Have you ever visited a place and wished there was something you could do to contribute more to the local community after leaving? Do you want to give back but aren’t sure if you’ll really be able to create any positive change? In this #littleBIGthings interview, Jessica Hansen, Global Engagement Manager at Kiva, explains more about microlending and how you can make a difference through Kiva by making small investments in entrepreneurs around the world doing amazing things.
Kiva is an international nonprofit, founded in 2005 and based in San Francisco, with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. We celebrate and support people looking to create a better future for themselves, their families and their communities.
By lending as little as $25 on Kiva, anyone can help a borrower start or grow a business, go to school, access clean energy or realize their potential. For some, it’s a matter of survival, for others it’s the fuel for a life-long ambition.
100% of every dollar you lend on Kiva goes to funding loans. Kiva covers costs primarily through optional donations, as well as through support from grants and sponsors.
1. How can Kiva lenders know how much they will actually be helping the individuals and their communities that they are lending to?
One of the really beautiful things about Kiva is that you know just what each loan is for and exactly how much of it is going to help someone (100%) before you even decide to make the loan. It’s quite different from traditional charity models in that way – that you know where your money is going and what it’s going to do – and it’s also quite different that you get paid back (over 97% of the time).
2. In what other ways can people get involved with Kiva besides lending?
There are many ways to get involved with Kiva and it takes a lot of people with a lot of different skills to make it all happen! One of my favorite ways is to volunteer with our Translation team. Over 450 volunteers based all around the world devote a little of their time each week to helping us review and translate loans into English before they go up on Kiva.org.
Another great way is to create and grow a Kiva team on our website. There are over 38,000 teams in Kiva’s community – the largest two who are always vying for the top spot are the A+ team (made up of atheists, agnostics, and skeptics) and the Kiva Christians, and it’s been a really fun rivalry to watch over the years.
Additionally, we have Fellows who volunteer to help us on the ground with our partners all around the U.S. and in the 83 countries we currently work in. We have interns both in our San Francisco headquarters and our Nairobi office. We have over 75,000 educators and students who are using Kiva as a learning and action tool in the classrooms and on their campuses at over 4,000 schools and universities around the world.
The biggest thing people can do outside of lending is just to share about us – if you use social media, post about us; if you’re a blogger, write about us; if you’re a talker, talk about us! Only about 15% of people in the U.S have heard of Kiva, so while we are doing great work in people’s lives all around the world, there’s still a lot to be done. There are over 2.5 billion people who lack access to financial services. We are currently serving almost 2 million, and even with other microlenders out there, there’s still a huge gap. The only way we will be able to scale our work is if we get more people on board who know who we are and support our borrowers. Being an advocate and ambassador for us is one of the most useful things someone could do.
3. Can you share a story or two of how Kiva has made an impact that really moved you?
Kiva is made up of so many incredible stories of incredible impact, it’s difficult to choose, but one of my favorites came from two of my co-workers who went to Zimbabwe earlier this year and met a lovely young woman named Lindiwe. She is 22 years old and as this great Medium post attests, she’s a true mogul in the making.
She did market research and found that juices and sodas were in demand. She got a loan through one of Kiva’s partners called Camfed, where you don’t pay financial interest on your loan but instead pay “social interest” by also serving as a mentor and volunteer helping other young women in the community.
The loan and the success that followed it have had a number of impacts on Lindiwe’s life. She now has a savings account, which no one but Lindiwe – not even her husband – has the pin for, giving her real financial independence. Her success has changed her self-confidence and her standing in the community for the better. Her mentorship inspires her and helps so many other young women in her village. She’s already hiring others and expanding her business. The impacts on her, her family, and her community are pretty amazing and will continue for countless years to come.
4. What makes Kiva different from other similar organizations?
There are a lot of things that set Kiva apart, but to name a few I think are most important:
Kiva is vastly different from traditional charity models – not only do you know who is getting funding and what the funding is for, but it’s a loan – not a donation, so you get your money back (currently our repayment rate is over 97% even though we work in places experiencing poverty, conflict and natural disasters, which is pretty amazing). When you are repaid, you can withdraw your funds and do whatever you want with them or you can lend them out again.
Something that sets us apart from even other microfinance-focused organizations is that we have expanded our portfolio to include both traditional microfinance clients (like a tailor, a farmer, a fisherman or fisherwoman) and also new social and environmental impact projects. Thanks to our incredible lenders and their patient, risk-tolerant capital, we are able to help get these new and important ventures off the ground.
5. How does Kiva get involved in the local communities in which Kiva’s borrowers are located?
Globally, Kiva supports over 300 fantastic local organizations, working tirelessly on the ground in over 80 countries to bring change to lives, families, and communities. Through our partnership, we empower our partners to not only provide needed capital to borrowers, but many also offer an array of support and services to them. Domestically, across the United States, communities have really rallied around local borrowers and the Kiva community – including lenders, borrowers, partners, staff and volunteers – works to make sure that not only do borrowers get the loans they need but also the support and customers they need to be truly successful.
6. What advice would you give someone who wants to make a difference through micro-lending but isn’t sure how to begin?
Microlending is one of the easiest ways to change the world and impact lives, and it doesn’t have to cost a penny.
It’s so easy that there are even thousands of classrooms that do it! There is a fantastic group of 6th graders here in San Francisco, who – through a project in their math class – raised money and lent to a Russian pastry chef who opened a bakery here in the city. They now visit her shop as investors, and its been amazing to see how it has impacted them to be able to give funds and opportunity to an adult. They are real agents of change!
$25 is not a lot to most of us. It’s the cost of a moderately priced dinner with friends or a week of afternoon lattes. Yet, that’s all it takes to change a life and you get it back!
To begin, I’d visit Kiva.org and choose a category that matters to you (women, education, green loans, etc.) or a country that matters to you (somewhere your family or a friend is from or someplace you’ve always wanted to go) and click on the first loan that pops up. Read the profile. If it doesn’t speak to you, open one more. Even if you don’t make a loan, you’ll learn what life is like for someone somewhere else in the world, you’ll get a sense of the amazing and resourceful people we lend to, and you’ll see the type of change you have the power to create.
7. How do you think travel can be used for good?
It’s an incredible privilege to travel – visiting family, friends, and colleagues in places of poverty around the world reminds me just what an amazing privilege it is. Through that privilege, we get the opportunity to experience and appreciate the commonalities and differences among us, and connect more deeply with others, ourselves, and our world.
Travel allows us to become eyewitnesses, ambassadors, and agents of change. We see that quite a bit through Kiva. People often lend to those they feel a connection with. A pastry chef in London may lend to a baker in Bosnia. Someone living in Michigan whose mother is from India may feel especially compelled to lend to women there. A couple just returning from a backpacking trip to South America can give back to the communities they fell in love with on their trip by lending to people there.
Travel is all about connections, and so is Kiva – all those incredible connections can inspire some wonderful acts for good in the world.
Jessica Hansen is the Global Engagement Manager for Kiva, the world’s largest online microfinance platform. Kiva’s mission is to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. Jessica launched the international award-winning educational program Kiva U in August of 2013 and currently supports initiatives to engage the wider public as they build breadth and depth in understanding poverty, microfinance, innovation, sustainability, and social entrepreneurship. Jessica came to Kiva from rural, remote southwestern Kenya where she served as Nuru International’s Education Manager, co-creating solutions to raise literacy levels in primary schools. Prior to that she worked in the education field or with refugees for over a decade with organizations like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Rescue Committee, the US Committee for Refugees & Immigrants, Medecins Sans Frontieres, the Centre for Refugee Research, and Mercy Corps. Her fieldwork has been primarily based in Southeast Asia and East Africa. She has a BA in International Politics from the Univ. of Central Oklahoma/Univ. of Leicester and an MSW from the Univ. of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.