Changing lives – for the cost of a meal out

Sophiy, 44, earns a living through farming rice and cassavas in her village.Sophiy, 44, earns a living through farming rice and cassavas in her village.

Sophy, 44, is married with three children and lives in Cambodia. She earns a living through farming rice and cassavas in her village. If you can call it a living. She makes around $5 a day.

Her daughter is studying nursing sciences and Sophy needs money to help her pay for tuition.

Can you help? If you want to, it is surprisingly simple to do. A non-profit organisation called Kiva organised $4 million worth of loans last week alone, to Sophy and over 1.2 million others like her who want help but have every intention of paying it back.

The concept is based on having numerous donors each of whom donates just $25 – there are currently over one million donors. The donor is encouraged to choose the beneficiary, and you can search the user-friendly website by country, gender, sector and so on. You are then presented with all the people in that category and get to see not only a picture of them but also to read their story.

The field partner in that particular region arranges the loan, for an interest rate of around 25-40 per cent, much higher than those we are used to in developed countries but one which reflects the administration and logistics involved in making a loan without the benefit of a high street bank round the corner.

The donor is welcome to make a donation of $2.50 to Kiva – but it is not mandatory

“The field partner often has to go in person to vet the application, again to give the money to the beneficiary and then to collect the payments. It is a lot more complicated than it seems, especially given that many of these people live in very remote areas,” Phil Richards, the Kiva team leader in Malta, explained.

The donor is welcome to make a donation of $2.50 to Kiva – but it is not mandatory.

The donor is able to monitor all his or her donations and repayments, and once the loan is repaid – which it is in 98.96 per cent of the cases, a default rate most banks only dream of – the donor can take the money back or find a new beneficiary.

“The effectiveness of Kiva comes from its careful choice of field partner,” he explained, adding that there were 240 field partners in 73 countries.

Mr Richards joined Kiva as a donor in 2009. His first loan was to a woman in Mongolia, Enebish, who needed $500 to buy a sewing machine so she could earn a living. She was meant to repay the loan within a year but did so within three months, he said, noting that this was much faster than usual. He has helped 139 beneficiaries then.

He came here in 2007 and was surprised that there was no ‘team’ in Malta, a Kiva structure which encourages the sharing of stories and the recruitment of new donors. He started reaching out to friends who in turn roped in others and there are now 53 in the group, a mixture of locals and foreigners, who have already donated an average of over 14 loans each. But he would like to see a lot more.

“For example, a company could set up a team and encourage its employees to join,” he said, with the passion that is so delightfully common in voluntary organisations.

“It is not crowdsourcing, which is based on getting a return on your investment. This is philanthropy. But Kiva works because it is not based on giving charity but on helping people to help themselves.”

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