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Write of Passage

Maureen Connors Badding arrived in Wauwatosa 22 years ago via Buffalo and Phoenix. She's a freelance writer and habitual volunteer who enjoys book clubs, travel, entertaining and cheering for her daughter's swim team.

Fish Fry Economics

Kiva, microfinance, microloans

I’ve always loved the adage, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” With apologies to Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, I think we can add a new twist to that:

“Loan a woman the price of a Milwaukee fish fry, and she can employ and feed her entire village.”

This is the mission behind a program I’ve just discovered called Kiva. Kiva has been making microloans to aspiring third-world entrepreneurs since 2005. They have 569,193 lenders (including me) who’ve lent $203 million with a 98.65% repayment rate, which was an enviable rate even before the mortgage crisis. Their tagline is “Loans that change lives.”

Where does the fish fry come in? All the loans are in $25 increments. So for the cost of a nice fish fry for two and tip, I can invest in a woman who’s expanding her breadmaking business in Azerbaijan or a single mother in Ecuador who wants to purchase farming supplies, seeds and fertilizer. For my first loan, I chose a woman in Benin who is purchasing items to sell in a stall at her local marketplace.

The Kiva site moves fast. I was considering investing in a group from Bolivia last night that was 80% funded. By this morning, their loan was fully funded, and I had to go “shopping” for a new investment opportunity.

The great part is, it’s not even a donation. I’ll get my money back, and then I can invest in another small business. Meanwhile, it will make a huge difference for a woman who, without Kiva, would have no access to credit to start or expand her business.  

Kiva works with microfinance institutions all over the world, lending to women, men and groups on five continents. I’m choosing to loan to women because of some interesting statistics I found in the book that recommended Kiva in the first place.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide is an amazing book by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn. At first, I found it difficult to read because it’s full of stories about young girls sold by their families to brothels in Cambodia or Thailand, or a 12-year-old bride in Afghanistan who’s been tortured and beaten by her 16-year-old husband’s family.

Persevere through the book, however, and you’ll find that for the most part, the stories have happy endings. That’s because when these women find jobs, or get involved in microfinanced business cooperatives, their lives get better. Their husbands stop beating them. They are allowed to take a larger role in day-to-day decision-making. Their families realize they have value, even if it’s only monetary value at first.

When men in impoverished countries earn money, they tend to spend it on personal gratification, such as prostitutes, beer and tobacco. According to two studies cited by Kristof and WuDunn, “when women hold assets or gain incomes, family money is more likely to be spent on nutrition, medicine, and housing, and consequently children are healthier.” Women with income are more likely to educate their daughters, and that means fewer early marriages, fewer pregnancies, and lower infant and maternal mortality rates.

Breaking the cycle of poverty for $25 sounds like a pretty good deal to me. Give it some thought as you’re considering a fish fry this Friday.


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