Growing up in the Dominican Republic, Kiva lender Eric witnessed firsthand the economic disparity that still plagues this beautiful Caribbean paradise.
“In school, we used to go on bicycle excursions to the countryside,” he recalls. “Back then, there was nothing in many of the villages, sometimes not even electricity.”
When a friend introduced him to Kiva in 2005, the first thing he did was seek out a borrower in his home country—and found someone who lived in the village where his grandmother had lived.
“It really touched my heartstrings,” says the retired software engineer, who has made his home in Atlanta, Georgia, USA for the last 40 years. “I saw how this was a fantastic way of not only providing means to help but also bringing a sustainable way of doing so.”
Since then, Eric has made 62 Kiva loans in 18 countries, though he continues to seek out borrowers from the Dominican Republic as part of Team Esperanza, a Kiva lending team that has lent over $64,000 to help the country’s poorest and most isolated communities.
“The next time I visit I’ll see if I can meet the people in the field who are helping,” he says, adding that he has also lent to borrowers in Kenya and Bangladesh.
“Lending on Kiva has opened up my mind not only to the country where I was born and raised, but also expanded my idea of how one loan can change a life in other places in the world.”
“I saw how this was a fantastic way of not only providing means to help but also bringing a sustainable way of doing so.”
Coming to America
Born from a Dominican mother and a Swiss father, Eric attended Jesuit schools on the island and in nearby Puerto Rico, where his father’s business took the family for a few years. He showed talent with numbers and science and astounded his community when at 17, he was accepted at Georgia Tech University in Atlanta to study engineering.
Dialing in on exactly what type of engineering proved a challenge, at first he thought he might go into aerospace engineering and build rockets, but then he switched to electrical engineering to develop computers. Eric snared a job with IBM right after graduation, but that path conflicted with his goal to take his work back home.
“I realized if I were going to continue working on semiconductors, I would never have a chance to return to Latin America,” he says. “So I decided to move to industrial engineering, focusing on computer statistics and so forth.”
That led to his “dream job” at global accounting firm Price Waterhouse, where he met his wife of 41 years.
“She was the lady who received my resume and arranged my interviews,” he remembers with a laugh.
Though he and wife chose to raise their family in Atlanta rather than return to the Dominican Republic, Eric continues to be reminded of the forested mountain region of his home country.
“It’s very green here with pine trees, so it’s very much like a version of the D.R.,” he observes.
A career in finance
Just as Eric’s origins make him an unusual Kiva lender, so does his extensive knowledge of the financial industry. As his career progressed, he became much more involved with investment compliance and how funds work.
Some of his company’s clients were large foundations that partnered with corporations and non-profit organizations to match grants. He also explored the practice of 4X lending, which leverages initial capital to build an even larger reservoir of funds to draw upon, a concept he would like to apply to the nonprofit and NGO sector in developing countries.
“I’m still trying to put the dots together, but foundations are key for doing what governments cannot,” he explains. “I have been dreaming for years that you could make 4X work with crowdfunding small loans by matching them with corporations, then doubling that with foundations to release more funds.”
The plan is still in its nascent stages, though Eric has plenty to keep him busy volunteering in Atlanta’s Hispanic community and enjoying his retirement, which he took a bit early thanks to a lucky venture he made when his children were still in college.
“I invested a little money in Tesla a long time ago,” he confides with a chuckle.
“I’m here to show that dreams can happen. And I’m glad to be in the position to help others.”
Making others’ dreams come true on Kiva
As he develops his idea for his own 4X foundation, Eric plans to continue to lend on Kiva, both on his own and as part of Team Esperanza. The borrowers that catch his eye are enterprising folks focused on building their business and thinking of the future.
“I try to select people who are actually trying to grow something, maybe they have a herd of goats or a trade that they're learning,” he says.
“And I’m always inspired when there is a matching grant.”
While he knows that there are still plenty of people living under the poverty line in the Dominican Republic, he believes financial inclusion is a viable pathway and hopes to meet up with some of the borrowers he’s lent to in his home country on his next visit.
“I don’t think anyone has all the answers, but we can see that microlending makes an impact. And that’s what Kiva is doing.”
Where in the world touches your heartstrings? You can become a Kiva lender in over 77 countries for as little as $25.