Monday, June 09, 2008

Satisfaction for the Price of Half a Tank of Gas

Last year I loaned $25 each to two entrepreneurs registered with Kiva, the global microfinancing organization. A few days ago, I received a notice that Maria de los Ángeles Cardona García, who used her Kiva funds to repair a copier and increase inventory in her stationary shop, had paid back her $750 loan in full.

My Kiva account reflected the $25 credit, which I could get back, donate, or reloan. Deciding to reloan was the easy part. This was by far the best $25 I have ever loaned--where else can $25 help move someone toward self-sustaining livelihood? As an added bonus, Kiva has added an incredibly low default rate, (but not without risk--we all know from Suze Orman that you should only loan what you can afford to not get back). You do not earn any interest on these loans, so this is not a money-making venture. Since it's a loan and not a donation, it's not tax-deductible either.

A lot has changed in the year since I chose my first loan recipients. There are many more participating countries and within them, more groups rather than individuals. I rather liked that although the group members were working independently, they were responsible for the loan together. Apparently Kiva had a shortage of potential recipients earlier this year but that was not the case any longer-there were pages and pages of projects that needed funding.

Many of the profiles touched me--I was especially struck by the special disclaimer on the Kenyan groups' profiles: Disclaimer: Due to recent events in Kenya, the security situation in many communities remains unsettled, affecting many local businesses. Lenders to this entrepreneur should be aware that this loan may represent a higher default risk, and should be willing to accept this additional risk in making their loan.

After scrolling through dozens of profiles, I finally decide to loan to a project in the middle east figuring I would do my part to make amends for the otherwise hawky US presence there. I found a group of Pakistani women looking to expand their respective businesses. That sounded good to me, and I was especially impressed by Asasah, the field partner, who has a 100% repayment rate. Can't beat that. I applied my $25 credit to their project, pushing them a bit closer to their $1150 goal.

Though the idea of meeting a loan recipient seemed unlikely, Nicholas Kristof, New York Times columnist, did so last year, much the surprise of the Afghan baker, who didn't know what the internet was but opened a second bakery with his loan. Right on.

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