Kiva makes it easier to lend for 'green' purposes

International microlending organization now lets you find causes that have a specific environmental twist.

Image courtesy of dream designs

I am sure every single person who reads the SmartPlanet site has some list (probably a rapidly mushrooming list) of charities and causes that receive their attention and (perhaps) funding. Just this morning, in fact, 10 more families joined the "Giving Pledge" challenge launched by billionaires Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. That pledge brings the number of families pledging half of their wealth to philanthropy or charitable causes to 69.

For those of you who have a decidedly more modest charitable pool to invest, I'm going to throw one more option in your direction, in the form of the Kiva micro-lending Web site.

Over the past five years, the site has helped orchestrate more than $200 million in loans to individuals and businesses, many of them in emerging economies around the world. The idea is that if lots of people pool together to donate micro-amounts toward a greater cause, someone can get a loan to fund a personal or business investment. Now, Kiva has announced a program to help people designate their money to people or companies that are intending to use those loans specifically for some sort of green purpose.

An example of the sort of thing that your money might go toward funding: One taxi driver from Bolivia used the money raised in order to convert his taxi to natural gas -- a move that is being echoed by some of his fellow drivers. Actually, if you look at the site, you'll see that all of the green loans were funded (as of the time I wrote this post), although I am sure others will come into play. Many of these loans are focused on addressing the issue of "energy poverty."

In the press release announcing the Green Loans category, Kiva.org President Premal Shah said:

"Much of the developing world spends hours a day gathering wood and other materials for fuel, losing countless hours and often inadvertently damaging the environment. This lack of access to heat sources and electricity, often called 'energy poverty,' can have a big impact on quality of life. Microfinance can help provide solutions for energy poverty problems like these by, for example, funding the purchase of high-efficiency cookers and low-propane gas stoves. Green loans can not only save the borrowers money, but also help our collective impact on the environment."

The reason I'm writing about this particular program is that routinely hear entrepreneurs and small-business owners complain about what it takes to become green -- suggesting that they don't have the money to do some of the things their heart is telling them to do. Programs such as the Kiva.org Green Loans can help make a dent in that mentality; although even I will admit there is still much work to be done.

As I was reading up on the issue of microlending, I came across a great article on the topic (albeit several years old) from Slate magazine. The author actually ranks some of the major microcredit organizations you might work worth -- excluding anything that is faith-base or that is strictly local. I wasn't surprised to read that Kiva got the author's highest rate, but here are some other organizations mentioned that might provide some ideas for ways that you or your business might be able to focus on charitable activities that are highly directed:

  • Prosper: Billed as the world's largest peer-to-peer lending marketplace with close to 1.1 million members and more than $229 million i funded loans.
  • Accion: An organization that was apparently the first to offer a microloan, back in 1973.
  • Trickle Up: Actually a provider of seed grants (which technically don't have to be paid back).
  • Global Giving: Started by some ex World Bank types, this organization also has an "environment" category for lenders to direct giving.
  • Grameen Foundation: The special twist is helping fund loans that go toward combining innovation and technology to make an impact on local communities.

For more background on the power of microlending activities and entrepreneurship, you might also consult this New York Times article from July 2010 ("With Credit Tight, Microlending Blossoms"). The twist in this story is that microlending doesn't necessarily have to go to emerging economies; loans can go toward companies in your own backyard, if you choose.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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