Thursday, September 3, 2009

Voices Supporting Entrepreneurs in Developing Countries

As it turns out, the decision we made at Such A Voice to support an entrepreneur in a developing country in the start-up phase of their business was the easy part. Following an initiative from a fellow philanthropically-minded voice talent took us to Kiva, a micro-lending website that allows you to hand-pick an entrepreneur around the globe based on their business plan, location, personal background and work history. The hard part was deciding who to make a loan to! After browsing through Kiva's pages of equally legitimate and loan-worthy candidates around the world for nearly an hour, we landed on the Fuente de Vida ("Fountain of Life") Communal Association in Bolivia. Maybe it was the name that caught our attention, the community-focused aspect that struck a cord in us Vermonters, or the group photo of the hard-working Bolivian women proudly holding piles of their hand-woven jackets. Whatever it was, we knew we were inspired to make that loan.

The way micro-lending works is like this: the loans received by Kiva are forwarded to the respective Field Partner, who is an existing microfinance institution in the developing country. They distribute the funds to the entrepreneur on a monthly basis. Before the entrepreneur receives any of the money from Kiva, they have already set the anticipated repayment dates for the loan and the date the loan is set to be disbursed to the entrepreneur. This repayment schedule can be monthly, quarterly, once at the end of the loan term, or whatever most accurately reflects the way that the entrepreneur will be making repayments. As the budding business shoots up, the entrepreneur pays off those loans according to the deadline to the Field Partner, who then sends the money back to Kiva. Kiva then redistributes the money to all the lenders for that entrepreneur until all loans have been repaid in full. All progress can be monitored online, making the entire process completely transparent. It's a truly inspiring way to see how far a micro-loan can go for these aspiring business people through the organization of Kiva.

Through Kiva, we learned that the Fuente de Vida Communal Association has been established for about 9 years, and they are comprised of 10 members, the majority of whom make a living knitting jackets with machine or by hand. This wintertime, due to a higher demand for their products, they need a loan in order to buy more wool and, in some cases, machinery. We signed up with Kiva and the Voice Talent group in a matter of minutes, and at the time we made our modest loan of $100, the Fuente de Vida group had gathered 70% of the $1,800 they needed in order to buy more machines to support the increasing demands on production. By the time we checked up on their page at the end of the day, they were already fully funded!

To check out Kiva and how micro-lending works, visit their website at http://www.kiva.org. If you'd like to to join the Voice Artist team to lend as little as $25 in support to self-supported entrepreneurs (like ourselves), ask to join our group at: http://www.kiva.org/team/voiceartists. Don't forget to browse the hundreds of applicants to find a plan and a purpose that speaks to you.

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