Friday, February 29, 2008

Viva Kiva: Microfinance Comes to Philly!

Kiva.org was a kitchen table start up – a small group of accomplished, idealistic folks wanting to make a difference in the world pooled their skills, connections, and some modest start-up capital and in 2005 launched a direct microfinance site with support from PayPal. The rest is history. Their platform took off and has grown exponentially; the number of folks wanting to loan money at no-interest to developing world entrepreneurs has been so robust that Kiva’s present challenge is vetting entrepreneurs quickly enough to keep up with the loaners! Rupa Modi, the Philadelphia-based head of Northeast Development for Kiva, reports that when the loaner supply exceeds the available loan applicant profiles, Kiva’s San Francisco staff take a moment to shrug their shoulders and congratulate each other on having solved world poverty. Then they roll up their sleeves and redouble their efforts, working to ramp up fast enough to spread the opportunity for poverty reduction as far and as fast as they can.

Kiva.org is a simple interface. In increments of $25, loaners designate to whom they loan money for a no-interest term of around 12 months. Since Kiva is in year three, the early loans have come due and the statistics are remarkable: 0.1% for default rate for $4,511,985 in completed loans. (Compare that to the US subprime mortgage debacle….) Kiva has indeed made some high profile friends such as Bill Clinton, who has featured them in his book Giving, and Oprah Winfrey. A list of Kiva’s corporate sponsors is pretty much a who’s who of successful Silicon Valley companies, many of them contributing their services to help provide the infrastructure to make no-cost loans possible. Clearly they have tapped into an enormous lode of generosity and excitement on the part of loan providers, mostly everyday folks thrilled to be part of the solution.
Philadelphians will have a remarkable opportunity to learn more about the microfinance world on Friday, April 18, 2008, when the Wharton Microfinance Club will sponsor a free, open to the public, daylong workshop, featuring two of Kiva's founders as keynotes, Premal Shah and Matt Flannery, along with other leaders in the microfinance/ social entrepreneur world. If you’re interested in attending the conference, check out the details. After the conference Kiva will be hosting a reception where you can celebrate its success and even expand your “portfolio” by lending to new loan applicants on the spot. Viva Kiva!

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