Kivas innovative microloans program expands to Israel

Layla hopes to expand her cosmetics shop in southern Israel. Sylvia needs play equipment for her day care center. Wudad is an aspiring disc jockey with a niche market: spinning records at Bedouin weddings for women only.

Looks like all of their dreams will come true.

These budding businesswomen, Jewish and Arab alike, are among the first five Israeli entrepreneurs to be profiled on Kiva, the popular website (www.kiva.org) that allows individuals to choose from among thousands of small businesses around the world and extend microloans to them, thus fighting poverty.

Chagit Rubinstein

Once the businesses repay the loans (which Kiva says happens 99 percent of the time), Kiva lenders can reinvest in other entrepreneurs on the site. It’s a pay-it-forward concept that has caught on globally.

After a mere 30 hours online at Kiva, all five Israeli entrepreneurs were fully funded, raising nearly $12,000 altogether. Plenty more entrepreneurs are lined up and ready to go online.

“It’s a good start,” said Abe Sofaer of Palo Alto, president of the American Friends of Koret Israel Economic Development Funds. KIEDF, which became an official Kiva microfinancing partner last month, serves as an intermediary between Kiva and Israeli entrepreneurs.

“Kiva is the best organization of its kind in the world,” Sofaer said. “This is a big step forward for KIEDF and our aims in Israel to help people realize their commercial ambitions and potential.”

Since 2005, Kiva has facilitated microloans in countries from Cameroon to Guatemala, lending $181 million to some 475,000 ambitious entrepreneurs.

Premal Shah photo/daniel lemin

As the newest of Kiva’s 124 field partners in 57 countries, KIEDF disburses the funds to the entrepreneurs, in effect serving as Kiva’s eyes and ears in Israel.

Along with its parent organization, the Koret Foundation, KIEDF has been providing credit to micro- and medium-size businesses in Israel since 1994 — nearly $225 million to 8,500 businesses. More recently it has begun microfinancing, or handing checks directly to Israeli entrepreneurs. Most have been poor Bedouin and Arab Israeli women.

“We mainly worked with these kinds of loans with Arab women,” said Chagit Rubinstein, KIEDF’s Israel-based microenterprises initiatives director. “Through Kiva we are now able to reach Jewish entrepreneurs, and have started to do so on a small scale. ”

KIEDF provides the entrepreneurs with technical assistance, helping them to crystallize their business plan, Rubinstein said. “Once they get the loan, we help them develop it according to the plan,” she added. “We identify the entrepreneur, then Kiva will allow us to help them with the financial side.”

For now, KIEDF is on “pilot status,” the typical starting position for field partners for the first four to six months.

So far, so good, according to Kiva’s San Francisco–based president, Premal Shah.

“KIEDF is doing well,” said Shah, who described the relationship between investors and recipients as “a partnership with mutual dignity. That’s the spirit of the platform: to give people a place to support each other.”

“People are lending in directions you wouldn’t quite expect,” he noted, “from Palestine to Israel; from Jordan and Lebanon to Israel.”

The average time to fund the five Israelis was less than a day; the average request was $2,400.

So far, all of the Israeli entrepreneurs featured on Kiva have been women. And with good reason.

“Let’s face it,” said Sofaer. “Banks and lending institutions have been more supportive of lending to men. In Israel we have a real problem, particularly in Arab, Bedouin and Jewish communities, of women being disadvantaged.”

The partnership is just as exciting for Shah as it is for KIEDF. When he first started getting Kiva off the ground in 2006, Shah said, he met with Koret Foundation president Tad Taube. It turned into a pep talk he never forgot.

“He was really supportive,” Shah recalled. “He told me about KIEDF, and I said one day I hope we can work together. I’m psyched to see it actually happen.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a J. staff writer. He retired as news editor in 2020. Dan can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.