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Belmont Commits to Teaching Community Service Through Financial Giving

KIVA, ‘Living a Better Story’ initiatives integrated into curriculum for freshmen, sophomores
In conjunction with the year-long campus theme of “Wealth and Poverty,” Belmont University is instituting two programs that aim to show students the powerful change that can occur through financial giving. A partnership with micro-lending organization KIVA is being targeted to freshmen while sophomores are being encouraged to participate in the “Living a Better Story” initiative, which invites them on a 21-day commitment to take money, multiply it and use it to make a difference in the lives of others. Both programs began last fall as test cases and are being fully implemented this academic year as part of the university’s curriculum.

Belmont President Dr. Bob Fisher said, “I tell every incoming student that God made them for a purpose, and that the one thing we know is that their purpose isn’t about them. The University’s commitment to the KIVA and ‘Living a Better Story’ initiatives will effectively show students a concept that’s easy to miss in the classroom: that financial giving—in any amount—can make a huge difference in the lives of neighbors near and far.”

KIVA
The partnership between Belmont University’s freshman class and KIVA will provide thousands of dollars in loans to small business entrepreneurs in developing countries around the world. Though students have only been on campus a few weeks, several steps have already been taken to establish the partnership with KIVA, the world’s first personal micro-lending website, and the project will continue to play out over the course of the academic year:

  • Nearly 500 students have already joined the Freshmen KIVA initiative and loaned their funds, providing more than $12,000 in small business loans to entrepreneurs around the world.
  • Each student’s account has been seeded with $25. An anonymous donor will match up to an additional $25 in funds, giving each freshman the opportunity to invest a total of $75 in a KIVA.org entrepreneur’s venture.

The concept behind KIVA microloans is fairly simple: Millions of people around the world need access to relatively small amounts of money for starting or expanding their small business. The KIVA.org website lists businesses in need of funding, posted to the website by KIVA’s microfinance partners on the ground, and provides background on the entrepreneur starting the enterprise.  Interested individuals may make loans in increments as small as $25, and often receive repayments throughout the loan term, which typically runs between six and 12 months. The average loan to an individual micro-entrepreneur is $400, which strongly impacts his or her ability to make a living.

Each student will have an opportunity to lend to entrepreneurs in countries across the globe, supporting the people and projects they find the most compelling. All of the freshmen who participate will also be included in the “Belmont University Class of 2015 Team” so the entire class can see how their funds are collectively impacting the world. Furthermore, as loans are paid back, students have the potential to regain their original microloan and are provided the opportunity to gift it to the next freshman class to help Belmont sustain the funds. 

Living a Better Story
The KIVA partnership is part of a larger initiative to teach all Belmont students about financial stewardship and how giving back can impact society. The “Living a Better Story” initiative invites sophomores to take a packet from the campus’ Sophomore Transition Center that includes cash in the amount of $5, $10 or $15. They are then challenged to spend 21 days to pray, meditate, research and brainstorm ways to multiply the amount and do something meaningful with it to enhance the lives of others.

Initiated last year, the project was described as “life changing” by numerous 2010 participants who found creative ways to increase the amount given to them. Several students blogged about their experiences, including journalism major Kevin Heim who last year used the $10 he received for stamps to mail donation letters to his family and friends. He matched the donations and was able to purchase 1,168 pounds of food for Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. Claire Hartford, a graduate student in the Department of Education, took her $10 and, combined with her own donation, purchased face paints. She spent the next few Saturdays at a Nashville park painting faces for donation and the continued her work past the initial 21 days. To date, she has raised more than $1,500 which she has donated to victims of Nashville’s May 2010 flood and back into Belmont-supported initiatives. Claire also hopes to encourage other students this year to continue “Living a Better Story” beyond the initial 21-day commitment. This year’s participants are gathering on campus today to discuss their “Living a Better Story” journeys and how they chose to multiply and invest their finances.

Belmont’s Provost Dr. Thomas Burns said, “Both of these programs help demonstrate that we don’t have to look far to find real world examples of the interplay between wealth and poverty. Even better, both also show our students how giving of our resources can address issues related to wealth and poverty in immediate and specific ways.”