John Briggs/Kiva

Nonprofit microfunding organization KIVA is changing the world, $25 at a time.


Alice is a 40-year-old farmer in western Kenya who makes a living selling vegetables and poultry at the local county market. She needs $550 to buy and insure a dairy cow to boost her income and help cover school expenses for her five kids. The plan: Pay off the first cow within 14 months and establish enough loan-worthiness to leverage a second one.

Carolina is a baker in Bolivia who sells bread to support her family. She wants to install a high-capacity oven to meet customer demand, increase revenue and compete with the bigger bakeries in town. She needs $1,025 to do it.

Grace in Uganda supports 13 children, seven of them civil-war orphans, by selling homemade peanut butter. She’s seeking a business investment of $475 for a fridge and packing materials to stock larger batches.

What links these people, aside from a solid work ethic, unflagging resourcefulness, an entrepreneurial spirit and a modest (but life-changing) business proposal that won’t be getting much airtime on Shark Tank?

A global presence on Kiva.

Kiva Microfunds (www.kiva.org), a San Francisco–­based nonprofit organization, bills itself as the first online lending platform connecting lenders and entrepreneurs around the world. Partnering with an international network of microfinance institutions, the company’s startlingly successful mission is to alleviate poverty and empower a world full of fundable folks whom banks may not be calling — but who may be able to be helped by willing others.

Others, that is, like you, me or any other potential microfinancier with Internet access, a credit card or a PayPal account, and enough capital to part with $25 (Kiva’s standard building block in its pooled loans) without losing much sleep.

On the receiving end: goat traders and shopkeepers. Beauticians and ricksha drivers. A Paraguayan creator of a cheap but effective mosquito-repellent wristband in a Dengue fever zone and a 22-year-old Rwandan college student who’d like to expand a university canteen she started into an Internet café. In short, a planet full of entrepreneurs who need a small, short-term loan if there’s a willing supply of $25 crowd-funders out there within miraculous reach.

Turns out there is. Eight years ago, Kiva was launched with seven small, short-term loans totaling $3,500 to a “Dream Team” of borrowers in Tororo, Uganda, that was picked with the help of a local church pastor. It was the beginning of the next chapter in microfinance — a concept pioneered by Bangladeshi economist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus that revolves around providing “microloans” (amounts too small for most big banks) to the working poor subsisting outside the traditional credit radar.