Adam Lewis

Supporting Female Entrepreneurs : Together and A Loan

I don’t know her personally, I’ve had no direct contact with her and I don’t even know her last name, but Maritina and I share an important connection: a loan through Kiva, the microlending site that supports entrepreneurs in low- and middle-income countries. And even though the loan I sent her was small, I recently learned that it helped Maritina expand her business in her small Kenyan community and ensure that her family is healthy and educated – a humble dream that goes unrealized for millions of women throughout the world.

Women like Maritina are thought to be the next “emerging market.” They now make up the majority of small business owners in the developing world; they control 65 percent of global spending; and their income is growing faster than ever – an estimated $5 trillion by 2014.

Yet to be a working woman in many parts of the world is to face unimaginable injustices when it comes to the workforce. On top of issues like gender-based violence and discrimination, women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours and produce half of the world’s food, but earn just 10 percent of the world’s income. They also own less than 1 percent of the world’s property, in part because they invest so much of their earned income in the health and education of their children. These harsh realities naturally prevent women from advancing as social and economic agents, holding back a world mired in recession and stalled development.

In my view, that’s what makes the work Kiva does so important. By creating a digital platform to help budding and established businesses secure extra capital, Kiva has put in place a self-sustaining solution to global poverty, since all loans are monitored and paid back on a set schedule. To date, Kiva has facilitated nearly $500 million in loans, connecting hundreds of thousands of funders to more than a million entrepreneurs all over the world.

And while Kiva does not focus exclusively on female-owned businesses, they recently joined forces with to do just that.

With more than 2 million youth members among its ranks, is one of the largest organizations in the United States devoted to young people and social change, mobilizing activists to take on important social issues through innovative campaigns. Their latest effort, called 25,000 Women, harnesses Kiva’s microlending platform to support female entrepreneurs in El Salvador, Kenya, Mongolia, Pakistan and the Philippines.

The campaign is a SMS-based experience that illustrates the challenges working women face in developing countries. After participants complete the information exchange – and ideally share it with friends – offers users a free $25 credit to loan to an entrepreneur of their choosing, funded by Kiva lenders.

“The promise of women’s financial freedom to transform lives and economies is not just in the hands of governments and humanitarian organizations. It is also in the hands of everyday people like you and me, who for as little as $25 can help crowdfund loans for specific women to jumpstart their small business or begin their education,” said Premal Shah, president of Kiva. “Through our collective actions, we can change the lives of millions of women.”

When it’s all said and done, the campaign hopes to reach 25,000 women before Sept. 16, igniting a chain reaction of activism and innovative finance to engage young people and catalyze sustainable growth in low- and middle-income countries. And in so doing, and Kiva are raising awareness about the dire and deep-rooted circumstances confronting working women throughout the world. But most of all, the campaign has created an unprecedented community of microlenders to pave a path of prosperity for marginalized women – except in this case, the asphalt is free.

Adam Lewis is an associate at Rabin Martin, a global health strategy firm in New York, where he focuses on maternal health communications and sustainable business strategies for health-focused companies in low-income markets.