Nobel Prize winner inspires non-profit

January 17, 2008 7:39:12 PM PST
We live in the land of jumbo-mortgages and giant business loans. But in many places around the world, it doesn't take that kind of money to make a difference.

A Bay Area non-profit is a case-in-point.

Muhammad Yunus started giving poor people in his native Bangladesh loans to start small businesses.

"In the beginning, nobody believed this would work. This will stay on, but as we grew, as we expanded, people saw and gradually became popular," said Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus.

Jessica Flannery heard Yunus speak during a previous Bay Area visit to Stanford Business School.

"It just was a full-body experience that made sense to my head, it made sense to my heart. I felt totally inspired and thought that's what I want to do," said Kiva co-founder Jessica Flannery.

That gave birth to Kiva, a micro lender that channels loan money to poor but enterprising people around the world.

A man in Bulgaria used a small loan to start a bicycle repair shop. He also does metal work, making gates and window frames.

"The money from these small business ventures allows families to send kids to school, pay school fees, buy food and improve nutrition, and get better health care that they couldn't afford before," said Flannery.

Kiva uses its Web site,, to match lenders with borrowers. A typical loan is $100 with payment due in nine months to a year. The repayment rate is 99-percent.

Kiva has 230,000 lenders funding 30,000 businesses in 40 countries, nearly $20 million in loans in a scant two and a half years.

"There's nothing wrong with the poor people. Poor people are as creative, as enterprising people, as high potential people as anybody else. Simply the system doesn't work for them," said Yunus.

Muhammad Yunus is striving to create a world without poverty.

Jessica Flannery is discovering how ordinary people can pitch in with small amounts, but make a big impact.

"Most people don't have tens of thousands or millions of dollars to go invest somewhere, but $25 $50 dollars that's possible, especially if it's a loan and it's coming back to you. I think people do it because there is a passion for micro finance and it's just continuing to spread in the world," said Flannery.

It's not the amount that counts. It's the helping hand.