Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

KIVA: Loans That Change Lives

We can change the world. The problem is that there is so much to do, it can just feel so overwhelming. A few weeks ago my eldest son (11) and I saw a newspaper article with a multimillion dollar lottery winner. “Imagine how that could change your life,” I muttered.

My son decided to fantasize what we would do with a few million dollars. Admittedly, owning our own house, replacing our shuddering geriatric car, and a basketball backboard came first.

But then he began talking of projects to help people. We had recently met someone who runs a bakery on the East Coast that employs homeless and impoverished people. My next novel is about homeless war veterans and my son began to describe how we could create a similar project for such people in San Francisco. As all youngsters do, he soon got caught up in the details.

I told him how a learned Jewish medieval scholar, Maimonides, had created a pyramid of different levels of giving. Providing someone with a skill and a means to support themselves and their family is considered the highest form of giving in Judaism.

This brings me to KIVA, a non-profit microfinance bank that raises money through small gifts to help people invest in family or community enterprises. These are essentially loans, though the donors often reinvest the money back into Kiva. For more on microfinance, click here (http://www.kiva.org/about/microfinance/)

For just $25, you can help a father of four in Tanzania set up a coffee shop, or a woman in India establish a juice bar. It is truly inspiring. Recently, I was invited to two birthday celebrations. The celebrants requested either not to receive gifts, or to donate to a charity in their name. I had a great time investing in Kiva on their behalf.

Maybe we can change the world, one birthday at a time.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

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6 thoughts on “KIVA: Loans That Change Lives

  1. Janette Wolf on said:

    This is a beautiful story, and underscores the wisdom of children. I’ve heard good things about Kiva. Another wonderful microfinance organization worth supporting is FINCA. They give loans primarily to women, to help them start small businesses and become independent financially.

  2. I remember watching an episode of 60 Minutes that covered how one “poverty bank” was helping women in India, i think, buy their own treadle sewing machines, instead of having to rent machines from the very merchants who were hiring them to sew. (Once the rent was deducted from the pay, not much was left . . . .)

    Micro-loans have been around for a long time, so it’s exciting to see groups just as KIVA finally getting widespread attention. Good topic for additional exploration, Alon.

  3. Pingback: Forgot my Birthday? « Left Coast Voices

  4. Pingback: Microloans in Israel « Left Coast Voices

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