When the women in a San Francisco mother’s group called the Pace Mamas read about Tahira Ramzhan, a 25-year-old mother of four struggling to raise her family in Kabul, Afghanistan, they immediately wanted to help.
“We wanted to connect with her, to send her a message that a group of women in the United States cared about her and her family,” Pace Mama member Brandi Bernazzani via e-mail. “We knew how much the support and community of other women had meant to us, especially when we felt unsure and overwhelmed.”
The mothers used a Web site called Kiva to lend Tahira $25 each, money she used to buy a loom and raw materials for her carpet weaving business.
“A few clicks of a mouse have connected us to the hearts and lives of women half a world away. And that means something to us,” Bernazzani said.
‘Charity’ in the 21st century
Kiva has re-invented lending in the 21st century. Anyone with at least $25 can log on to the site, browse the profiles of entrepreneurs in third-world countries and choose which cause to support.
“What struck me most was the interconnectedness that I felt instantly,” said Jessica Garcia, one of the Pace Mamas lending to Tahira. “There's this woman. I can relate to her. She's raising a family, and we're raising a family… And so I could see this person and see this woman who is making her life and that we can touch each other in this kind cyberspace way was important to me.”
But the money is not a gift. Like all Kiva clients, Tahira is repaying her loan on a monthly basis. In fact, Kiva partners have an incredible repayment rate of over 99 percent. Once repayment is complete, lenders can either keep their money or redistribute it to another entrepreneur.
Yvvonne Thoroughgood, a midwife in England, has rolled over her loans to help almost 200 women since she discovered Kiva while watching a documentary in May. The women profiled in the piece reminded Thoroughgood of her own mother, who raised nine children on her own in a poverty-ridden Jamaica town.
“(Coming) from a poor family, I can directly relate to the needs of those who are in poverty and applaud Kiva in being able to give the first step out of it,” Thoroughgood said via e-mail. “If I can help one person and make their life different, then I am happy.”
Empowering women around the world
Lenders have already touched thousands of lives since Kiva was founded by Jessica and Matt Flannery in 2005.
Shortly after the couple married, Jessica went to Africa to work in microfinancing; Matt headed to Silicon Valley to work for TiVo. It was while Matt was visiting Jessica that he realized how their two worlds could work together, and Kiva – which is Swahili for "agreement" or "unity" – was born.
Since then, over $10 million have been loaned to entrepreneurs in 36 countries, and the overwhelming majority of these loan recipients are women.
“I would say definitely Kiva is a tool and a resource for these women to become empowered, not just at the head of household level, but in their own community,” said Olana Hirsch Khan, Kiva’s Chief Operating Officer. “These women in the community now are allowing their children and their daughter to see that being a successful business woman is attainable and that’s something that I think Kiva has empowered them to do.”
Changing lives one loan at a time
The loan provided by the San Francisco Pace Mamas has drastically changed the lives of Tahira and her children. Tahira has been able to hire two employees to help her weave carpets, and has plans to expand her business.
“With having this money we could improve our livelihood and the future of our children,” Tahira said through an interpreter. “If we did not receive this money we could not improve our lives and would be working as daily labor.”
“I really appreciate and saying thanks to those mothers in U.S. who provide that money.”
Tahira and the borrowers aren't the only ones empowered because of Kiva; those San Francisco Mamas feel inspired as well.
“This really provides a connection,” Bernazzani said. “It makes you feel like, ‘Gosh, I can do something!’”