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March 9, 2009 10:32 AM

Kiva and Grameen inspire creative start-ups to fund education

Posted by Kristi Heim

Microsoft product manager Xiang Li received a "blessing and gift" from her parents that she's now hoping to pass on to others. Li's family immigrated from China when she was 4 years old, in a large part to make sure she had a well-rounded education in the U.S.

"Ever since elementary school, my parents have always stressed the importance of education and its fundamental role in success and self-advancement," she said.

Inspired by Kiva's model of person-to-person micro loans, she and classmates at the University of Pennsylvania formed Givology. The three friends studying business and international studies also had common interests in international development and rural education.

"We wanted to become the Kiva in the worldwide education space through online peer-to-peer education grants and donations to students and communities struggling to access quality education," Li said.


Givology Vice President Xiang Li is at right, with CEO Joyce Meng at center and President Jennifer Chen at left

Donors can view profiles of students and education projects on Givology's Web site and contribute any amount. Once a student or project is fully funded, the money is channeled to local partners in China, India, Uganda and Ecuador and then distributed to individual students or projects. A U.S. non-profit, Givology has partnerships in China, India, Uganda and Ecuador.

Li is building Givology's Seattle chapter, along with Kiley Williams, another Microsoft employee who is volunteering time to improve the organization's Web site. Givology is staffed entirely by volunteers.

Microsoft's volunteer connection program, which donates $17 per hour of employee volunteer time to a non-profit, has helped Li generate about $2,700 for Givology's operating costs.

Another site with similar roots, Qifang (meaning bloom), shows how philanthropy and social enterprise are becoming global. It involves another group of three friends on the other side of the Pacific.

Qifang CEO Calvin Chin was born in the U.S. but moved to China in 2004 to explore his parents' roots and develop his career.

He hopes to give people in the most populous and education-obsessed country a way to pay for college. He launched the Shanghai-based company as "China's online student loan community."


Chin also took his inspiration from Grameen Bank, Kiva and the U.S. personal loaning site Prosper. "Doing good while creating a strong, profitable, self-sustaining business, is part of our philosophy," he said.

China needs direct personal lending to reach the growing base of Internet users and help relieve the burden of high education costs. People in China spend more money on education than on anything else besides food, he said.

Education in China used to be free, but more recent efforts to privatize costs have left students with a heavier financial burden. Student loans aren't common, and only about 10 percent of students borrow from credit cooperatives, banks or government programs. That's where Qifang hopes to fill the gap.

Both Li and Chin see education as a means to break the cycle of poverty, and they want to give less fortunate kids the opportunity their parents gave them.

Li said while she admires Kiva's model of microlending, what she hopes to provide through Givology is something more fundamental: the knowledge to become successful.
For more information contact Li at

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