Newsflash: I (Kevin) will be flying from the Philippines (after Borneo) to San Francisco in mid-July for a week of Kiva training, then off to Tajikistan and Georgia for six months. I’m extremely excited to have the opportunity to not only help out struggling entrepreneurs and improve the world, but to also get training in an industry I’ve wanted to explore for many years. To go to work and know that you are directly helping needy people is a something I’ve strived for, but never fully achieved, in my professional career. Now’s my chance. As this is a volunteer position, please take a minute to view my Generosity page and CLICK HERE.
Let me explain: As some of you know, when we were living in San Diego I had been using my CPA experience to work as a Quality Assurance Manager at a smallish independent mortgage company for over four years. Jennifer had worked her way up from massage therapist to the Spa Manager at a few large and fancy San Diego hotels. Always keeping her eyes open for a new opportunity, Jen found a prestigious position as the Spa Director at the St. Regis in Kauai, HI. We jumped at the chance to live in Hawaii for a while, especially since the company moved us there for free (great perk).
I decided that the last thing I wanted to do was work behind a desk all day while living in Hawaii, so after taking 6 months off to swim, snorkel, and paddleboard, I eventually got a part time job as a bellman in Jen’s hotel. Going from 50 hour weeks in the office auditing people’s work to 30 hour weeks in a luxury resort making people happy was certainly a nice change. However, the salary and room for advancement in such a career are admittedly limited.
Once Jen decided she needed a break, we quit our jobs and sold almost all our possessions in order to travel the world. Fun for a while, for sure, but ultimately not sustainable. Along the way we were hoping to find some inspiration for our future careers. It just so happened that one day Jen was online looking to reinvest the money she had been repaid from a loan she made through Kiva.org when she came across their Kiva Fellowship Program. She knew I’d be interested.
Kiva.org is a San Francisco based online microfinance company that works with local partners all over the world. Their stated goal is “to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty.” Microfinance is a concept I learned about and became interested in way back at Georgetown in one of my finance classes, but I never found an opportunity to enter the field. Traditional lending requires borrowers to have sufficient collateral to cover some or all of the repayment of a loan in the case of default. Lenders (generally banks) have no incentive to give loans based solely on faith, they want the security of knowing that they can get most of their money back by seizing and selling the collateral if the loan is not repaid timely.
Thus, people who do not have sufficient (or any) collateral to offer are simply not served by the traditional credit markets. That means they can either try to make do without the needed capital, or they can turn to the non-traditional credit market, also called loan sharks. That can mean interest rates which can sometimes be over 100%, not to mention possible violence in the case of default.
Microfinance was created to fulfill this need, and to lend to borrowers who do not have collateral. In most cases, they are farmers or small business owners in developing nations. Sometimes they need a loan to buy grain, and the loan can be repaid after the harvest. Sometimes they want to expand their small shop or food stall to make more income. The options are limitless, as is the need.
Kiva allows ordinary people (people like you and me – I’ll call them lenders) who have a little savings they are not currently using to provide a portion of a loan to someone in need. If the loan is for $500, perhaps 20 online lenders will pledge $25 each towards the loan through Kiva. Once the total loan has been collected, Kiva will distribute the amount to the borrower. The money is only distributed once the total loan amount has been reached within the given time frame. Thus, if lenders collectively only pledged $400 during the 30 day request window for the $500 loan request, the loan request will be denied and the money will go back to the lenders.
To date, Kiva boasts over 97% repayment rate to its lenders. That’s amazing, when you think about it. These people who don’t have enough assets to provide any sort of meaningful collateral are still willing and able to repay their entire loan over 97% of the time. And with bank savings account interest rates still hovering near zero, it provides lenders with a meaningful and productive place to park their money with extremely high confidence that it will be repaid.
As Kiva cannot have offices in the 80+ countries in which it lends, it partners with local microfinance companies who can more easily work with the borrowers. Also, since Kiva is a nonprofit organization, it cannot provide salaries for employees to travel to and oversee all the local microfinance companies it works with. That’s where the Kiva Fellows come in. The Kiva Fellowship program allows people with business and lending backgrounds to volunteer for six months to visit and assist the local microfinance companies. While there, the Kiva Fellow will ensure compliance with Kiva’s requirements and ideals, ensure reporting is timely and accurate, help spread the word about Kiva, and look for additional local companies and markets to work with.
I can’t wait to start this great opportunity. It’s fine to make money for a while, but at some point I think many people decide that doing something meaningful would be a lot more fulfilling. Now’s my chance. Please help me make it a reality. I’m extremely excited to have the opportunity to not only help out struggling entrepreneurs and improve the world, but to also get training in an industry I’ve wanted to explore for many years. To go to work and know that you are directly helping needy people is a something I’ve strived for, but never fully achieved, in my professional career. Now’s my chance. As this is a volunteer position, please take a minute to view my Generosity page and CLICK HERE.