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Solar Explosion: Changing the World with Kiva Loans

By Steve Dorst | October 29, 2013

CREDIT: UN Women (CC).

I went to my twentieth college reunion last weekend at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. It was insanely entertaining to catch up with people I hadn't seen in two decades. Writing "two decades" just made my fingers tremor. How am I old enough to be 20 years removed from anything much less a college graduation?

Anyway… Wandering through Townsend Hall with old friends was particularly nostalgic. But beyond the material memories—that painting, those couches, the still untuned piano—I was attentive to an existential difference. Back then I lived a blessed nonlinearity, characterized by marathon debates and the expanded sense of possibilities that youth conveys.

The Townsend common room was where I had defended the existence of God in a late-night debate against a guy named Graham (he was pretty damn smart; he won). The table where I had studied for my favorite class, "Hunger, Plenty, and Justice," was still there.

We knew we could change the world.

Upon returning to my home in Washington yesterday, I found an email from Kiva telling me I had $148 in available credit. I haven't done much on Kiva for a while and it got me thinking again about changing the world.

Kiva is a San Francisco–based nonprofit that connects people through lending to alleviate poverty. Since it was founded in 2005, more than a million people have lent almost a half billion dollars in 73 countries. The loans have a 99.03 percent repayment rate.

In the spirit of late-night college debates, I challenge you, faithful reader, to name a single development innovation that, if spread worldwide, could do more than distributed solar to raise the living standards of the poorest of the poor.

I joined Kiva in March 2007. Since then, I've deposited $672. I've made 121 loans to the working poor in 53 countries. When they pay back, I reloan the money, so I've lent about $3,100 now.

A few years ago, I became disillusioned because I saw a lot of people lending for stupid reasons—so somebody could open a bar or the like. Nothing innovative. Nothing the local market wasn't already supporting.

So after complaining a bit, I created a Kiva team called Solar Explosion. This was while I was directing a documentary about climate change, and I got really excited about the potential of distributed solar power. It could leapfrog the rural poor in the developing world out of abject poverty. On the Solar Explosion team page I wrote: "1.5 billion people still lack electricity. Only a global solar explosion can change that and end poverty."

And in the spot where you write "About Us," I put:

We know if you really want to fight poverty, you start with distributed renewable power—harnessing the sun in your own backyard! Micro-solar technology already exists that can transform people's lives. The problem is that banks are only financing the old model: centralized power stations and expensive transmission grids. We lend to inspire awareness, so microfinance does more and more solar financing projects. Our goal is a solar explosion! Join us today!

In summary: Small-scale solar technology exists, but the financing doesn't. It's going to take tailored models in different countries so poor people can do solar power in their own backyards and pay it off over time.


Solar Explosion started slow, but today there are 51 members who've made 572 loans to the tune of $14,525. Still not much, but a start.

In the spirit of college-worthy debate, I challenge you, faithful reader, to name a single development innovation that, if spread worldwide, could do more than distributed solar to raise the living standards of the poorest of the poor.

With electricity, children study more, get smarter, and perhaps get better jobs; family members are more productive, perhaps doing small businesses from home. And everybody is connected to the outside world, by simply plugging in a TV or charging a cell phone.

There are tons of people who know way more than I do about distributed solar, about solar financing, and what the bottlenecks are. And perhaps Kiva's not the best way to jump-start this.

But it's one way. If you join Kiva, join Solar Explosion. Lend to green projects, especially solar.

Reposted from the Steve Dorst blog with kind permission.

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Read More: Aid, Communication, Development, Energy, Environment, Finance, Innovation, Poverty, Sustainability, Technology, Global

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