Microfinance is the provision of financial services to low-income clients or solidarity lending groups including consumers and the self-employed, who traditionally lack access to banking and related services.
More broadly, it is a movement whose object is “a world in which as many poor and near-poor households as possible have permanent access to an appropriate range of high quality financial services, including not just credit but also savings, insurance, and fund transfers.”. Those who promote microfinance generally believe that such access will help poor people out of poverty.
Microfinance agencies provide loans to small businesspeople who often can’t meet the strict credit terms of large banks. Either these entrepreneurs don’t have the capital or the cash to back the loan. Or as the large banks argue, their credit needs are too small.
With banks out of the picture, microlending agencies step into the role usually held by the imperfect combination of relatives and often predatory money lenders. Microlending is most often associated with the developing world, but agencies have begun working in industrialized countries.
The Grameen Bank, the world’s first microfinance institution, was born in Bangladesh in 1983 by Mohammed Yunus, an economics professor who launched it to help alleviate rural poverty by providing much needed funds to entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. Not only would the poor repay these loans, Yunus argued, but the Grameen Bank’s lending style would become a sound investment. In 2006, Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. By 2008 Grameen Bank had lent $7.6 billion.
As the internet age hit, microlenders began looking for ways to replicate the Grameen Bank’s success online. With the rise of social networking, especially peer-to-peer media, these lenders found their answer. One of the first microlenders to have an impact over the internet is the US-based Kiva, which began a few years after a couple traveled to East Africa in 2004. Kiva claims to be the world’s first “person-to-person micro-lending website.” The question, however, remains: Will social media help create a sustainable market for microfinance?
Social lending sites, also called peer to peer lending sites, provide borrowers and lenders a marketplace to cut out the costs and hassles associated with financial intermediaries. Social lending sites connect individual lenders and borrowers through a social network that is streamlined, efficient, legally formatted, profitable and most importantly – helpful. The growth and maturity of the social lending industry in the last couple of years has made it a viable alternative to traditional bank and personal loans. A primary reason for the solid growth of social lending is that borrowers on social lending sites can find better loan rates than they can find through other borrowing avenues. It is also easier for individuals to borrow smaller amounts of money. Whether a borrower is saving for college, a vacation or to start a new business, borrowers can shop their loans and start receiving bids on the same day.
In Kiva‘s website you can lend to someone across the globe who needs a loan for their business – like raising goats, selling vegetables at market or making bricks. Each loan has a picture of the entrepreneur, a description of their business and how they plan to use the loan so you know exactly how your money is being spent – and you get updates letting you know how the entrepreneur is going.
The best part is, when the entrepreneur pays back their loan you get your money back or use it for another loan (I like this idea because you can give a small loan once and use the same amount over and over)- and Kiva’s loans are managed by microfinance institutions on the ground who have a lot of experience doing this, so I suppose you can trust that your money is being handled responsibly.
Kiva allows a potential lender to browse profiles of people needing finance. If a entrepreneur is selected and a loan made, Kiva then allocates the funds to one of its microfianance partners, an agency working on the ground. The recipient will then repay the loan, usually at interest. (The use of interest is controversial, but common, within microfinance.) Kiva’s site allows lenders to follow the money throughout the loan process, keeping tabs on repayment and other personal updates. This has caught on to other lending sites.
What helps drives these sites isn’t just the loans; it’s the methods used to make the funds available.