Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Kiva City Loans: Kiva Detroit

There was not much that was easy about uprooting ourselves from our corporate cradles in Chicago and relocating to Kathmandu. Amid the moving boxes, vaccinations, and resignation letters (both joyful and controversial), there was, however, one thing that was easy: Claudine's decision to work as a Kiva Fellow upon arrival in Nepal. Not to say that being a Kiva Fellow is easy -- Claudine's work was as much challenge as it was reward, and as an outside observer I can say that there was plenty of both. Through her work with Kiva, we were both exposed to new experiences, people, and lessons that will serve us well during our time in Kathmandu and beyond. More importantly, Kiva work was a model of endeavors that are both important and meaningful, and it set a high bar for future projects we plan to pursue.

Given the importance of Kiva in our Kathmandu experience, I was thrilled to see that on June 30th Kiva launched its new Kiva City initiative in Detroit. Whether you are a fellow Michigander looking to keep your lending dollars local, a Michigan expatriate (like me) hoping to help from afar, or anyone on earth wanting to lend to an American entrepreneur, you can now loan to small businesses in Detroit. (Well, not right this second -- all of the original loans posted for Kiva Detroit were quickly fully funded. Don't fret, more are coming soon.)

Familiar as we are with the workings of Kiva, I am sure the operation in Detroit will look a little different from what Claudine witnessed in Kathmandu. A borrower meeting will probably not resemble this:

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The surroundings might look a little different:

Detroit's entrepreneurs will probably be offering different products from those of borrowers in Nepal:

(Although, with Detroit's blooming urban farming movement, perhaps not.)

I understand that when Kiva first began allowing loans to American entrepreneurs, there was some push back from lenders who felt that Kiva resources should be going to needier parts of the world. My response is that there is plenty of need in the United States: urban, rural, and places in between. Why not make the loans available for all of the many faces of need around the world and allow each individual lender decide where to deploy his or her capital, whether at home, abroad, or -- even better -- both. One of Claudine's fellow Kiva Fellows reported from the field that people involved in Kiva's work abroad were excited to hear that they could lend to Americans. Having the ability to lend to the US would help level the playing field for non-Americans who felt like the borrowing process was too one-sided and wanted the ability to return the favor. Why not let helping hands extend in both directions? I am willing to bet that small business entrepreneurs from Detroit to Decatur to Denver would appreciate it.

Judging by how quickly the loans posted by Kiva Detroit were funded, I am not the only person glad to see the benefits of Kiva extending around the world and into our backyards. My challenge to all Kiva lenders is to lend to your neighbors, both foreign and domestic. I cannot wait to do so myself as soon as Kiva Detroit posts more loans.

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