Kiva City Madison makes micro investments around the globe

These small loans have a big impact
Kiva City Madison makes micro investments around the globe
Beth Skogen
The Kiva City Madison team: Julann Jatczak, WWBIC; Dan Kennelly, City of Madison; Andrea Hughes, WWBIC; Ruth Rohlich, City of Madison; Mike Miller, City of Madison; Amy Gannon, Doyenne Group; and Pam Christenson, Madison Gas and Electric

Pam Christenson, Madison Gas and Electric’s economic development director, is as plugged in to the business community as it gets. This includes playing a key role in the recent effort to bring the Kiva City program to Madison by the end of the year.

Founded in 2005, kiva.org is a global online crowdsourcing platform that provides zero-interest loans of up to $10,000 to entrepreneurs and startup businesses in some 80 countries. In 2011, Kiva City launched as a way to connect local entrepreneurs with funding opportunities and other resources in their backyard.

Kiva City Madison is a collaborative effort between MGE, the city of Madison, Doyenne Group and Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp., or WWBIC. WWBIC, which also helped launch Kiva City Milwaukee, will staff a “Kiva lead” who will provide wraparound support services to borrowers — everything from helping them build their loan profiles to connecting them to civic and business partners that can support Kiva City through matching funds, endorsements, grants and more.

“There’s really two audiences that need to know about Kiva — the entrepreneurs in these early stage businesses that may not have access to traditional capital but have the passion, the idea and the character — and the whole community in the Madison area, all around Wisconsin, knowing that you can fund these folks,” says Christenson. “It’s not a grant. It’s not a donation. You will get your money back.”

So far, 200 Wisconsin businesses have raised more than $1.1 million in Kiva loans from 14,510 lenders, primarily through the Kiva City Milwaukee program.

Here’s how it works: Entrepreneurs fill out the loan application, which includes a good business story, photo, endorsements (called “trustees”) and matching opportunities. They ask five to 30 friends and family members to loan as little as $25 during a 15-day private fundraising period. Once that milestone is reached, a 30-day public fundraising period ensues, where your borrower profile is visible to 1.5 million lenders from around the world. When your goal is reached, the funds are disbursed within five days.

According to Kiva, its loan repayment rate is 97 percent. For donors, who can loan as little as $25, the first repayment comes 30 days after disbursement, with regular monthly repayments thereafter. Christenson, who loans $25 and gives her nieces Kiva gift cards to do the same, considers her loans evergreen. Once her loan is repaid, she finds a new entrepreneur to support with that same $25.

My conversation with Christenson inspired me to become a Kiva lender as well. With a contribution of $25, I capped off a $500 loan to a bicycle mechanic named Sunita to expand her bike sales and repair shop in Murshidabad, India.

According to Sunita’s Kiva page, I joined Jani from Finland, Frank from Germany and 11 other people – perfect strangers from across the globe – to help this 36-year-old entrepreneur, wife and mother. It’s exhilarating, and I can’t wait to do it again for women entrepreneurs in my community.

Christenson is betting I’m not alone — that there are many other individuals, organizations and businesses hearing about all the entrepreneurship happening in Madison and wondering how they can get involved.

“For some companies, $10,000 is a drop in the bucket in terms of fundraising,” Christenson says. “But there are these other companies where $10,000 is an insurmountable hurdle.”

About MGE’s support, she says, “We recognize that it’s important to have a well-balanced entrepreneurial community. When you look at the Kiva loan statistics, the majority are going to women and people of color. And that really excites us, being able to assist in helping that part of our customer base.”

For Christenson, Kiva’s mission statement, “Dreams are universal, opportunity is not,” says it all. “I really hope the Madison community embraces this. It’s a chance for us to help provide that opportunity.”

Brennan Nardi is communications director at Madison Community Foundation and a former editor of Madison Magazine. Reach her at brennannardi@gmail.com.