World Vision Takes Aim at Microfinancing Model

$25 to a shop owner in Rwanda.

$50 to a pig farmer in the Philippines.

$100 to a kitchenware salesman in Mexico.

Does this donation strategy sound familiar?

If not, it’s called microfinancing. Briefly, through this approach you give a small amount of money to a specific person for a specific reason in the developing world.

In the age of social networking where everything is personalized, so too is how you might make your charitable donations as part of your portfolio of Christian outreach. This strategy’s most well-known facilitator is Kiva, which allows donors to help everyone from a cabbie in Ghana to a dressmaker in Ecuador.

Now, Christian humanitarian heavyweight World Vision is getting in on the action with recent rollout of World Vision Micro.

The model is identical to Kiva with a twist. Say, for example you give $25 to Francisco Garcia Monroy in Tijuana. Francisco will get his loan money once the target amount is raised. The kicker is that once he pays the loan off, that money in then “banked” within Mexico for other entrepreneurs in the country to potentially draw from.

At the head of this effort for the ministry is Tim Sawer. Sawer is World Vision’s director of channel recruitment. For five years in the 1990s he was World Vision’s manager of direct marketing in Canada, building off similar positions for well-established tech firms Intuit and Corel.

Sawer said in a telephone interview with Everyday Christian that World Vision has given logistical support to Kiva in the past and that he has great admiration for its model and the funds it raised.

In this new venture, World Vision is building off the common child sponsorship model and working toward solving mammoth global problems one small investment at a time.

“We were in a situation overseas where the demand for these types of microfinancing projects was outstripping our ability to fund requests with our partners,” Sawer explained.

Establishing World Vision Micro has given the ministry an ability to meet those needs. The effort began last fall in technological fits and starts as donors test drove the site before it was more widely publicized.

“When you put something like this together you think you have everything together and there’s no way there will be a problem,” Sawer chuckled. “Then you do some usability testing where people start saying, ‘Why doesn’t it do this?’ or ‘I don’t understand that.” And you have to take a step back. It’s all part of the process.”

Further launch into the current Beta version was also delayed by the Haiti earthquake as much of the organization time and energy in the days and weeks immediately after Jan. 12.

Now that the site is live and running at an acceptable capacity, Sawer sees some interesting trends developing.

“We’ve been very excited to see church groups getting together as well as individual donors who are coming back time and time again to make donations,” Sawer said. “There are all kinds of interesting dynamics. Sometimes you will see people looking for projects which need another $25 or $50 left and they will fund those projects with the satisfaction that they were able to ‘finish off a loan.’”

But what about the idea of “banking” the paid off loan money? It’s not as if the FDIC is overseeing loan payments. That is often the job of the community in the developing world, and it’s often quite effective.

“In our American or North American way of thinking we have the strong ideal that everyone is responsible for their own well-being,” he said. “In many the countries (World Vision) works, that simply isn’t the case. There is a deep-seeded sense of community and shared benefits. It’s not matter of the loan being repaid as to whether or not it can be repaid fast enough in the eyes of the borrower.”

It also addresses the fact that the people seeking the money can’t simply walk into a bank and sit down with a loan officer.

“People don’t often realize the context these folks are operating in,” Sawer said. “They don’t have the capital to get a bank loan. The evil side of it is the sense of indebtedness that happens to poor people in these situations. They can take a loan from someone with 200 percent interest which they can never repay. Being able to use this model to help break that cycle is an aspect we often forget.”

Through that model chains of poverty can slowly – very slowly – be broken.

“When you think about a problem like global poverty it’s easy to be overwhelmed and think, ‘There’s no way I can do anything about that,’” he said. “With this approach you can say, ‘I helped that family earn a living or have sustainable agriculture.’ It’s a way to give with a feeling that you are truly making a difference in someone’s life.” 

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