A Kiva for Calvin

Staff, students unite to empower entrepreneurs


Spring 2010

By tapping on the screen of his iPod Touch, Calvin senior Bennett Samuel can conjure up a photo of the woman halfway around the world whose business he has invested in: “This is Fatmeh, and she’s in Lebanon. She needed $1,500 for a new refrigerator for the grocery store that she runs,” Samuel said. “Lenders across the world—60 of them—loaned to her. And she’s already paid back 25 percent.”

Senior Ashley Luse has also loaned money to a businessperson in another nation, and she can visit her picture online. “Her name is Celia, and she’s also a grocery store owner in Peru,” said Luse. “I chose her because she is in a Spanish-speaking country, and I am passionate about development in Latin America and South America.”

When the lenders are repaid, they will likely loan their money to another entrepreneur. Both Luse, a business major, and Samuel, a nursing major, are members—and founders—of the Calvin Kiva, a micro-lending Web site. “You give as an individual, but you join this group—to show solidarity,” said Samuel.

The Calvin Kiva is part of the larger Kiva, a Web site (www.kiva.org) that allows individuals to loan money to entrepreneurs all over the world. “It’s the world’s first microlending Web site,” Samuel explained. “A lot of these entrepreneurs can’t get financing because they don’t have credit history, or they can’t guarantee repayment. One of the goals of Kiva is to eliminate poverty by empowering entrepreneurs across the world—including the U.S., actually.”

Kiva relies on micro-finance institutions in countries all over the world. These institutions, which operate like banks but charge low interest rates, loan money to entrepreneurs in their communities. Potential donors can select an entrepreneur to support from the many profiles features on the Kiva Web site.

“An individual can donate to a Kiva,” Luse said. “Kiva (the parent organization) then lends to a micro-finance institution, which then lends to the entrepreneur… . They’re pretty selective about who they choose to lend to, and that’s why, typically, they have pretty high repayment rate. Kiva’s repayment rate is 98 percent.”

The Calvin Kiva dovetails well with the college’s mission, said Erin O’Connor Garcia, Calvin’s coordinator of student activities: “Kiva is a perfect organization for college campuses, and I think it’s even more perfect for Calvin students to be involved with, because it reinforces much of what we learn here about being good citizens of the kingdom and thinking of economy in a challenging way,” O’Connor Garcia said. “Kiva offers Calvin students a new way to ‘do money’ Christianly.”

Samuel agreed. “We want faculty, staff, students and alumni to get involved,” he said. “One of the goals of student organizations is to have a transformative effect.”