Kiva is kid-friendly: using microfinance to teach 6th-grade math

While the majority of lenders on Kiva are adults, the desire to do good around the world is not limited to grown-ups. At the Town School for Boys in San Francisco, California, microfinance is a concept that the 6th graders are very familiar with. 

For over 7 years, Kiva has served as the platform for a year-long project undertaken by 6th-grade math students at the Town School. The team-based hands-on project teaches the boys about microfinance, financial literacy, and global awareness. 

First, the students are introduced to microfinance and learn about Kiva. After studying statistics about global poverty, each team creates an advertisement to convince community members to lend to a specific country on Kiva. The most successful advertisement groups are rewarded by getting to make a loan on 

One 6th grade team working on their Kiva project.

During the second part of the project, the class models microfinance within their own community by starting their own nonprofit companies. Each team of students develops a business idea, writes a business plan and raises funding with microloans from teachers, staff and other adults in the school community. The students create their own advertisements and host sales at the school for their peers to purchase their products.

Town School students of all ages got to engage with the Kiva businesses at the sale.

6th graders selling their products at a school-wide sale to raise money for Kiva.

Two students count their revenue from the school-wide sale.

With the remaining profit after repaying their loans from teachers, the teams get to make loans to Kiva borrowers. Each student writes out a list of their personal values and compares it to other values in the team. The teams then choose to lend to a borrower who matches their group values.  “And that’s when it’s so exciting,” says 6th-grade math teacher Lizzy Laidlaw. “We put the borrower up on the screen and everybody cheers when they make the loan. Once the first group does it, the boys are reinvigorated and really excited to make more.”

A student updates the whiteboard to keep track of profit and Kiva loans made.

Even at the young ages of 11 and 12, the students are clearly engaging with the concepts of microfinance and global poverty and realizing that they can play a role in making a difference.

“I build in a lot of reflection points throughout the process,” Ms. Laidlaw says, “so that the boys can step back and keep being reminded of why we’re doing this and what’s the point.”

Each student has the opportunity to connect on a personal level to consider where they want to make a loan. When the students were asked why they chose to lend to certain Kiva borrowers, here are some of their answers:

“Me and Conrad loaned to Kosovo ‘cause they were in a war about 10 or 15 years ago.”

“We loaned to Venezuela because they are having a hard time with the refugees from Colombia.”

“We loaned to Nicaragua ‘cause I just visited there and they’re having some problems.”

Ms. Laidlaw is also a Kiva lender herself. “I lend on Kiva because it’s one tiny way I can help and make a difference. If you’re helping one person, that’s also helping their family - it’s also helping their community.” That aspect of Kiva is tangible for everyone - even if you’re a 6th-grader at the Town School. They may be young, but it’s clearly never too early to understand helping someone in need. 

If 6th-graders can do it, so can you! Click here to make a loan to a Kiva borrower.  

About the author

Channing Fisher.

Channing first witnessed the ability of entrepreneurship to empower people while studying Spanish in Guatemala. Throughout college, she became interested in microfinance while working in business development in the Netherlands and studying the effects of tourism on Caribbean economies. After graduating from Principia College in 2018 with degrees in Political Science and Business, she began work for a Santa Barbara-based nonprofit and later found Kiva. She's passionate about communicating and sharing the work done at Kiva and elsewhere in the international development space.