An international nonprofit created to help alleviate poverty by way of the Internet and the phenomenon of crowd funding soon will be helping struggling families on the Treasure Coast.
The Solar and Energy Loan Fund, which was founded in St. Lucie County in 2010 to help residents reduce their home energy costs, has recently become a partner with Kiva, which was created in 2005 in the San Francisco area by young, socially conscious entrepreneurs with initial links to Stanford University.
Kiva, which means “unity” in Swahili, allows people to lend money through the Internet to individuals and organizations that may not be able to obtain loans through traditional financial establishments.
Under Kiva, more than $561 million in loans have been made in 75 countries on five continents through more than 1.6 million individual lenders.
This week, the Solar and Energy Loan Fund, also known as SELF, will post its first potential Treasure Coast borrowers on the Kiva website, Kiva.org.
Mischelle Miller, of Vero Beach, is a widowed, single mom trying to support her daughter and two grandchildren. Her 6-year-old grandson has autism and severe allergies which require physical, occupational and speech therapy, and allergy specialists. Her job pays her barely enough to support her family. She hopes to continue her education, which was put on hold when her husband died.
Frances Rowan, of Port St. Lucie, lost her childhood home when her parents suddenly died. She had to sell her aunt’s home, after she had died, to buy another home in her price range. She works as a pediatric occupational therapist and needs to work from home, but the home has a number of problems, including a hole in the roof and no ceiling. She has depleted almost all of her savings trying to survive.
Miller is seeking a loan of $5,000 and Rowan is seeking a loan of $6,700. Each would use the funds to improve their home energy use through the installation of air-conditioning and weatherization.
According to Doug Coward, executive director of SELF — which now operates in St. Lucie, Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee and Brevard counties, with plans to expand in the Orlando and Tampa Bay areas — Kiva has only recently expanded its international microfinancing to the United States and SELF is one of its first “experimental field partners.”
And, he said, “We appear to be the only U.S. program that is focused on energy retrofits and clean energy.”
Coward said, “We are thrilled to be partnering with a world leader in microfinance. This new partnership will help SELF raise funds from small individual investors all around the world and further advance our mission.”
Neither Kiva nor individual donors receive interest payments from loans made, though the field partners do charge interest. The repayment rate on loans made through Kiva is about 99 percent. Funding for operation of Kiva comes primarily from grants and foundations. Among organizations that have provided grants or partnered in other ways with Kiva are PayPal, Chevron, Visa, Sam’s Club, American Express, Google, and the Clinton Global Initiative.
Most loans — though not exclusively — have gone to women in impoverished areas of the world, often to help them start or maintain a business.
The first potential borrowers for SELF also are women, said Duanne Andrade, SELF’s chief financial officer. “The focus is on women who have gone through financial distress, that are having financial struggles and trying to rebuild their lives,” she said.
Through Kiva, she said, people a world away may lend to individuals on the Treasure Coast, but so can neighbors help their neighbors who are struggling with loans that can be as small from lenders as $25.
When the loans are repaid, lenders can withdraw their money or lend it to another potential borrower.
Since its founding, SELF itself has provided about 900 energy audits and helped 261 clients obtain loans of more than $2.2 million.
Andrade told me that while SELF has a reputation far beyond the Treasure Coast, but along the Treasure Coast, she said, “Relatively few people know us yet.”
SELF is available to assist residents in making energy improvements through loans made by partner financial institutions. Now, through Kiva, residents may be able to get help through crowd funding across the globe — reducing their energy costs and improving their quality of life.
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