Kiva’s Domestic Microlending Initiative Expands to Flint

Kiva Detroit, Kiva’s first domestic microlending initiative—and the country’s first community-led microlending program—spent its first year focused on expanding the social network of lenders and community volunteers on the ground actively recruiting small businesses in need of a loan. Now, Michigan Corps has replicated that model for the first time and launched it in a new city: Flint, MI.

“Flint was really ripe and really well mobilized around the notion of supporting local entrepreneurs,” says Elizabeth Garlow, executive director of Michigan Corps, a network of local and global Michiganders focused on making a difference in their home state. “The mayor [Dayne Walling] has been a huge champion of entrepreneurship.”

Kiva Detroit, launched in 2011, brought the San Francisco-based Kiva, Michigan Corps, lender Accion USA, and the Knight Foundation together in support of an online platform where Detroiters made microloans to other Detroiters who were launching their own businesses. Microlending has been employed to great success in places like India, but Kiva Detroit marked the first time a formal microlending program was implemented in the United States. Twenty businesses have been fully funded in Detroit so far, Garlow says, and the program is “thriving.”

Garlow says the principles behind Kiva Detroit are the same ones deployed for Kiva Flint. Flint residents can go to and search “Flint” to directly lend $25 to local entrepreneurs. There are currently four Flint startups on the website that need no more than $5,000 to get their businesses up and running. Contributions made through Kiva crowdfund interest-free loans to the entrepreneurs, but the platform also allows citizen lenders and entrepreneurs to connect and share ideas through the site’s conversation forum.

About a year ago, Michigan Corps announced it would partner with the Michigan Economic Growth Corporation (MEDC) to expand Detroit’s microlending initiative to other Michigan cities. At the time, Greg West, the MEDC’s community lending manager, said the state economic development agency wanted to fill a funding hole. “We recognized a clear gap in available institutional capital for small businesses and entrepreneurs,” he noted.

Garlow says part of the reason Michigan Corps chose Flint as its first expansion city is because of a willingness on the part of city organizations like the Flint Club, Metro Community Development, and the Flint Area Reinvestment Office to engage with the microlending initiative. Garlow points out that passion, whether on the part of institutions or individuals, is the engine that drives Kiva’s success. “The Flint community came together in a really impressive way,” she adds.

Garlow is also pleased with the response to another Michigan Corps/MEDC collaboration: The Pure Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge. Billed as the nation’s first coordinated, public-private effort to advance social entrepreneurship, the Pure Michigan Social Entrepreneurship Challenge offers $50,000 in cash and prizes to entrepreneurs tackling issues like urban revitalization, access to healthcare, or failing schools by using sustainable solutions that provide clear societal benefit.

Individuals or teams have until May 20 to submit their ideas online. After that, they’ll be able to access coaches from the Great Lakes Entrepreneur’s Quest network to help develop those ideas. On June 18, a social entrepreneur showcase and pitch event will take place at the Entrepreneur Connect event in Lansing, MI, where the winners of the cash prizes will be announced.

“I’m really pleased to see how social entrepreneurs across the state are coming together around social entrepreneurship,” Garlow says.

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