Financing loans across the globe

Huddled under the protective covering of a rainproof tent in Kogan Plaza, GW students escaped the monsoon-like rains last Thursday night to pledge their time and money to budding entrepreneurs in the third world.

Those who participated in the event were engaging in one of the latest trends sweeping international development: microfinance.

They were attending Kiva Days, a two-day event coordinated by the student organization GW Social Enterprise Forum, along with several partner organizations. From early in the morning until the late evening, volunteers armed with snacks and computers camped out under the tent, encouraging students to assist new entrepreneurs half a world away.

Kiva is a nonprofit organization that, according to its Web site, is the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending Web site.

The theory behind microfinance is simple: invest as little as $25, help to jumpstart a small-scale business in a developing country and watch for the returns on the initial investment down the road.

During Kiva Days, GWSEF members said they sought to encourage students to become lenders themselves while educating them about the process. For junior Cristina Roman, co-president of GWSEF, these were twinned objectives.

“We can’t measure the success of the event strictly in money amounts,” Roman said. “While I would absolutely love to have a line around the corner of students waiting to lend, we really hoped to raise awareness about microfinance with the event as well.”

Eighty-one students ended up pledging loans during Kiva Days, totaling $2,475.

Sophomore Lily Olson, one of the volunteers for GWSEF, explained how loaning money through Kiva Days is different from lending elsewhere. Kiva Days, she said, allocates the entirety of a pledged loan to its intended recipient, not just a fixed portion.

“Whereas a lot of nonprofits will donate, say, 80 cents of every dollar to the people they serve and spend the rest on administrative costs, Kiva donates the entire sum of the loan,” said Olson, who also runs Students for Effective Foreign Assistance, one of GWSEF’s organizational partners for the Kiva Days event.

For students who did not attend Kiva Days, there are still other opportunities to support GWSEF’s goals. Those looking to donate can make a Kiva loan on their own by following the steps listed on GWSEF’s Web site, accessible at http://gwsef.wordpress.com/kiva-days. With just a few clicks, the process is simple and straightforward, even for those who have never participated in microfinance programs.

Despite the awareness GWSEF has raised, Kiva remains an organization with a limited audience. Though Roman said she is certainly happy with the progress made last week, she urged that there is more to be done to meet her goal of making Kiva a familiar campus name.

“We foresee an exponential growth in student involvement,” Roman said. “We want to continue to tap into all the resources at GW and in the D.C. community. This semester’s been really successful so we just plan on continuing on the same trajectory.”

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