Tuesday, January 20, 2009

3 Ways to Use Microcredit to Invest Your Students

Just before Christmas, a colleague at work was asking about how to give a donation to a non-profit that provides microcredit. Microcredit (or microfinance) works like regular credit but on a much smaller scale. In many developing countries around the world, an entrepreneur doesn't need $100,000 to start a business; they probably need less than $1000.

It's so unreal to me that making such an impact with so little money is possible, because every month I read about the millions of dollars of venture capital given to growing businesses in magazines like Inc., Fast Company and Wired. I had heard of microcredit, but hadn't looked into it too much. I told my colleague I'd get back to her.

I quickly found Kiva, one of the non-profits you can donate your subscription when you sign up for GOOD Magazine. It's a pretty simple process:
  1. You search for a project you want to help fund.
  2. When the funding reaches 100%, it's loaned to the entrepreneur.
  3. The entrepreneur pays back the loan over time, at which point you can withdraw your funds or lend them out to someone else.
I sent it along to my grateful colleague, but also thought I'd give a meaningful gift myself. On Christmas Day, I searched for two entrepreneurs who needed just one more donation for their project to be funded. It didn't take long to find them:
  1. Victor Mendoza's profile jumped out at me because he was running the family business, helping to take care of his mother and siblings, and going to college at the same time. This guy is working hard and taking on more responsibility at 24 years old than many people twice his age. He deserves the help.
  2. Ehsonjon Haydarov has run a successful business selling flowers in the central market of Khujand, Tajikistan for 13 years. That's pretty impressive given that Tajikistan is the poorest of the former Soviet states. What's even more impressive is that Mr. Haydarov has already begun to pay back his loan!
3 Ways to Use Microcredit at School
  1. Kiva in the Classroom already has a lot of ideas and resources, including teacher-made curriculum guides, real classroom stories and Kiva High School (a network for students). Microloan projects could be worked into classes focused on foreign languages, world cultures, current events, economics, financial education, political science or service learning.
  2. This is the perfect project for your school's international students club, service learning organization (Key Club or Interact, for example). It could even fulfill service requirements for National Honor Society.
  3. If your school has a large immigrant population from a region Kiva serves, a fundraising project could connect them to their culture in a way the rest of your curriculum could rarely do.
There's a thousand variations you could do on this. In fact, maybe you could even find a way to apply these principles locally. If you've used Kiva or a similar website to participate in microcredit in the classroom, please share your experiences. Even if you're only just learning about this concept, share your ideas for using this in school as well. Thank you!