Bridging poverty gap with tech

Bridging poverty gap with tech

Summary: case study Using Web, cloud and open source technologies, Kiva.org aims to simplify microfinancing process for both lenders and borrowers to alleviate poverty globally.

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case study Not-for-profit microlending Web site Kiva.org has one single goal: alleviate poverty by connecting borrowers with lenders. To achieve its goal, it has created an online platform that integrates technology with the mechanics of microfinancing, said Sam Mankiewicz, the company's CTO.

How the lending cycle works:


1. Kiva solicits the help of microfinance organizations, also known as field partners, which have the expertise in microfinance and does the leg work to get the loans to the borrowers, or entrepreneurs, according to the company's Web site. Kiva does not deal directly with individual borrowers.

2. The field partner, in turn, disburses the loan either 30 days before or after the loan request--complete with pictures and load details--is published on Kiva.org. People who wish to lend money can browse through these requests and lend as little as US$25.

3. Kiva will keep lenders updated about the progress of the loan and, once repaid, the funds will be credited back to them. He or she can then decide if they want to fund another loan, donate it to Kiva, or withdraw the money.

Describing the company as the "world's first personal microlending Web site", he said Kiva is unique in that no other company has combined the Internet and microfinance in "such a personal and connected way". The CTO told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview that since its founding in 2005, over 680,000 people have loaned more than US$280,000 million to 718,000 entrepreneurs in 60 countries.

In terms of the technology used, Mankiewicz explained that a large portion of the company's Web site is built using open source, particularly the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) stack. Most of the programming is done using PHP, but other programming languages are used where appropriate, he added.

The underlying infrastructure supporting the Web site comes from third-party Web services, including Amazon's Simple Storage Service (S3) and Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), as well as Salesforce.com and Facebook Connect, the executive said.

Kiva also engages PayPal to handle all credit card processing and to collect funds from lenders, the CTO noted. Once someone makes a loan, Kiva would wait for the confirmation of the transaction from PayPal before directing the funds toward the lender's designated borrower, he explained.

Mankiewicz pointed out that it has a backend accounting system to ensure that ensures that the movement of funds between multiple parties is accurate.

"This system receives repayment information from the field partner, [or microfinance organization,] about the repayments that they've collected and is responsible for crediting those funds back to the lenders, so that they can choose a new entrepreneur and start the [whole] cycle again," he said.

Doing good, receiving goodwill
There are currently 85 full-time employees on the company's books, with over 30 of them in the engineering and product team to oversee the platform, Mankiewicz stated.

To fund the entire operation, Lisa Hogen, chief development officer at Kiva, added that donations from the public has been its lifeline as it "does not take a dime" from the loans facilitated via its platform.

"In order to support Kiva’s operations, we ask our constituents of lenders and donors to provide donation capital," she said in the same e-mail interview.

These funds are then used to hire and retain "smart engineers" so that the company can continually innovate and improve its online platform to make it "smarter, faster, and better", Hogen stated.

Topics: Software, Apps, Browser, CXO, Cloud, Social Enterprise

Liau Yun Qing

About Liau Yun Qing

The only journalist in the team without a Western name, Yun Qing hails from the mountainy Malaysian state, Sabah. She currently covers the hardware and networking beats, as well as everything else that falls into her lap, at ZDNet Asia. Her RSS feed includes tech news sites and most of the Cheezburger network. She is also a cheapskate masquerading as a group-buying addict.

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