The creator of Gmail is so determined to make a newbie microlending project more well known that he’s going to donate up to $100,000 for tweets and Facebook posts that help publicize the cause.
Paul Buchheit, the brains behind Gmail, is now a partner at Y Combinator, a group that helps viable startups get off their feet. The group also funds budding nonprofits, and recently put the finishing touches on Zidisha, an organization that considers itself to be the first "true" peer-to-peer microlending group, according to TechCrunch.
Buchheit believes so wholeheartedly in the organization’s mission that he is going to donate $10 for every tweet, retweet and Facebook post that links to the site and is shared with #Zidisha, he announced on his blog on Monday. But, he’s going to cap his total donation at $100,000.
The computer programmer has found favor in what distinguishes Zidisha from other microlending organizations.
Other similar groups rely on third parties to handle loan management, which often drives up interest rates and can push the struggling entrepreneurs deeper into debt, Buchheit noted in his blog post. Zidisha has committed to completely eliminating the middleman.
Kiva, one of the earliest microlending sites, for example, doesn’t publish its interest rates, but entrepreneurs who get loans from the organization can face average rates of 35 percent, Julia Kurnia, founder of Zidisha, wrote in a blog post. Kiva defends its seemingly high rates by noting that these loans are still way more affordable than what local money lenders can offer and that microlending is more expensive in the developing world than it is in the West.
But Zidisha -- which launched in 2009, but made its public debut in January -- appears to have found a way to drive out third-party banks and to drive down interest rates.
The organization sees itself as an eBay-style platform because it allows borrowers and lenders to interact directly without involving anyone else.
Borrowers post their profiles and business ideas to the site, and suggest interest rates of their own choosing to lenders. Lenders can then choose to fund the loans at any rate they desire. While interest rates vary, they typically average in at about 5 percent, Kurnia wrote in a blog for HuffPost.
To date, the organization has raised more than $1.8 million in loans and has funded more than 5,000 businesses.
Zidisha is also completely different from other microlending groups in that the staff of 50 is composed almost entirely of volunteers, according to TechCrunch.
Perhaps even just as impressive as the affordable interest rates, supporters say, is the fact that the lenders and borrowers are able to forge a close, interpersonal relationship, and the borrowers can see how their investments are progressing every step of the way.
"Sites like Watsi and Zidisha are ... making giving (or lending) a lot easier to do and far more rewarding," Rip Empson wrote in TechCrunch.