Maybe you’ve heard of Kiva, the microlending site that allows individuals to loan money directly to small business owners and entrepreneurs in the developing world. Our dollars, pounds and kroner go a lot farther in nations with weaker economies, and for a motivated individual in Peru, Afghanistan, Cameroon or Cambodia, often just a few hundred bucks can make the difference between between continuing to live in poverty or opening a business to support themselves and their community.
I’ve donated to charity before, but I’ve always been bugged by the fact that I don’t know where my money’s really going — is it funding disaster relief in Indonesia, or buying leather couches for the organization’s New York office? And at times, without much disposable income it’s been hard for me to justify even needed expenses, to say nothing of giving money to others.
But Kiva is different on both counts. Your money goes to a specific individual that you choose, with a specific need that is outlined in detail. You can decide to fund a Tanzanian charcoal vendor or an Azerbaijani taxi driver. Also, these are loans that earn interest — the money is used to help the individuals develop and grow businesses, and they are expected to repay the loan. Historically, 97.5% of recipients do.
I knew all that, but had no impetus to actually get involved until now. Fellow cartoonists Zach Weiner and Ryan North started a Webcomics Lending Team on Kiva, where creators and fans can work together to support these entrepreneurs a world away. I checked it out and saw that other team members had already begun funding a Lebanese auto mechanic seeking tools for his garage.
My dad was also a Lebanese auto mechanic:
In the 1940s and 50s, he worked with his father and brothers to support their family, working at various times as a laborer, driver, and mechanic (including, as in the picture above, for the British Army during WW2), eventually managing a tractor dealership.
He came to the U.S. in 1956, and in 1960 opened his own repair shop in California:
Much of his family would immigrate in the coming years as well. For decades, they continued to sponsor the immigration of friends and relatives, whom my dad would often hire to work in his shop while they found their footing in America. Many of those folks went on to open businesses of their own in time.
The entrepreneurial spirit is strong everywhere in the world, and given the opportunity, people prefer to forge their own destinies rather than have them dictated by even the most well-meaning of foreigners. I’m pleased to join Zach, Ryan, and other webcomic creators and fans in this enabling effort, and would like to extend the invitation to every one of you as well.
So far, in less than a week, Team Webcomics has lent over $2,000 among 59 different loans to individuals in places such as Bolivia, Ghana, Tajikistan and the Philippines. We’d love to have you be a part of it!