A Journey of Thousand Miles Begins with One Idea!

>> Authored by Biba Kavass (Founder of Microfinance in Action , AP Economics/economics teacher, Southwind high school, Memphis, TN)

Several years ago, some of my students and I were meeting outside of school to decide on ways that we could get our Economics classes involved in hands-on activities that would allow us to explore economic development and sustainability on a more intimate level. Our goal was to understand globalization and the eradication of poverty through sustainability and self-sufficiency.  As our discussions moved around various areas of activity, I remembered an incredible project that was being worked on by a high school teacher in Virginia—KIVA.org and the use of microfinance as one of the tools that could be utilized to wage the war on the eradication of poverty.  We enjoyed the concept of helping individuals and/or groups with entrepreneurial efforts in their endeavors to break the cycle of poverty as we truly believed in the act of sustainable development and not just handing “out a fish for a day.” While exploring the opportunities provided by KIVA.U we became even more excited as we realized that involvement in the organization could provide more than just simply lending funds.

The very next day, we became chartered as the first high school KIVA Club in the state of Tennessee and have never looked back. Our first semester, we began with one class and as word spread, we opened the club to the whole school and now average about 160 members with an active enrollment of 75% (which is quite high for a high school club). To date, we have made over 149 loans in 73 countries, and we are striving to reach our goal of 200 loans in all available countries by the end of 2015. Originally, we envisioned utilizing the project solely as a lending activity, but then we began to see the true maximum potential of becoming involved in KIVA U.  Unlike other programs available to students, KIVA U was able to take us beyond the academics of learning how to lend out money and offered us the ability to explore globalization on a country by country basis. Utilizing a curriculum we created, each semester students were required to complete a project focusing on one country. We incorporated a research paper on the specific country, a presentation on the economic issues afflicting the country, and then developing a viable solution to eradicating economic, political, social, and cultural challenges.

KIVA U has been a metamorphosis for the students. Over the past three years, I have seen my students grow with the organization as we have built it into a full-time project. We have worked on collaboration with other high schools all over the United States and on a global level which has allowed us to learn about poverty on a comparative level. Our work with KIVA.U has allowed us to view the world on a different level through our research projects.  Most importantly, we had the opportunity to go out into the field and see the impact of microfinance on a first-hand level.  We traveled through the Mississippi Delta and New Orleans and were able to meet with individuals that have used KIVA loans to recover from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina. We spent a week on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota visiting with various KIVA borrowers on how a microfinance loan was able to blossom a business that is now quite successful. Finally, we will come full circle this summer and travel to Guatemala to explore the impact of poverty in a country that has suffered tremendously under the struggle of leadership changes and abject food security inadequacies.

Our greatest achievements in our involvement with KIVA.U is the awareness of social advocacy on a level that brings our attention and devotion to making a difference in the world from  going beyond just lending funds and becoming part of the communities we are lending funds to.

Selecting countries to lend to has moved beyond simple loans and to actual community work in those countries. After lending to various individuals in Uganda, we decided to get involved on a more intimate level and worked diligently the past few months to assist an AIDs orphanage in Jinja, Uganda, with opening a poultry farm. After raising the funds to open the poultry farm, we then committed to supporting the poultry farm for a year to become sustainable and self-sufficient until they could get up on their own feet and support themselves by selling the eggs at market to pay for their needs. This is one of the main lessons we have learned from KIVA. U.  It would be very easy to make a loan and then just walk away and move to the next loan. We have chosen instead to get involved on a level that creates sustainable growth.

One of the most exciting things that has developed from my students’ involvement on the high school level has been their desire to stay involved in KIVA.U and open clubs at their colleges. So far, my former students have opened KIVA Clubs at University of Memphis with satellite locations at Southwest Community College, Lemoyne-Owens, and Jackson State University in Tennessee. Not only are they continuing to raise funds for their KIVA Clubs but they are also continuing their work on raising funds for the continued growth of the poultry farm in Jinja, Uganda, and for a de-worming clinic in Kampala, Uganda.

KIVA.U provides a platform to spring into action on a level that is not available through other organizations.  When students have the opportunity to literally see where their loans are appearing, the ability to receive repayments, and then meet the individuals though face book or Skype, it makes for a learning experience that one cannot find elsewhere.

One Response to “A Journey of Thousand Miles Begins with One Idea!

  • As an economics teacher perhaps you could comment on some very serious concerns I raised in a blog post on the well-read Next Billion website:


    I would suggest Kiva is a very dangerous tool and that you may wish to research this a little more thoroughly before encouraging students to engage with such institutions. Have a think, for example, about why Kiva is unable to reproduce the interest rates on actual loans – this has far reaching implications, and is a good way to get your students thinking critically about what might appear superficially to be a nice idea, but is in fact a fairytale.

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