Every 10 days, Kiva.org raises $1 million to help low-income entrepreneurs around the world realize their dreams and improve their lives. Here, Kiva President Premal Shah tells us how these loans have become such a financial lifeline for women specifically.
Why is micro-lending such a powerful tool to help alleviate poverty?
Someone who receives a small loan of even $50 or $100 can use that capital to generate income for themselves. They might buy seed to grow a crop, a sewing machine to tailor clothes, or eggs to hatch and sell as chickens. Microloans are poverty alleviation without charity, where the individual is empowered to create change in their own lives.
Why is micro-lending especially important for women entrepreneurs?
In many parts of the world women are excluded from accessing financial services. They might be excluded culturally in a region where a woman is not permitted to take out a loan or open a bank account. They might be excluded educationally in a region where girls are not sent to school, and therefore become women who are illiterate. The result is a woman who is powerless in her financial situation and relies on men to provide for her, when in many cases she is contributing the majority of the labor to provide for her family.
When a woman receives a microloan she has a tool she can use to generate greater income, and she can make decisions about how best to use it. An empowered woman can be an incredible force! We have also seen that women that control their family’s income tend to invest more in their children. So microloans are also an investment in the women of tomorrow.
How many of Kiva’s entrepreneurs are women?
Currently, 82% of loans on Kiva are made to women. To date, 322,810 entrepreneurs have received a loan through Kiva.
Do you find that women entrepreneurs manage their businesses differently from men?
Kiva currently operates in more than 50 countries around the world, so the differences between women and men entrepreneurs varies greatly depending on the region. However, there are areas of the world where women typically do all the work. When a woman in this situation has the opportunity to become an entrepreneur, not just a laborer, she is a force to be reckoned with!
Is there one woman entrepreneur who stands out to you as a success?
One of Kiva’s first microloan recipients in the United States was a woman named Lupita, who is the owner of a massage business and overcame so much to be successful. As a young single mother of a boy with neurofibromatosis, Lupita struggled to get by financially. She learned massage as a technique to manage her son’s pain, and discovered that she both enjoyed, and was gifted in, giving massage. However, she was denied a loan from her local financial institutions who evaluated her credit worthiness simply by her statistics, not her business idea.
Lupita received a loan through a local microfinance institution that saw her passion and drive. When Lupita’s equipment was stolen, Kiva Lenders pooled their money to help her get up and running again. Lupita is a role model who really embodies the entrepreneurial spirit.
Are you seeing women entrepreneurs reach out to other women in their communities to help them set up their own businesses?
This is something that we do see happen in communities around the world. In fact, Lupita is a mentor and trainer to other single mothers through her business, teaching them massage so that they can in turn become empowered. The ripple effect created and perpetuated by women is very powerful.
Are you finding that entrepreneurship gives women a tool to fight against domestic violence and gender inequalities in their communities?
Domestic violence and gender inequalities render women powerless. Without a way to support themselves, women don’t have anywhere to escape to. By providing women with a way to support themselves, through a business enterprise which they themselves control, they suddenly have the power not only to control their own finances, but also to escape from a situation of abuse. When a woman shows her ability to build a strong business and create profit, she often finds her status in the community changes.
Kiva started lending to U.S.-based entrepreneurs just last year. What motivated you to start lending in the U.S. and how is it different?
We were receiving requests to allow U.S. entrepreneurs to receive loans through the site since we first started. There was definitely a need, and when it came time to launch, Maria Shriver helped us get the word out, which made it that much easier.
The Kiva lending program operates the same way whether the entrepreneur is in a developing or developed country. The vetting process for each loan, however, varies. Kiva is working with more than 100 local microfinance institutions, and they each have tailored their vetting processes to best meet the needs of the community they serve.
How can The Women’s Conference community get involved?
They can join The Women’s Conference Lending Team and with the loan of just $25, empower a woman to realize her entrepreneurial dreams.
If they have a business idea and would like to receive a loan, or if they know someone who would, they can contact the Kiva Field Partner (local microfinance institution) in their area. Kiva’s current Field Partners in the United States are ACCION USA and Opportunity Fund.
It turns out that when we all pool our resources together, we can make a big difference.
Premal Shah is President of Kiva.org, a website that lets you make $25 micro-loans to low-income entrepreneurs around the world. Kiva raises $1 million every 10 days for the working poor and was named as a Top 50 website by TIME magazine in 2008. Prior to Kiva, Premal spent 6 years at PayPal, an eBay company where he began to develop his thinking on how the internet could expand microfinance.