Peer-to-peer microfinance

Micofinancing is among the better ways for the haves to help the have-nots. Small loans are made to poor but ambitious workers, who expand their livelihoods with the small loan and then pay it back. Which is then lent out again. The previously recommended agencies Opportunity International, and Trickle Up are great tools for individuals in developed countries to kick-start other folk’s self-development. These agencies do the hard work of identifying and training the recipients, and tracking loans and performance.

But why not use the peer-to-peer model to allow individuals with money to loan to specific individuals in need of a small loan? That’s what Kiva does and it works wonderfully.

Kiva enables you to make small $25 or above loans to an individual or small group of individuals in a developing country. They use these small loans (aggregated to about $200-$400) to finance a food stall, repair shop, hair salon, sewing machine, new cash crop, etc. When they pay it back to you in about 11 months, you can then re-lend it to another person of your choice.

The advantages of Kiva over the other worthy agencies are three fold. One, you can direct your loans to the kind of projects or livelihood you deem the most important or the most sympathetic. Maybe you are into food so you gravitate to funding small cafes or local fruit growers. Or maybe you think women’s sewing centers are a key. Secondly you have more direct contact with the borrowers. They have names, faces, stories. Not a few Kiva lenders have met up with folks they have lent to. Thirdly, while most microfiance agencies are thrifty, Kiva is particularly thin in administration thanks to the well-designed software platform that runs this service.

The payback rate for Kiva is about 97%. That’s a better “investment” than stocks this past year! The variety of folks you can lend to is exhilarating. The karma is good. These loans make a difference. Kiva lends $1 million dollars every 10 days. It is easy to do. A few folks are already on their third cycle of re-loaning the same money they first put up three years ago.

I think the peer-to-peer lending service of Kiva is such a wonderful tool that I have started a Cool Tools Lending Team. The intention is to gather like-minded folks to make microloans to folks needing tools to start or build a livelihood. I’ve seeded the team with the first $300 of loans to three borrowers planing to use the loans for tools and I’ll add up to $1,000 of Cool Tool’s ad revenue as the team identifies borrowers hoping to secure tools. Ideally, other Cool Tool readers will join me in lending small amounts to enable others to self-develop and remake their lives. If you are interested, please join me at the Kiva Cool Tools Team.

-- KK 12/29/08

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