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Kiva Detroit: Four Years of Empowering Social Innovators

Looking back on four years of social innovation through community-driven microfinance.

When Michigan Corps brought together Kiva, the Knight Foundation, and Accion USA to create the first Kiva City in Detroit, MI there was no shortage of excitement and energy behind the innovative nonprofit’s US launch. Former president Bill Clinton announced the new initiative and the CEO of Kiva was present for the launch event in Detroit’s Eastern Market. Hopes ran high, however many questions remained to be answered: Could a web-based microlending platform make a difference for small business owners in one of the country’s most hard-hit economies? Would entrepreneurs be able to access this new form of microlending? Would enough people in the community lend to them?
Looking back four years later, there are several ways to measure progress and the success of this initiative. One could simply look at the numbers: 50 entrepreneurs have received loans, over $300,000 in interest-free capital has been deployed, 35 organizations have partnered with Kiva Zip as trustees, and thousands of people from the community and around the world have lent their own money to help Detroit entrepreneurs achieve their dreams. Not only this, but Kiva Detroit has a 100% funding rate - meaning every entrepreneur who wanted a loan received one. We could also look at the growth in Kiva Detroit’s popularity. In the first half of 2014, we averaged one new loan per month. In December, there were four loans funded in one week.
The numerical data only provides only part of the picture. It’s also important to look at the impactful stories that have come out of the program. Stories like that of Lisa Ludwinski, the owner of Sister Pie. Just last April, Lisa used a $5,000 Kiva Zip loan to help in bringing on her first employee for her rapidly growing pie business. The amount was relatively small given her ambitious plans for the business, however the preparation she did to raise the Kiva Zip loan gave her the confidence to apply for (and eventually win) a $50,000 grant through the Hatch Competition to open her own retail space. A little over a year later, she has created 11 more part-time jobs and re-activated a once vacant storefront in Detroit’s West Village. Not all the entrepreneurs we have supported have experienced this level of transformation, but we have helped each one take a significant step toward realizing their dreams.
The success of Kiva Detroit belongs to the tenacious entrepreneurs with the will to start businesses in the city of Detroit and the members of the community with the courage to support them. Michigan Corps had the privilege of introducing this innovative platform to the local market and empowering the members of the community to participate in social innovation. After the successful incubation of this program, we are excited to move it into a long-term home with Build Institute. The incredible team at Build has helped over 500 entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses and we are confident they are the right organization to help Kiva Detroit realize its full potential. You can help support the continued growth of Kiva Detroit by referring entrepreneurs, lending to their campaigns and sharing the stories of community-driven lending.  

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