One of the emails that I look forward to the most every month is the one from Milaap, a microlending platform based in Bangalore, India. Touted as “India’s largest crowdfunding platform,” Milaap uses microloans to help people in rural villages throughout India.
How I Got Involved with Milaap
In December 2012, I was vacationing in Cambodia for the Christmas/New Year holiday. While there, I met a group of Couchsurfers that I ended up hanging out and adventuring with for the remainder of my vacation. Several of my new friends were from India, including Satya, who was, at the time, working in the role of Associate, Global Outreach for Milaap.
Satya told me all about the crowdfunding model of this organization, and it completely blew my mind. The idea of helping others through microlending instead of donations especially intrigued me, because with donations, you only give once, but with microloans, every time they are paid back, you can turn right around and lend them again to help even more people.
How Milaap Works
I made my first microloan with Milaap on April 29, 2014, and I have been lending almost every month since then. There is the option to make loans in US dollars or in Indian rupees, and they accept major credit cards, as well as Paypal.
You can decide how much or how little you want to lend. I think my first loan was $25 US, but now they have changed it to allow people to lend as little as $5 US. There are even several sort options to see available loan requests listed by:
Popularity: These are the ones that are receiving the most microloans.
Expiry: Requests for loans do expire after a period of time, so you can see which ones might be ending soon.
Pending Amount: This shows how much the borrower still needs in order to complete their loan. This is my favorite one, because many of them need only a few dollars to complete the loan, so I like to complete these smaller loans and know that I’m helping more people at one time.
Recent: These are the more recently added loan requests.
Interest Rate: I never use this option, but you can even sort the loans by the interest rate the borrowers will be paying.
Regarding this last one, though, I want to make a note… You, the microlender, DO NOT receive interest on your loans.
Milaap is not an investment vehicle. It is simply a crowdfunding platform, and in my opinion, more unique and effective than the traditional donation-based charity.
However, that being said, as the borrowers repay their loans, Milaap gives you the option to either re-lend the repaid funds or withdraw your funds. So once all the loans are repaid, ranging from six months to two years, you can get your initial loan amount back if you want.
So once the borrowers start repaying their loans, you will receive an email like the one below at the end of every month. This is the email that I look forward to most, and because I have been microlending with Milaap for so long now, I have started to actually check for the email in anticipation of receiving it.
If you choose to re-lend the funds, as I do, then you have two options. One is to “auto loan,” which allows Milaap to distribute your funds based on where they are needed most. This would be like loans that will expire soon or that have just a small amount required to be completed.
I prefer to keep control over the distribution of my repaid funds, however, so I don’t use the “auto loan” feature. The part I enjoy most is going through and selecting the causes I want to lend to and reading the stories and backgrounds of the people I’m helping. I love feeling more of a direct connection with the women, children and families my loans are impacting.
Deciding Which Causes to Lend To
As you can see from the picture above, there are many categories to choose from to make your loans. Following are the categories with a brief description of each:
Under the “Causes” drop-down menu, you have:
Education: These loans help children in varying grade (class) levels continue their schooling. For a lot of families, once their children reach a certain age, they are often unable to afford to continue sending their children to school, especially if more than one child is in school or the child needs additional help in order to advance.
These education loans can literally make a difference in a child’s future, and hence the family’s future. I strongly believe that education is the way out of poverty, as well as the foundation for a better society.
Energy: In the photo below, you can see that this is an entire village that is looking to adopt solar energy by setting up their own solar power grid. However, not all of the Energy loans are so huge.
I have given loans even for individuals who want to buy a $20 solar lamp so they can have more light in the evening, and I’ve lent money so that people could have more energy-efficient and eco-/health-friendly cook stoves. It really varies, but in some way, all of the loans in this category are related to saving energy and reducing environmental and health impacts.
Agriculture:Many families make their income through farming various vegetables and crops. So these loans help farmers buy seeds, fertilizers and other farming implements, like in the example below.
Enterprise Development: This is probably the most diverse category, because it can range from helping borrowers buy materials for their sewing/tailoring businesses to even buying cows and buffalo for their milk production or animal husbandry enterprises. Basically any type of business enterprise falls under this category, and I would say that this is my favorite category, because I love helping people help themselves.
To give another example, this month, one of the causes I’m supporting is to help a family buy a “Toto” battery-operated rickshaw to help them provide transportation services to neighboring villages and towns. Currently, the husband rents a rickshaw, so his wife requested a loan to help him buy one so they can keep more of their profit. I love this!
Sanitation: This last category has to do with water, sewer and building toilets. While it might seem trivial to those of us from developed countries, this is a huge issue for people in rural India. It is common for people to have to walk 2-3 miles just to use the bathroom, and they have to go out in the open in fields where they risk being attacked by animals, exposed to infection, and in many cases, even raped.
This makes me so sad, but it also makes me so thankful to have an organization like Milaap, and their partners, who are helping people remedy this. No one should have to live like this, and if the only legacy I ever leave is that I helped people build toilets, then I will breathe my last breath in peace, knowing that I made a big difference for someone in their most basic of needs.
Other Filtering Categories
Other than by Cause, you can filter loan requests by State (different states in Indian), by Repayment (length of time borrowers pay back the loans, ranging from 12 months or less to 24 months or longer), and by Gender.
Regarding the last one, I’m not sexist, but I admit that I do filter the loans for Females, because I feel that, especially in un- and under-developed countries, women are often at a disadvantage and are not afforded a lot of the same opportunities as men. So for me personally, I prefer to focus my microlending efforts on causes that support women, which often result in supporting their children and families anyway.
A Couple Final Notes
Before I finish, there are a couple things I want to mention. First, you may have noticed on many of the screenshots a green “2x IMPACT” icon. This is probably one of the coolest things I have seen on Milaap. Very commonly, various “impact partners” will match loans. Sometimes it will show who the company is, but often it just shows an “anonymous” partner.
Most matching is 2x the loan amount, but I once saw 3x! This is so awesome, because it means that however much you decide to lend, that amount will be matched by the multiple indicated. Let me just be clear, though…. you DO NOT receive those extra matched funds in the repayments. You simply receive repayments on your principle amount, as would be the case with any normal microloan through Milaap.
Lastly, I just want to reiterate and emphasize what an awesome organization Milaap is. I really feel like microlending is the way to go for maximum impact. Unlike donations, where you give once and never see your money again, and often never even see the impact it made, microlending puts you right there, in direct connection to the exact causes you want to support. Then, as people repay the loans, you can keep lending and helping others again and again and again.
Plus, the part I absolutely love and support most, is that by giving loans instead of donations, you are fostering a work ethic. These aren’t people just looking for hand-outs. They’re people who want a better life for themselves, their families, and for their future generations, and they’re ready to roll up their sleeves and do the work to get themselves there. They just need a little help from those of us who are more blessed financially. This is what I call really making an impact and changing lives, and I will continue microlending with Milaap, and hopefully other organizations in the future, for as long as I possibly can.