Microloans and the holidays: A good mixer

As the holiday season has wrapped up, I take note of what else is all wrapped up — namely a few unopened jars of jam, boxes of chocolates and a few packs of ginger bread cookies of different shapes and sizes. Trying to get back to a health routine after the holiday sugar rush and food bonanza can be hard enough without all these treats begging to be eaten. It seems I’m not alone in that struggle. Nor am I innocent of chocolate-box- or bottle-of-wine- giving. So why do we do it to each other?

I had a conversation the other day about creative gift giving, as I have become interested in gifting free-trade products or making donations. Although slightly less glamorous and non-caloric, the draw in nontraditional gifts is the impact it has on all parties.

Let’s take KIVA as an example. This online lending platform (the first of its kind) collects micro-loans to support entrepreneurs and their businesses in developing countries. You can go online and choose a country or a business area of interest (they also categorize by “most needy businesses”) and scroll through the profiles of entrepreneurs to learn more about them, their families, communities and businesses. The site measures and tracks the investment for each business; you can watch the bar on a little graph fill up as it inches closer to 100% funded mark.

I recently heard about KIVA from a friend who told me that he made a donation on behalf of each of his parents as a holiday gift. But when the time came to choose an investment of interest and redeem their donations, they were met with a notice saying “Big Thanks to all who donated but for the first time, all of the projects are 100% funded.” Apparently, he wasn’t the only one with the “KIVA idea”this holiday season and, along with many others, his parents would have to wait until KIVA received more projects through their NGO partners in the developing countries.

Based in San Francisco, KIVA was a 2006 semi-finalist in the Global Social Venture Competition, an annual business plan competition for social enterprises organized by the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley in partnership with Columbia Business School, London Business School, the Indian School of Business and the Yale School of Management.

From a business plan competition to successful social venture, KIVA now claims that its clients (the entrepreneurs in developing countries) are receiving full funding in less than a day, so it has capped the donation amount at $25 per person per project.

With so much success, you would think that there would be many other KIVA-like ventures doing the same thing. Sadly, there aren’t any that come to mind, although I could name a few organizations off the top of my head from which you could buy a goat to help feed a village — also a worthy cause, but I’m sure the goat wouldn’t share my enthusiasm.

So, back to the gift that keeps on giving — to the giver, the recipient, the entrepreneur and the social venture. This holiday season could not have been merrier and hopefully the time for giving, in this case in a nontraditional sense, extends itself beyond the calendar holiday.