Beyond Borders: Upwork and Kiva Partner To Empower Entrepreneurs

Hawwa Muhammad
Hawwa Muhammad
November 14, 2023
November 14, 2023
Beyond Borders: Upwork and Kiva Partner To Empower Entrepreneurs

Photo Courtesy of Kiva, Elviza

Entrepreneurship can take many forms. So too can community engagement and volunteerism.

This past summer, The Upwork Foundation partnered with Kiva, a non-profit focused on expanding financial access to help underserved communities thrive, to launch a week-long lending challenge with Upwork team members. The lending challenge was designed to support a new category of entrepreneur, and to expand on Upwork’s mission to create economic opportunities so people can live better lives.

Upwork’s work marketplace enables skilled independent talent from over 180 countries to innovate and grow their careers, find the freedom to work on their own terms, and increase their earning potential. The knowledge workers on Upwork are entrepreneurs in their own right, forging new career paths and building new businesses. By partnering with Kiva, Upwork had a unique opportunity to support entrepreneurs building local, brick-and-mortar businesses in developing countries.

Kiva and Upwork join forces to empower underserved communities

More than 1.4 billion adults around the world are unbanked and can’t access services that would help them grow more financially secure. Kiva is a crowdfunding platform that unlocks capital by enabling individuals to deliver microloans to the underserved.

Through Kiva's work, borrowers can pay for tuition, start businesses, invest in equipment, and afford emergency care. Borrowers build better lives for themselves as well as their communities. These effects dovetail perfectly with The Upwork Foundation’s grantmaking strategy, which is directed at closing the global opportunity gap.

In 2022, The Foundation’s grantmaking was directed at efforts to connect immigrants and refugees with economic opportunity through skills-based trainings, social programs, and entrepreneurship incubation and financing. Inspired by Kiva’s ability to connect two million lenders with borrowers across 77 countries, and Kiva’s Refugee Investment Fund, The Upwork Foundation awarded Kiva with a $250,000 grant at the end of last year.

Community engagement reimagined


Photo courtesy of Kiva, Juliana

The majority of Upwork’s grant was in the form of unrestricted funds, enabling Kiva to cover operating and programmatic costs as needed; however, $100,000 was earmarked for a Kiva Lending Fund. The fund enabled Upwork’s workforce to directly support borrowers on the Kiva platform. And Kiva’s 96% repayment rate meant that Upwork team members could use revolving funds to support different borrowers over the life of the fund.

The lending fund provided a unique opportunity for The Upwork Foundation to engage our workforce in a community initiative. Our remote-first model includes over 2,500 team members in over 90 countries, which brings new meaning to the word “community.” We believe having a distributed workforce should not be a barrier to collective impact, and fostering team engagement and volunteerism from afar is a pillar of our Foundation’s work.

Ready. Set. Lend!

The Foundation’s lending challenge was open to all team members, including employees and the independent talent who support Upwork projects. All participants were given a $50 credit from the fund to support an entrepreneur of their choosing, and used Kiva’s filter options to search for borrowers based on gender, country, sector, and other attributes.

We also encouraged team members to share their experience with colleagues. As a result, Upwork team members had the opportunity to learn about two particularly inspiring borrowers in Rwanda: Denise and Justine.

Denise, a mother and business owner, resettled in Rwanda in 2005 with her family after fleeing political instability and violence in Burundi. What started as a means to provide for her family quickly evolved into a thriving curtain business. In order to meet customer demand and purchase more supplies, Denise had already secured and repaid her first Kiva loan. Denise was now requesting another loan to expand her venture and hire her first employee.

Justine is a Congolese woman living in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. She escaped political instability in her home country and lived in the Gihembe Refugee Camp for six years prior to moving to the capital. She began raising cows in 2011 and has since grown her team to 13 employees. Justine requested a loan to introduce a new breed of cows in her herd and expand her sales of distillers’ grains.

Denise and Justine’s powerful stories are just two of the many that surfaced through our lending challenge. By the end of the week, Upwork team members collectively lent to over 1,100 borrowers. Women made up 93% of those borrowers while food and agriculture was the top sector supported, representing 50% of Upwork loans.  

Next stop: Global Entrepreneurship Week

The Upwork Foundation wants to keep up the momentum it’s created through its partnership with Kiva. To that end, it launched its second Lending Challenge on November 13 in celebration of Global Entrepreneurship Week.

We’ll be increasing the team member credit to $100 per person to spur even more impact. Our goal is to deploy 50% of the fund’s current value with the expectation that loans made in 2023 will be repaid at a 96% repayment rate within 12 months. The revolving fund will enable Upwork team members to continue disbursing loans to inspiring entrepreneurs in a company-wide community impact event year after year.

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Hawwa Muhammad
Social Entrepreneur

Hawwa (@hawmuh) is a social entrepreneur with a passion for creating systems and launching strategies that help mission-driven organizations build a solid foundation for their work. With extensive experience working with local and international nonprofits over the course of a decade, she brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the social sector. Hawwa is based in Newark, NJ.

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