Monday, September 29, 2008

Kiva and the warm fuzzies

Well, I did admit that I liked fuzzy critters in an earlier post. So I'm moving on to a new fuzzy topic - the warm fuzzies. It's that feeling you get when you know you've done the right thing - when you've helped someone or when you've made the world a better place. One thing that gives me the warm fuzzies (besides rescuing chickens) is Kiva. Do you Kiva? is a microfinance website for people in developing countries. There's a lot of information out there about microfinance, but let me tell you a little bit more about it. People in developing countries don't have banks like we do here, and often couldn't use a bank even if they did have one. They have dreams, projects, a desire to improve their lives and the lives of their family members, just like everyone else, but usually, they have no resources. Kiva works with lending operations all over the world to make micro-loans, anywhere from $250 to $1200, for some worthwhile person and their well-planned project.

So, where do I come in? Well, I lend money to specific projects. Kiva lets you look at a photo of the applicant and gives you a description of their project. You can decide if you like their project, and if you want to, you can sponsor it. The minimum is $25 towards the loan. But really, that's a huge difference in someone else's life. Loans usually get funded within less than a week, in $25 increments, one person at a time. Right now, the Kiva website is pretty busy, and sometimes they even run out of open loans. Don't let that dissuade you! Re-visit!

So then what? Well, you get your money back! The person who gets the loan improves their life with it, and pays back the microlender, who then pays Kiva. When the loan term is up (usually from 6 to 18 months), you get your full contribution back. Actually, you get little bits of it back every time they make a payment. And what do you do with that money? You sponsor another project, of course! Or, you can move it back into your Paypal account if you wish.

Occasionally, things go wrong. Sometimes, people get hurt and don't finish their project. Sometimes people are even killed in these countries. Sometimes, they just go missing. This is rare though. I've sponsored over 50 loans now (each for $25) and have never had a single problem. Many of the loans I've made have been paid back and I've re-used that money to help someone else. The reason I only sponsor at the $25 level is to keep the risk low. If anything does go wrong, I'm only out $25. A few trips to Starbucks. No big deal. The benefits to both the lendee and the lender far outweigh the risks.

So, go check it out. If you've got $25 to spare, someone else sure could use a hand, and then someone else after that, and so on, and so on. What is it they say? Pay it forward...

Kiva - loans that change lives

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