Microlending’s effects studied in Minneapolis, felt across the globe

Several University courses incorporate Kiva, a microlending company, into their lessons.

by Sarah Nienaber

An entrepreneur from Rwamagana, a town of about 50,000 people in Rwanda, began her business by buying bananas and selling them for profit.
She knew that if she could buy these bananas at the wholesale price, she could make even more to support her large family. So she began saving and was soon able to buy a small plot of land with a store. There she began running a typical African general store, selling soaps, cleaning supplies, toothbrushes and cookies.
The business grew, the woman used a loan from the microlending company Kiva to invest in a cow and the profits from her store went to paying back the loan.
She is one of more than 500,000 entrepreneurs worldwide who have been funded with Kiva loans as small as $25.
For the past three years, University of Minnesota associate professor Sue Staats has incorporated Kiva into her algebra class âÄî this year with an iPad application. This spring, the same group of students used the program in a world literature class as well, looking at the international entrepreneurs and comparing them to characters in class readings.
The students worked in groups to choose eight different people who would get $25 loans. Students chose people in the Dominican Republic, Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Pakistan and other countries.
On KivaâÄôs website, entrepreneurs seeking money have profiles with a photo and brief description of why they need the funding, whether it be for food supplies or fertilizer.
Freshmen Emily DeConcini and Mandie Gribben said using Kiva to help others felt rewarding.
âÄúTo us, $20 isnâÄôt that big of a deal, but for some people it can be used to start a company,âÄù DeConcini said.
âÄúItâÄôs a completely different way to help,âÄù Gribben said. âÄúIt was just a good experience.âÄù
This woman in Rwanda is one of many Kiva borrowers with whom Kiva fellow Adam Cohn works. Cohn has dedicated the last three months to volunteering for Kiva in Rwanda.
There, he helps banks get set up for the loans. Fellows are the first to work with the banks overseas to improve their technology and loaning processes, Cohn said.
âÄúWhat I have always enjoyed when I travel is just talking with small business owners,âÄù Cohn said. âÄúI get to talk with people and find out what their stories are.âÄù
Before handing out loans to entrepreneurs, StaatsâÄô students studied statistics and financing. She put $200 of her own money into the lending pool.
âÄúItâÄôs not a risky investment,âÄù said Staats, who started using Kiva after learning about it from a student. KivaâÄôs website lists the repayment rate as 98.65 percent. But Staats was still hesitant to use the UniversityâÄôs money for the program for ethical reasons.
In her literature class, Staats said she asked students to think about a character that touched them in one of the novels and to try to find an entrepreneur who reminded them of that character.