Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Kiva: Providing Loans to People with Disabilities

The following was originally posted on the Center for Financial Inclusion Blog.

Written by: JD Bergeron, Kiva Sr. Director of Social Performance and Alyssa McGarry, Kiva Community Outreach Team

Kiva prides itself on its ability to provide financial services to low-income individuals and those who do not have access to typical banking services. We strive to impact the most vulnerable, and our model allows us to focus attention on groups and individuals that might not be served otherwise. One group that are typically among the most marginalized are people with disabilities. Kiva acknowledges that people with disabilities exist in all cultures of the world and we are proud that our community is taking strides to better support them.

The Kiva community recognizes that disabilities need not limit one’s desire or ability to hold a job, impact the community, or become financially independent. Kiva and our Field Partners support entrepreneurial spirit. We embrace a world where all people - even in the most remote areas of the globe - hold the power to create opportunity for themselves and others.

Kiva Lending Teams Focused on Disabilities

Kiva’s community has already formed a number of Lending Teams that give loans primarily to people with disabilities and their families. The largest is KivaFriends - Disabled Persons. This group has 100 members and has lent a combined $29,700, with an impressive 11.7 loans on average per member. KivaFriends - Disabled Persons is a community of people interested in making a difference for entrepreneurs and families who are affected by illness or physical, intellectual, or psychiatric disability. They also support caregivers and entrepreneurs involved in the medical profession.

Disability is Natural is another of these focused Lending Teams. While their group is still new, composed of seven team members, their efforts are not overlooked. This group believes that developmental disability and poverty must no longer be synonymous anywhere in the world. Their mission is to help create a society where all children and adults with developmental disabilities have opportunities to live the lives of their dreams. Their focus is on providing student loans, loans for businesses, and loans for other innovative ideas that will bring change to individuals and communities.

Lending Team Highlight: KivaFriends – Disabled Persons

Members of KivaFriends - Disabled Persons find their way to the group often by the team logo, which was chosen for its bright colors and easily visible wheelchair symbol. As an open team, members are free to join or lend as they see fit.

The dedicated lenders in this group comb through thousands of borrower profiles on to find those that reference people directly affected by disabilities, injury, chronic illness, or one-time medical needs. The KivaFriends – Disabled Persons team locates borrowers with disabilities or recent injuries and also uncovers associated family members. They also help target loans to health care providers, alternative schools, and individuals with chronic health issues.

To date, team members have credited loans for wheelchair users, amputees, people living with or caring for those infected by HIV, health care workers and clinics, survivors of abuse, disability activists and people living with or caring for those with mental disabilities, leukemia, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, severe burns, cancer, lupus and other afflictions and illnesses.

In a recent interview, KivaFriends – Disabled Persons team leader Betty, explained that loans to disabled entrepreneurs are 'hidden' loans and many team members give their time to searching for, finding, and letting the whole team know about relevant loans. She went on to announce, “None of our borrowers have failed to repay their Kiva loans! I think that's pretty amazing, given that our borrowers are not only struggling with the challenges common to all Kiva borrowers - poverty, difficult housing conditions, etc. - but are also dealing with disability and illness, often very serious.”

Betty described that attitudes towards disability differ widely across the world and many of our entrepreneurs also have to fight prejudice and barriers to access. For those in rural areas, there may be little in the way of special schooling or medical facilities within reach. Betty’s emotions are shared across the Kiva community as she expresses how she is often humbled by the energy, determination and bravery shown by the people to whom we lend and finds herself smiling broadly each time another loan is fully paid off.

KivaFriends – Disabled Persons group’s findings enable Kiva to keep track of its entrepreneurs who are directly affected by illnesses or disabilities so that one day perhaps we can understand how better to serve them. This subset of Kiva Borrowers could also serve as a key multinational group for future research by others in the industry hoping to positively impact people with disabilities with microfinance.

A Kiva Borrower Story

Manuela Álvarez Sánchez, 66, is a petite woman who makes and sells tamales in her town of San Felipe Retalhuleu, Guatemala. She works hard to support herself and her grown son, who is legally blind. Manuela faces not only the difficulties of her son’s blindness but also her own health is not perfect – she's a diabetic and has perpetual health challenges associated with the disease.

In 2007, a loan of $400 helped Manuela purchase corn and firewood to make tamales. To date she has taken out and repaid a total of five loans! Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, she rises early to make tamales, which she sells on the street and to order. She has to buy the corn for the tamales and the firewood to cook with. She can make and sell about 150 tamales on a Saturday, which is her biggest day. After paying for her supplies, she can net about 150 Guatemalan Quetzals, which is about US$20.

Manuela started her business eight years ago when her husband died and she needed to find a way to support herself and her son. Eventually, she hopes Kiva loans will enable her to buy in bulk and save money on her corn and firewood. Her son’s disability has been a constant struggle, but through the creation of a sustainable business, she hopes to have greater opportunity to support him.