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102 microfinance loans, and that’s just the beginning

28 Mar

by AJ Chalom, Humanist Giving Program Coordinator

Foundation Beyond Belief’s Humanist Giving team has completed the launch of our new Kiva microfinance initiative. This initiative was funded through the Q4 2013 small grant award. The $2,500 seed money for this project was loaned over the course of seven weeks in January and February. After developing a series of guidelines to steer the program, Humanist Giving staff searched for and selected loans through secular microfinance institutions (MFIs) in a variety of countries supporting a wide range of activities, from personal need, housing, and medical expenses to funding businesses, transportation, and food infrastructure.

The intent of this program is to explore the world of microfinance lending within an established lending platform. While there are other microfinance platforms available, Kiva has set itself apart by sheer size and longevity. Some concerns were raised by members regarding certain practices of Kiva, and our Humanist Giving staff took these concerns into considerations while making loan choices.

The Foundation Beyond Belief Kiva account is a member of the Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-religions team. We post the loans that we fund in this group to raise visibility within the group, and we also choose to fund some loans that have been funded by other members of the team.

Here are a few of the loans we funded:

  • Berta runs a fuel business in Dili, the capital of Timor, Leste (East Timor). Her loan of $600, of which we contributed $25, was used to purchase gasoline for her roadside business. She started her business with her own working capital and now wants to improve that business with a loan through a local microfinance organization. Five members of the Kiva Atheists team were involved in funding this loan.
  • Rosalie is from the Philippines but works in Lebanon as a housekeeper. She sends money back to the Philippines to help support her family. She applied for a loan to send $1,700 to her family to repair their home after it suffered damage in a tornado. She is part of a lending group that support each other and consists of close childhood friends also living in Lebanon. Rosella has already paid back 20% of the loan. Six other members of the Kiva Atheists team also contributed to this loan.The MFI that administered Rosalie’s loan for Kiva is Al Majmoua—Lebanese Association for Development, the longest-running Kiva MFI in Lebanon. This MFI works to distribute their loan opportunities geographically and among the diversity of people living within Lebanon, including migrant workers and those in different income brackets, They also strive to give opportunities to people who have been socially excluded from traditional paths to success in Lebanon due to race, income, or nationality.
  • Lise lives in Les Cayes, Haiti. EarthSpark, the only secular MFI in Haiti, helps entrepreneurs in Haiti to take advantage of green technology and products to build business. Lise is establishing a client base and a business profile, taking out her third, short-term loan from EarthSpark. She is working with solar power light bulbs, charging stations, and efficient charcoal-burning mirak stoves. These products are geared to the significant part of the country that is off the energy grid. The MFI is committed to supplying funds not only for an entrepreneur’s immediate needs but also for a community’s needs.

These are the stories of just three of the people whose loans were partially funded by Foundation Beyond Belief’s Kiva account. There are 99 more stories … and counting.

By the end of February, 102 $25 loans were fulfilled with our initial investment. Loans represented 45 of 73 countries represented on Kiva. There are 15 sectors in Kiva, and 14 sectors were represented in our loans. The most common sectors were Retail, Food, Agriculture, and Services. Loans funded were located across the world, stretching from here in the US throughout Africa and into Mongolia.

One of the benefits of Kiva is the ability to easily track your giving history as well as additional loans you are able to make with money that has been repaid from your initial loans. Just two months after starting our lending, we have already made 8 loans from recycled money in our account. We expect to be able to make almost 90 additional loans from recycled money by the end of the year.

As we loan out our recycled money, these questions fuel our decisions: Is the individual person we loan to important? What biases are introduced by the person choosing the loans? (Do they prefer a particular country or sector that is either deliberately or unconsciously fueling their decisions?) Are loans more effective than giving money directly as grants? Many of these particular questions have been studied, and throughout the project we will explore how our account reflects norms, averages, and differences from other Kiva users.

This project is just beginning. The power of reloaning the same initial capital over and over gives us the ability to impact more people requesting loans through the MFIs that work with Kiva, and we are excited to see how this develops.

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