Kenyan relative’s view on problems with international aid, saying “don’t walk in assuming that from your perch in North America you figured out all the answers for Africa.” Putting resources and power in the hands of communities both provides aid and acknowledges that they can make decisions about local interests. Microlending organizations have the power to do just that

Microloans are small loans at low-interest rates. Individuals living in poverty often have difficulty securing loans from traditional financial institutions due to a lack of borrowing history and assets to use as collateral. Even when people can get loans, interest rates are often high. People often use microloans to finance small businesses in their early stages, enabling people to overcome barriers and progress toward lifting themselves and their families out of poverty.

Microlending organizations can also issue loans for community projects, like building wells or funding schools. Microlending organizations typically, but not always, issue loans funded by individuals rather than by banks or other financial institutions. Here are four companies and organizations that use microlending in different forms to empower people living in poverty.

Four Microlending Organizations that Empower the Poor

  1. Kiva: Kiva crowdfunds loans from people around the world and uses partners to issue them. The nonprofit has enabled the funding of more than $1.33 billion in loans. Kiva emerged in 2005 and has partnerships with financial institutions throughout the world, where it transfers the crowdfunded money. The local field partners then loan money to Kiva’s lenders. Kiva has a 96.8 percent repayment rate and operates in 78 countries. On Kiva’s website, lenders can sort loans by region or category, such as agriculture, women and eco-friendly.
  2. Zidisha: Zidisha is the first direct person-to-person microlending service that focuses on entrepreneurs and job creation. Its name” comes from the Swahili word meaning “grow.” Unlike Kiva, Zidisha does not loan through financial institutions but facilitates direct lending between people. Zidisha’s loans total more than $16 million and have financed more than 240,000 projects.
  3. Building Resources Across Communities: Building Resources Across Communities (BRAC) is the largest non-governmental development organization in the world in terms of number of employees. Hasan founded BRAC in 1972 and it employs more than 120,000 people in 11 countries. BRAC has a microfinance program, primarily in Bangladesh, which has loaned to 5.6 million borrowers, 87 percent of whom are women. Unlike Kiva and Zidisha, which operate person-to-person lending services, BRAC distributes loans to lenders on its own using donations and other funds. BRAC also does work unrelated to microfinance, investing in schools and in water, hygiene and sanitation services.
  4. Women’s Microfinance Initiative (WMI): Women’s Microfinance Initiative (WMI) began issuing loans in 2008 and trains local women in managing loan hubs. WMI has loaned more than $4.5 million to rural women in amounts of $100 to $250 at an interest rate of 10 percent. According to WMI, 99 percent of its borrowers report doubling their income within six months of being involved in the program. WMI reports a 98 percent repayment rate.

The efficacy of microlending in pulling people out of poverty is up for debate, but some cases have shown promising results. A microfinance program in Uzbekistan resulted in 71 percent of participants reporting an increase in food intake quality. One study showed that when a microfinance program was put in place, there was an 18 percent decline in extreme poverty. While different studies report differing results, microlending organizations like Kiva, Zidisha, BRAC and WMI have certainly been a success.

– Meredith Charney
Photo: Flickr

Virtual MicrofinanceFounded in 2009 by Julia Kurnia, Zidisha is a virtual microfinance platform that seeks to combat poverty in developing countries by directly connecting lenders to entrepreneurs. To date, Zidisha has raised more than $10 million in microloans.

Zidisha, which means “grow” or “expand” in Swahili, is the first virtual microfinance service to eliminate the use of local intermediaries to disburse loans to companies in need. The Virginia-based nonprofit follows a platform similar to that of eBay, in which entrepreneurs post public loan requests for lenders across the world to access. This streamlined process is both cost-effective and convenient for emerging entrepreneurs who seek capital to accelerate their businesses.

Zidisha is not the pioneer of virtual microfinance. However, its distinctive feature is its commitment to lower fees and rates for entrepreneurs. Similar organizations such as Kiva make use of “field partners” who often distribute loans at interest rates of more than 35 percent to pay for administrative costs. Zidisha’s flat interest rate of five percent means that borrowers can retain more money to reinvest in their ventures.

The nonprofit has been a highly successful means of growing businesses in 11 developing nations. According to its website, lenders on Zidisha have fully funded more than 70,000 unique projects.

Developing countries are quickly adopting recent technological advances and joining an increasingly interdependent world. According to a Pew Research study, 54 percent of adults in emerging and developing nations described themselves as “Internet users” in 2015, a rise from 45 percent in 2013. However, in the same countries, formal job markets are inadequate and local banks are seldom financially helpful.

Thus, the use of cheap and effective microfinance is critical to spurring economic growth in emerging countries. Developing economies inevitably benefit from microfinance because entrepreneurs can use loans to pay for expansions, renovations, inventory and, most importantly, new employees.

Other virtual microfinance platforms could follow Zidisha’s cost-effective system of lending. If these platforms truly value charity and philanthropy through the form of financial support, they should recognize that the use of third parties to disburse loans poses a financial burden on emerging companies that cannot afford to accumulate thousands of dollars in unpaid interest.

People in developed nations should embrace the unique power of virtual microfinance. It is a viable, even profitable, form of philanthropy that has tangible effects on the crisis of world poverty. Using microfinance as a means of alleviating global economic distress will directly result in more jobs, profit and prosperity for those in need.

Henry Emanuel

Photo: Flickr

direct_loans
Big business ideas and economic enterprises are no longer limited to the corporate boardroom. The digitally connected world has provided entrepreneurs from all corners of the globe ways in which to make their concepts known; social media and increased mobile access have given tomorrow’s innovators a voice they lacked in the past. The main issue, however, is that those in developing countries still lack access to funding and capital, no matter how strong their idea.

That’s where Zidisha comes in. Zidisha is a nonprofit micro-lending service that allows potential borrowers to receive direct loans from an online community. The organization’s main goal is to promote economic development by cutting out lending middlemen and local banks that often charge supremely high-interest rates on loans.

The process is quite simple. Potential borrowers need only reliable online access, something that is only becoming more and more available. The borrowers then submit a profile describing themselves and their intended use of the loan. A one-time processing fee of around $12 is charged.

Zidisha is a very small company and merely provides a platform for users to interact directly. “We’ve built a decentralized marketplace that has no offices, no employees or loan officers in borrower countries,” says company founder Julia Kurnia. Zidisha lets borrowers receive funds via SMS straight from lenders at a zero percent interest rate.

Loans are typically small. Zidisha states that the average loan is $200 to $300. Loans have enabled entrepreneurs to buy computers for an Internet café and sewing machines for a village shop. Both have relatively low costs, but a significant impact. According to Wired Magazine, the computers that were funded by Zidisha loans have empowered many, as they have been used to teach office programs like Microsoft Word and Excel.

Zidisha’s purpose is clear in its name. The word means “grow” in Swahili. By charging no interest and only asking for the principal returned, Zidisha enables borrowers’ ideas, which would normally be denied by the typical financial institutions, to flourish.

Joe Kitaj

Sources: Wired, Zidisha, Venture Beat
Photo: Zidisha