The payment card giant Visa Inc. is throwing support, in the form of a $1 million contribution, to help grow the U.S. footprint of Kiva, the online microloan marketplace. The announcement, released late last month, coincided with a major expansion of Kiva's U.S. operations through the signing of Accion Texas-Louisiana, the nation's largest microfinance institution, as a Kiva Field Partner.
"We see this partnership with Visa as a meaningful opportunity to empower small-business owners and help revive the U.S. economy, starting with a region in urgent need," said Premal Shah, President of Kiva.
Kiva's expansion into the Gulf Region comes one year after the organization began offering loans in the United States through its various field partners, a network of about 160 regional organizations that act as agents, disbursing loans to borrowers and posting their stories and loan requests to the Kiva website, www.kiva.org.
The money from Visa will be put toward building awareness and network capacity, as well as research to identify gaps in the microfinance marketplace in the United States.
Visa is no stranger to microfinance initiatives in the United States. Its card brand is widely used in efforts to bank the underserved. In July 2010, for example, the company revealed a far-reaching marketing campaign intended to raise awareness and use of Visa prepaid cards among a financially underserved population it puts at 80 million Americans. Altogether, the company reports, Visa cards are being used in more than 10,000 prepaid card programs in 110 countries.
Despite the seemingly wide appeal of prepaid cards, however, very few unbanked and underbanked Americans are among those purchasing and reloading name-brand (Visa, MasterCard Worldwide) prepaid cards, according to Boston-based Mercator Advisory Group.
"This partnership advances a shared mission of both Visa and Kiva: helping small businesses grow and ultimately create jobs," William Sheedy, Group Executive for the Americas at Visa, said in announcing the contribution to Kiva.
"The Gulf Coast has been hit hard by the economic recession and several disasters," said Janie Barrera, founder, President and CEO at Accion Texas-Louisiana. "Small businesses are critical to recovery and with Kiva lenders we will be able to invest in even more entrepreneurs."
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