Kiva Greater Madison: Dreams are Universal, Opportunity is Not

Photo by Michelle Sherbinow

Established as the world’s first personal microlending website, Kiva began lending to a handful of fishmongers in eastern Uganda in 2005. Kiva’s platform enables everyday people to pool lending contributions to provide financial access in the form of crowdsourced loans. Kiva’s model garnered worldwide recognition and accolades. In 2011, The Economist honored Kiva with their Innovation Award.

Following their international success, Kiva tailored its model to tackle financial exclusion and provide support to entrepreneurs in the United States. Kiva provides 0 percent interest business nanoloans of up to $15,000. Kiva’s average loan size is $6,000. Kiva realized that there was a gap in the U.S. financial market for small-business loans—a gap often filled by predatory lenders and credit cards, which all carry high interest rates and fees. In conjunction with a small loan size, Kiva loans remove barriers that prevent many small-business owners from receiving a loan. Kiva does this by using their own system of underwriting, social underwriting, to determine the creditworthiness of a borrower. Through social underwriting, Kiva will never reject an entrepreneur because of their credit, net worth, or years in business and doesn’t have a collateral requirement. By removing these barriers, Kiva helps small entrepreneurs access capital and make better lives for themselves. Since its beginning, Kiva U.S. has facilitated the crowdfunding of $29 million from 230,000 lenders to 5,500 borrowers.

Photograph provided by Greater Madison at WWBIC

In 2015, Wendy Baumann, president and chief visionary officer of Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC), brought Kiva to Wisconsin by making Milwaukee an official Kiva@WWBIC hub. Wendy saw that Kiva works in unison and alignment with the microloans and lending capability of WWBIC and WWBIC’s services of providing business and financial educational programming and access to fair and responsible capital. In 2019, Kiva@WWBIC established Madison as a Kiva City with a dedicated Kiva Capital Access Manager housed in WWBIC’s south central office. For almost 35 years, WWBIC has worked to address the wealth gap in Wisconsin with access to fair and responsible capital and through financial empowerment and asset-building programming that helps individuals and families create wealth, which can be passed from one generation to the next.

Photograph provided by Greater Madison at WWBIC

Through Kiva, entrepreneurs apply directly and crowdsource their loan on Kiva’s website. They are connected to millions of Kiva lenders from around the world, but Kiva@WWBIC takes supporting local businesses to a new level. Everyday people can support businesses in their own neighborhoods by making a direct loan of as little at $25 on Kiva’s crowdfunding site. You can support economic development locally by helping a business start, grow, or survive a pandemic. Kiva borrowers pay their loans back on a fixed monthly schedule, and Kiva distributes the funds back to the lenders. All with no interest and no fees.

The Kiva@WWBIC model is truly community based and partners with local groups who regularly work with our targeted demographic, specifically women, people of color, and anyone who has been underrepresented or left behind by traditional financial institutions. We depended on our valued community partners to connect us with entrepreneurs who can benefit from a Kiva loan. Working together, we provide both capital and resources to help businesses grow and survive. We want borrowers to thrive through the Kiva loan process and beyond.

Photograph provided by Greater Madison at WWBIC

Sixty percent of Kiva borrowers have been rejected for other financing before coming to Kiva. This means Kiva is often the first step of the capital ladder. Kiva is one of many players in the larger financial system. Our goal is to help our borrowers begin their journey to complete financial inclusivity. “How can anyone disagree to fair and responsible capital to start and grow businesses?” says Wendy.

Community partners also can participate by becoming Kiva trustees to endorse Kiva applicants and by establishing loan-matching accounts, which match loans dollar for dollar during the crowdsourcing phase. In 2020, the City of Madison established a matching fund for Kiva loans and matched lending contributions for a total of $45,000, providing direct support to local businesses, many who were trying to survive the consequences of the pandemic. These matching funds can live many lives, as they are paid back and recycled to match loans for future City of Madison Kiva borrowers.

Kiva is working in Greater Madison. Since 2019, the Kiva@WWBIC model, in collaboration with local chambers and organizations as well as other partners who support small businesses, has supported 81 crowdfunded business loans for $534,500. Sixty-seven percent of our borrowers are women; 58 percent are ethnic minorities. Get in on the action by becoming a Kiva lender for as little as $25 or purchasing a mindful gift of a Kiva gift card this season. Visit kiva.org and wwbic.com for more information.

Michelle Sherbinow is a Kiva capital access manager at Greater Madison at WWBIC.