It is fitting that Nicholas Kristof, probably one of the most influential and spot-on on-line journalists working today, would stumble across our Partner for Change, Kiva.org.
His March 27 column and video recounts a visit he made recently with two entrepreneurs in Afghanistan”a baker and a t.v. repairman”that he loaned money to using his laptop and Kiva.org, a Web site that provides information in MySpace-like profiles about entrepreneurs in poor countries ” their photos, loan proposals and credit history ” and allows people to make direct loans to them for as little as $25. When loans are repaid, the lender can keep her original investment or relend it to others.
As we researched and got to know Kiva last fall, we began to see many parallels with Nau. It was founded a little more than two years ago by entrepreneurs seeking social change and wanting to do business in a different way. Matt and Jessica Flannery came away from time in Africa seeing that even small amounts of working capital could transform lives. Their challenge: how to make that opportunity available and easy for people seeking to make a difference? Working with a keen group of colleagues recruited from Silicon Valley successes PayPal and TiVo, Kiva.org was born. Today anyone with an internet connection and credit card or PayPal account can lend money to those with no or little access to credit, allowing the lender to start or grow an existing business.
Kristof, who also credits another Partner for Change, Mercy Corps, which itself is also a major player in the microfinance world, reminds us that microfinance is an important tool against poverty. Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for his pioneering work with microfinance in Bangladesh.
My first experience with microfinance came during my time at Nike. I was invited to attend a meeting of borrowers, all women living in a village surrounded by major footwear factories near Jakarta, Indonesia. The women met weekly to repay their loans and swap stories about the highs and lows of life and business ownership. Even though I relied on a translator to hear their words, their faces told me I was in the presence of greatness and that change was not only possible but really happening, one loan at a time. Later we visited their businesses and their homes. It was a transformative moment in my life and I vowed to support and advocate for microfinance whenever and wherever I could.
Technology and partners like Kiva.org are radically changing the way people approach philanthropy. The power of the Internet not only makes it possible for donors to find organizations and causes they support around the world, but it means that even small amounts by individuals can make a big difference because so many of us can spare $25 to lend a hand.