Kiva Chooses Detroit as First City for Crowdfunded Microfinance Program

8/2/11Follow @XconomyDET

When Delphia Simmons’ boss at COTS Detroit, an organization founded in 1982 to address the city’s growing homeless crisis, came back from a trip to Philadelphia with an armload of newspapers produced and sold by homeless people there as a means of self-support, an idea started bubbling in the back of Simmons’ mind.

“I had never run across one of those newspapers,” Simmons said. “I was not previously familiar with the concept and I was really excited about trying it in Detroit.”

The idea stayed in the back of her mind for close to a year because she wasn’t sure how she would raise the approximately $2,500 needed to start a similar newspaper in Detroit.

Enter Simmons’ friend Margarita Barry—entrepreneur, champion of all things Detroit, and founder of the website I Am Young Detroit. Barry had been tapped by Michigan Corps, a network of local and global Michiganders committed to positive change in their home state, to be part of its Kiva Detroit Working Group, which trained a cross-section of community leaders to go out to recruit small-business owners in need of microfinancing.

Barry sent Simmons to micro-lender Accion USA’s website to fill out a loan application, and the Thrive Detroit street newspaper was officially born, one of four small-business enterprises already funded by Kiva Detroit.

What sounds like a complicated if serendipitous chain of events is precisely the mission of the Kiva City program. Launched with Accion USA, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and Kiva.org, Kiva Detroit represents Kiva’s first locally-organized initiative in the United States and, hopefully, the beginning of a nationwide city micofinancing program. Kiva Detroit allows Detroiters and supporters of Detroit to lend as little $25 to local, small businesses with loan impact doubled through a 1:1 match supported by $250,000 in funds from the Knight Foundation.

Though Kiva is traditionally thought of as an organization that serves people in remote corners of the globe, its mission to give people the power to create opportunity for themselves and others fits nicely in a city like Detroit with plenty of need.

Michigan Corps, whose founding members include Google’s Eric Schmidt, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, sportscaster Dick Enberg, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jeffery Eugenides, stepped in to organize and educate community members on the ground so they could spread the word about Kiva Detroit’s goal of connecting the underbanked with microloans.

The field of microfinancing was pioneered in the economically ravaged country of Bangledesh, but it has slowly taken root in the United States—especially given … Next Page »

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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