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VERNARD ALEXANDER, owner of The Minority Networking Exchange, stands with K.I.S.S. owner Shakelah Knox, one of 29 entrepreneurs he serves as a Kiva Trustee. (Photo by Diane I. Daniels)

In February 2015 Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced that the county had formed a partnership with the nonprofit organization Kiva to help small businesses in the area gain access to capital and improve the local economy. Three years later, Kiva Pittsburgh celebrated the funding of over $1 million in Kiva loans.

“Pittsburgh is so lucky, and Kiva is such a Pittsburgh model,” said Mayor Bill Peduto during the Kiva Pittsburgh Milestone Celebration. “Kiva is providing a way for anyone that wants to become an entrepreneur to get the critical start that they need to get on the first rung of the ladder and then take off. The fact that we are not only investing in people but in neighborhoods with over 200 companies starting because of Kiva is a rebirth of this city for everyone. If you think about it, this is the way workforce is going. Whether the makers movement or just the idea that in the future that people will have several jobs at once. It’s about the ones that can create the jobs on their own, the ones that can become the entrepreneur and start their own businesses will be the ones that will be leading. The cities and regions that invest and partner with them will be the ones that will weather the storms of the changes that are coming in the economy. We want to see this take off everywhere. We want a rebirth of our business districts, especially in the neighborhoods that have been left behind.”

Mayor Peduto continued: “Think about what you are doing. You are the entrepreneurs and the ones creating these small businesses. You are providing the needed capital into people…Kiva has proven over the past several years that they have a model that works, and we want to invest in you.”

Kiva’s Global Engagement Manager, Jessica Hansen, was also on hand during the celebration. She pointed out that throughout Kiva’s history they have grown from seven loans to women in Uganda to 2.7 million borrowers around the world in 83 countries with a 97 percent repayment rate. She said Pittsburgh is ranked highest amongst the Metropolitan regions that Kiva works in the U.S. and that 99 percent of their loans get funded.

Based in San Francisco, Kiva is a 13-year-old international nonprofit organization with the mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. They celebrate and support people looking to create a better future for themselves, their families and their communities. The world’s first and largest crowdfunding platform for social good enables lending as little as $25 to help a borrower start or grow a business, go to school, access clean energy or realize their potential. According to Emely Keebler, Kiva Pittsburgh’s lead, 100 percent of every dollar donated goes to funding loans.

LOCAL ENTREPRENEURS GAIN SUPPORT—Mayor Bill Peduto congratulates Kiva Pittsburgh businesses. (Photo by Diane I. Daniels)

Vernard Alexander, a 2015 Kiva borrower and owner-administrator of The Minority Networking Exchange, later became a Kiva Trustee. He has endorsed 29 borrowers totaling $115,200. As a trustee, his responsibilities include publicly vouching for and supporting small business owners to borrow money on the Kiva website. Wanting to help support entrepreneurs in Western Pennsylvania, Alexander expressed that he is a believer of the impact that Kiva has across the globe. “Because of my extensive social networking system, including a lot of current and aspiring entrepreneurs, is the reason I became a Trustee.”

Businesses he has endorsed include two-time borrower Michelle Calloway, owner of Silverfoxx Wear and Things, a clothing business; Ralph Watson, owner of Classic Events!, a community networking events business; Carleen King, owner of Carmi Soul Food Restaurant; and Shakelah Knox, owner of Keep It Sweet by Shakelah (K.I.S.S.), a confectionery shop specializing in custom sweets.

Aliya Wray’s Beauty Parlor and Spa in McKees Rocks is currently seeking $10,000 which is a beginning push for Kiva Pittsburgh toward their $2 million goal. In business since 2013, Wray describes her Broadway Street business as a one-stop shop providing hair, skin, and nail services. She plans to utilize the Kiva loan for hair inventory, products, labels, packaging, to develop a website and print materials.

Wray’s trustee, the McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation, which currently has endorsed three other businesses, considers Aliya Wray’s an asset to the Broadway business district. They view her as having a terrific amount of energy and passion for her work and her business and have witnessed her successfully grow the business, creating a hub for the community to come together as well as being a draw for bringing clients from around the region.

Just as excited today as she was several years ago when she became Pittsburgh’s lead, Keebler views reaching $1 million in loans as a milestone. “Kiva has helped almost 200 entrepreneurs in the Pittsburgh area access capital.

“This is quite an accomplishment, especially when we consider that more loans have gone to businesses in the Pittsburgh area than any city in the country except for New York City, San Francisco, and Oakland, California,” she said.

(For information on Kiva Pittsburgh contact Keebler at 412-281-0102 x8224 or emily.keebler@local.kiva.org.)

 

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