Mahatma Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” My friend, Janice Smith, lives out this maxim every day through her work with an organization called Kiva.  The story behind her hard work and accomplishments, and the difference it is making to women across the world is inspiring. Below is my interview with Janice.

How did you first learn about Kiva?   

I discovered Kiva back in 2012 when I was looking for a way to feel useful and serve others while living with a chronic illness called POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome)As a disabled person who has been stuck on her couch for over 20 years, Kiva gave me hope and a purpose as I found a way to serve others. I read lots of books to educate myself about poverty and the plight of women around the world. One of my favorites was Nicholas Kristof’s book, Half the Sky. Kiva was also mentioned in Bill Clinton’s book, Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World and on the Oprah Winfrey show. I researched microfinance extensively and was drawn to the idea that Kiva goes beyond charity by empowering women to help themselves.  When I started, I had no idea that I would become a “Kiva-holic!”

Why make microloans through Kiva?

Kiva is an online crowdfunding platform that enables people to lend money to women entrepreneurs and students in 77 countries around the world. Most people don’t realize that in many countries, women do not have access to banks or financial services. This makes it nearly impossible for them to invest in businesses, home improvements (like toilets or water filters), or education. Kiva connects these women to lenders (like us) who can help fund their loans for as little as $25. Most borrowers are asking for very small amounts of money when viewed from the US economic perspective. When loans are repaid, the funds can be loaned again.

What led you to create the Together for Women Team?

Over the years, I told many people about how rewarding and impactful it was to do microloans through Kiva, but in 2015, I decided it was time to get serious about getting my friends and family on board.  I decided it would be fun if all of us could track our impact together. The best way to accomplish that was to create a team focused on empowering other women around the world. To launch the Together for Women Team, I purchased 125 Kiva cards ($25 each) to give to my friends and family with their 2015 Christmas cards. The card and a video that I made told them about Kiva and the team. From that initial investment, I got around 30 women to join. 

To what do you attribute the growth to 2,200 members?

I was a bit disappointed in the response to the gift cards, but then other lenders on Kiva started joining the team. It has grown to nearly 2,200 members from all over the world. Some of our most active members are from Germany and Australia. I think the growth has been spurred by lenders who want to be part of a community. They enjoy being able to track their impact with other like-minded individuals, are all working on the common goal of investing in women. Since 2015, the team has funded over $9 million in loans and touched the lives of over 80,000 women.

Why focus on lending to women?

Empowering women yields undeniable returns. Closing the gender gap in education adds half a percent to a country’s per capita gross national product – benefits that are shared by boys and men. When women work, they invest 90% of their income back into their families, compared with 35% for men. A child born to a mother who can read is 50% more likely to live past the age of 5. By focusing on girls and women, the Together for Women Team can aid in spurring economic progress, expanding markets, and improving health and education outcomes for the entire community.

I urge you to check out Kiva at www.kiva.org and the Together for Women team https://www.kiva.org/team/together_for_women. There are no fees to join Kiva or the Together for Women team. Reader beware: Kiva loaning and doing good for women, with other women, is addictive!

Her Nexx Chapter invites you to join our free Community where women are connecting with each other’s stories, exploring different experiences, and transforming ideas.

The Future of Connection for Women

Allison Olson

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