By Melissa Sandgren
If you happen to be wondering how to give with the current economic climate, I have an answer – microfinance.
How does all this work? Well, to learn more, you can check out the FAQs of Kiva, one of our favorite microfinance non-profits, but basically an organization (not a bank) plays the role of the middle man. The money you loan is given to an organization already in the country. Borrowers have a 98% return rate, and once your loan is repaid, you can keep on lending. For the borrower, you’ve just changed a life, perhaps for generations. One of the best parts about microfinance (which isn’t always true with other types of giving), is that you can actually SEE who is receiving YOUR money. Now that’s powerful.
If you’re not convinced already, here are some of the best reasons to support microfinance this holiday season (as a gift for someone else or as a donation):
1. You’re giving a seriously life changing loan. The $25 (or whatever amount) you lend becomes part of a much larger loan, which not only facilitates wealth for the borrower, but also gives them status, personal pride and education for their children.
2. You’re mostly helping women; in countries and communities where women are sometimes treated as property, financial well-being brings exponential opportunities, and if you’re anything like me, that makes you feel fuzzy inside.
3. $20 actually means something again. If you’ve been watching the markets (or if you have kids), then seeing $20 appreciate in value, or simply being appreciated, might be the best reason to give.
4. You’re reminded of how much you have. For example, in China, 200 million people live off less than $1/day.
So now the question is where do I go next?
1. Kiva.org is basically the golden child of American microfinance organizations. Oprah AND Bill Clinton have endorsed it, so you know it’s good. : ) Actually, I have four friends who have sponsored families through Kiva (and then linked it to their facebook accounts which is why I know) and one of their coolest ideas is the Kiva Fellows Program.
2. Wokai.org works solely in China, and it’s a personal favorite of mine; their pilot program focuses on women entrepreneurs in Inner Mongolia. They just finished their beta testing and I’m proud to say I was one of fifty lenders to sponsor five people at $10 each. Merry Christmas! Or should I say, Happy Early Chinese New Year 😉
3. One of UniversalGiving’s partner NGOs is Pro Mujer. They work to promote women’s development in Latin America’s poorest communities.
Lastly, I would like to mention 2006 Novel Peace Prize winner Mohammad Yunus and his work in microfinance in Bangladesh in the 70s. He basically started the movement by lending money to poor Bangladeshis ineligible for loans. What a great guy; I recommend his book. AND, if you find yourself thoroughly consumed with the intrinsic coolness of microfinance – like I was – you can even take a class (for free!) courtesy of the UN… and then apply to be a Kiva fellow. 😉