Using Microloans to Learn About the World

I realized the other day that it’s been awhile since I’ve written one of my This is Why I Teach posts, and that’s a real bummer.  Stopping every now and then to remember what it is that I love about my job is important because with the criticism launched at teachers from every turn, this gig can be a grind if you don’t find a rose to smell every now and then!

Thankfully for me, my kids have been throwing dozens of roses my way ever since my academic team decided to raise funds to start a Kiva club designed to make microloans to entrepreneurs in the developing nations of Africa and South America last spring.

Following the British tradition of Red Nose Day, we had our very first “Do Something Funny for Money Day” in March of 2009.  Our classes had to raise $250 in order to have free periods in all three of their core classes.  In the end, they raised just over $500.

Crazy, huh?

(If you’re interested in hosting your own Do Something Funny for Money Day, here’s the handout I shared with my parents and students:  Download Funny4Money)

Next, we spent a few weeks studying South America—a continent covered in our required curriculum—with an eye towards identifying the countries where people struggle the most with poverty.  We then worked through several mini-lessons on the advantages and disadvantages of several different types of Kiva microloans before making loans to 16 different businesses—many of whom are featured on this Kiva Team page.

(If you’re interested in seeing the mini-lessons that we used to make our decisions, here they are: Download Kiva_Gift_Card   Download Kiva_Group_Loans   Download South America Snapshot   Download Kiva_South_America_Stud   Download Kiva_Women_Loans)

Instructionally, this activity was primarily designed to give my students a real-world opportunity to learn about the world.  Sure, we could poke our way through the textbook to study the differences between life in Peru and the United States, but there’s something inherently authentic about studying Peru so that you can make the best decision about who to loan your money to.

But I also know that middle grades students are highly motivated by issues of justice and injustice.  Don’t believe me?  Let someone skip in line and see what kinds of mayhem breaks loose!

And poverty is one of those global issues that crosses borders.  Immigrants are putting pressure on countries all over the world—and sooner or later, we’re going to need to find some kind of collective, systematic solution to the challenges that poverty faces.

So my Kiva club paired an instructional objective with a high-interest topic connected to a global issue.  How’s that for a recipe for success?

The Kiva successes continue over at Salem Middle this year.  Knowing that I was going to need a group of students to manage our growing loan portfolio, I started an after school club on September 8th.  51 students turned out.

Hardcore, huh?  I’ve NEVER had 51 students turn out for any after school club.

And this bunch is hyper-motivated to raise more funds so that we can make even more loans to people in developing nations.  We’ve started selling “Poverty’s Real” bumper stickers that are popping up on binders and agendas and “Poverty’s Real” T-shirts that are popping up on bodies all over our building.

We’ve also written an entry for our blog designed to solicit online donations through PayPal (Want to help?  Here’s the link) and begun developing persuasive videos to use in our project’s efforts.

We’ve also recruited $100 sponsorship donations from several area businesses and charities in exchange for promises to advertise their sponsorship on our T-shirts and to write about their contributions on our blog.  One of my boys is so excited about working on local businesses that he’s crafted a speech that he’s planning on delivering anytime that we have a new business that we want to approach.

And on Friday, we hosted our first ever “Movie Night” at school, purchasing a public performance license to show School of Rock and asking people who came to make donations to our Kiva club in exchange for entrance and concessions.  Over 130 people turned out to help, and our club walked away with something close to $700 to add to our online Kiva club account.

Our next steps are simple:  When my students come back from their three week mini-vacation (we’re a year-round school and we “tracked out” on Friday), I’ll divide our club members into lending teams of 4-5 students and put each team in charge of a portfolio of money.  Their job will be to decide as a group who to loan their funds to.  Then, they’ll have to write about each of their lending decisions on our blog and monitor repayments all year long.

So whaddya’ think?

Is using microloans to engage students in a study of the world through the lens of poverty a good idea?  Is it something you could pull off in your school or community?

Would your students be motivated by knowing that they were making a real difference in the world—rather than just poking through worksheets?

If so, leave me a comment with your name, the grade level that you teach and your email address!  My lending teams may just want to send a $25 Kiva gift card your way to get your classes started.  No guarantees—each lending team is in charge of it’s own money—but it couldn’t hurt to ask!

9 thoughts on “Using Microloans to Learn About the World

  1. Patrick M.

    Hey Mr. Ferriter! I came across this page while trying to find the link for the blurb. How is Salem? I’m at mills park now. Also, how is Reece doing? I really enjoyed the club and am honored to be a part of those 51 students!

  2. Douglas

    I like what you’ve done here. When things get rolling again on the project — maybe they already have — I’d like to interview you about your students and your beliefs about technology, learning through online activities and more for a series that I am putting together of great ideas in tech-teaching.

  3. ginnyp

    Thanks, Bill. I’ve loved Kiva since I ‘discoverd’ it, too. Thanks for the tip on donations vs. fundraisers. And yep, I hope the county has other things to take care of rather than come after kids and teachers trying to spread good will in the world.

  4. Bill Ferriter

    Hey Ginny,
    First, good to hear from you and I hope you’re doing well! It’s been awhile….
    Second, there are TONS of rules about fundraising, aren’t there! The only good news is that our project isn’t a fundraiser. Instead, it’s a service project—and there are different rules for service projects that are easier to work with.
    At the same time, there are some tricks with service projects. You can’t sell anything. Instead, you have to ask for donations instead. Another hitch is that any monies donated all have to go to one organization—which works for us because we’re donating everything that we raise to Kiva, and then making our microloans out of our club Kiva account.
    I still keep pretty careful books on the Kiva club, tracking our donations and our expenses—like purchasing public performance licenses for Movie Night and picking up concessions—-but it seems to be working for now.
    Does that mean that there is never a chance that our service project might be shut down? Nope. I’ve learned never to rely on anything for too long simply because everything seems to become against the rules over time!
    But at least for now, I think we’re doing everything the way that we’re supposed to!
    Hope that helps,

  5. ginnyp

    Bill, do you have any issues with taking in money, bookkeeping, etc. through wcpss? We have to account for every dollar that comes in, keep our receipt book under lock and key, etc.
    I’ve had several social projects on my blog for the kids to see (see the that use the idea of a merry-go-round to power a pump so that villagers don’t have to walk miles to fill their jerrycan with water). And Hero Rats ( is a favorite of mine – African pouch rats are trained to sniff out land mines and thus save life and limbs of children in what used to be war zones. I’d love for our kids to pitch in change (as we did one year for Heifer Int’l) or organize fund-raisers. But aren’t there school policies to circumvent?

  6. Ryan Swank

    My 6th grade team has been looking for ways to give back, and this truly is an excellent idea.
    I love that this project puts students in the driver’s seat and that the teachers connect their lessons into something meaningful.
    My email is Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. Michael Kaechele

    I think this is one of the best ideas I have heard. I like how you are putting the students in charge of where to loan the money.
    Will the students be able to communicate with the people they loan to and build any relationships with them?
    I teach 6-8 middle school. I don’t see a link to your students’ blog. I would like to send my 8th graders to your students’ blog to see their project.
    Do you use Skype in class? It would be awesome to interview your students about this also.
    Our class blog is My students will begin creating their personal blogs this week.
    I am @concretekax on twitter or concretekax at gmail dot com.

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