I'm sitting in my home office on a glorious Cherry Blossomy Saturday but my mind is on a woman in Mexico I've never met. Her name is Susana Gabriela Urbide De La Cruz. A divorced mother of two, she is toiling to grow her business selling tacos and menudos. She's probably slaving over a stove in Santa Catarina right now, her legs tired from who knows how many consecutive days of work without much rest. Susana seems determined to succeed, to provide for her kids and to give them the opportunities all children deserve.
I feel the cross-border connection to Susana because I made a tiny loan to her through Kiva, a great nonprofit organization that makes "loans that change lives" to entrepreneurs in the developing world. I heard about Kiva through praises in The Washington Post last Christmas and decided to give it a try. I chose a loan candidate in Mexico for a couple of reasons -- the sympathy I feel for people struggling to survive in nations south of America's border, my fluency in the language and love for the people who speak it.
Regardless of their destination, dollars lent to people helping themselves are dollars well dedicated. I started with a $25 loan that got pooled with 1,100 other dollars to provide Susana what she needs. She has already repaid me $13 in just a few months, and Kiva sends me regular reports to let me know when a payment has been made back to my account.
Meanwhile, I've started giving Kiva loan certificates as gifts -- encouraging friends and family to get involved. They made for unusually meaningful stocking stuffers last December. My stepmother Roselyn paid tribute to her heritage by making a loan to a tailor in the country of Ivory Coast, on the continent of Africa. Gombila Kabore has already repaid everyone the $925 he borrowed. Roselyn and my father have since taken the first repaid loan and sent it to a woman in a country I confess I've never heard of -- Tajikistan. That's another benefit of getting involved with Kiva: I'm inspired to learn more about people and places I otherwise would know little about it.
I plan to pass on my first loan when it's paid in full rather than pocketing the money. I'm also going to make a few larger loans in the next few months. After all, it's a form of philanthropy that doesn't really cost anything. Kiva reports microscopic loan default rates so there's not much risk.
And it's so easy.
I go online, pick entrepreneurs to help, and put $25 or $50 or $100 toward the goal of helping people lift themselves out of poverty. In exchange, I get the satisfaction of knowing my money is out there playing a role in solving global economic issues ... while I'm sitting here in my office, listening to music, staring out my window at the pretty trees, and wishing the best for a woman in Mexico I've never met.