1.5 million lamps light the way to America

Statue of Liberty

The United States has long been an oasis for immigrants and refugees to find freedom, resources, and a place to improve their quality of living.

Kiva continually strives to meet the needs of the underserved, including immigrants and refugees, by assisting them with zero-interest loans, underpinned by encouragement and resources provided Kiva’s lending community. It’s clear that immigrants to the United States have had a very favorable impact on our economy as well as who we are as a people.

If you live in the US, you are likely an immigrant, refugee, or are descended from one, and have purchased products or services from an immigrant-owned business.

Immigrants to the United States have a long history of growing the U.S. economy, providing jobs, building communities, generating taxable revenue, and creating innovative products that have helped America become what it is today.

According to a report by the Partnership for New American Economy issued in 2011, more than 40% of 2010 Fortune 500 companies – including Apple, Verizon, General Electric – were founded by immigrants or their children, employing more than 10 million people worldwide. Also of note, the business start-up rate of immigrants in the U.S. increased by 50% between 1996 and 2011.

While the Fortune 500 tends to get most of the spotlight, Main Street businesses – the mom and pop shops, the corner stores – make up the backbone of the U.S. economy. It is in these businesses that immigrants show their entrepreneurial prowess, making up 28% of Main Street business owners, even while they make up 18% of U.S. business owners and 16% of the labor force.

Kiva’s mission is to democratize access to capital, promoting a culture of inclusiveness and community between borrowers and lenders worldwide.

Many Kiva entrepreneurs have come to the United States as refugees or immigrants seeking to start a business. Obtaining startup capital from traditional sources is a significant hurdle. By connecting with the 1.5 million lenders in the Kiva network, entrepreneurs are able to access the capital they need to invest in their dreams.

Kiva loans have supported numerous entrepreneurs who came to the U.S. as refugees in order to rebuild their lives and find safety, income, and support. Some of these entrepreneurs have reported that they have lived in refugee camps for years before finally being accepted for U.S. asylum. These entrepreneurs look to the U.S. to escape substandard living conditions in countries including Somalia, where famine and conflict have left them destitute and hungry; Iraq, having lost their homes and possessions to war and terror; Myanmar, where a military dominated government has stifled access to jobs and basic necessities.


Kyaw is a Kiva entrepreneur who was born in Myanmar and lived in a refugee camp for almost 10 years.

He'd been a farmer in the past and dreamed of opening his own grocery store – 62 Kiva lenders came together to lend $5,000 towards Kyaw’s dream.

When thinking back to why he wanted to open a grocery store, Kyaw notes, “I decided to start this business because I believe this can help the community members currently working in Willmar, MN”. To Kyaw, the store isn’t just about supporting himself and his family, it’s also about helping his community grow.

Kiva’s character-based lending model has allowed many immigrants and refugees to obtain interest-free loans that have funded the startup and growth of their local businesses.

Without a favorable credit background or a history of financial stability, many refugees have only their new U.S. communities to rely on for assistance in getting established in a business. Kiva’s democratic capital model provides access to interest- and collateral-free loans funded by family, friends, and lenders all over the world who open their hearts and their wallets to provide assistance and lift up individuals who are less fortunate.

With their loans and the support of Kiva’s lender community, refugees have been able to start businesses as artisans, grocery store owners, and cafe operators among others. These loans have changed lives, bringing income, commerce, and stability to entrepreneurs’ families and communities.

We look forward to assisting many more of the immigrant and refugee population who come to America, and we hope you will join us in this mission.

In the words of Emma Lazarus,

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”


Posted by Kathy Gledhill, Kiva U.S. Marketing Intern

Feb 3, 2017

Kathy is an intern on the Kiva U.S. marketing team and is excited to help Kiva promote their mission of connecting entrepreneurs with a community of lenders who provide interest-free loans and become champions of the entrepreneurs they support. Kathy has spent over 25 years assisting small and medium sized businesses as a CFO or consultant, helping them to grow their offerings, obtain funding, and manage working capital. Kathy has an MBA from New York University and a BA from Swarthmore College.


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