Reaching Beyond: Money Matters, Part One

Students Lending A Hand, An Hour… A Dollar?

Last week, a student stayed after school to tell me about a Lego set he hoped to get. As he described the set in detail, his excitement palpable, he had one lament: the Lego kit was really expensive. I asked, whenever he was excited about something that cost money, how did he get the funds to purchase it? His response surprised me. This sixth-grader shared that he receives three types of money from his family: $2.15 per week in allowance, an additional (non-whole-dollar) amount for doing chores, and an additional few dollars a week to give to charity. In 10+ years talking with middle schoolers about money (always on the playground, at recess, or on the edges of class time), I’d never heard this last part—a child who receives money to give away.

Money comes up at school often, though in my experience rarely as part of the regular curriculum. Whether at a student club meeting when middle schoolers want to donate to hurricane relief, or in Independent Study when a child wants to build an arcade machine and needs parts, students understand that money often plays a role in realizing a project or making an impact. When it comes to the question of raising money, most students know two methods: the bake-sale, and the ask-your-family (the adult equivalents of which are common funding methods for the Bay Area med tech CEOs I know too). As a school whose mission is to inspire students to achieve their dreams and reach beyond themselves to make a difference in the world, we’re asking: How much does money matter? And how can we equip students to better understand how to raise money whenever their dreams seem to necessitate it, perhaps beyond the bake-sale and ask-family methods?

Since the founding of the Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship in July, Director Annie Makela has been guiding on work on this question. We know that feeling tied to larger causes, and having dreams for how to make the world a better place, start early in life. Once we know what matters to a student, how can we, as a JK-8th grade school, equip them to do something about it? One way we have started figuring this out is by spending time and forming partnerships with local entrepreneurs, small business owners, and social impact leaders through our small satellite space in downtown San Jose at WeWork Valley Towers. It was here, through inviting entrepreneurs to speak with and meet our middle school students, that Annie connected us with another local organization that’s been working on how to support what matters to people: the micro-lending organization, Kiva.

Kiva has successfully funded the dreams of underserved, global small-business owners through its unique micro-lending platform since its 2005 founding in San Francisco. Through field offices and an online platform, Kiva organizes community members to make direct loans to small business owners and entrepreneurs, giving them access to crowd-sourced capital to invest in growing their already-established businesses. Anyone can log into Kiva’s website to read about the thousands of local or global entrepreneurs and lend amounts of money as low as $25 directly to applicants of their choice. This year, Kiva returned home to the Bay, bringing its micro-lending platform, and the opportunities it generates, to fund the dreams of our own neighborhoods’ small-business owners, especially those who are overlooked by larger banks’ funding models.

On the evening of Wednesday, November 1, at the Grand Corinthian Ballroom facing St. James park in San Jose, two Hillbrook seventh-graders, Joanna and Jackson, had the privilege of being the youngest speakers at Kiva’s Bay Area Launch. By establishing a Student Lending Club on Hillbrook’s campus, our students, instead of giving away money, use Kiva to loan money to local businesses of their choice and receive repayments. This arrangement gives our neighbors (who have already used the bake-sale and ask-your-family models of fundraising to establish their business) access to interest-free loans to acquire a new tool, more inventory, training, or certification so they can provide increased services to make more money, allowing them to repay the loan.

Kiva’s loan structure also gives our students the chance to learn about real-life ways to fund dreams, their own and others’. Like Jackson said in his speech, micro-lending means “recyclable money,” because once your original loan is repaid, that same money can be re-used to fund another dream. As part of the Kiva Student Lending Club, he recently learned for the first time about the difference between a grant and a loan. Joanna shared that her own dream is to one day found a theater company that does not discriminate based on gender or race. Following their speech, Kiva co-founder Premal Shah shared that his hope for a Kiva community is that the loan recipients of today earn enough money that they later fund others, like Joanna, magnifying the effect of each loan we make, while keeping the impact super-local.

In addition to the Student Lending Club being a great real-life learning opportunity for our students, Kiva and Hillbrook School share some deep philosophical connections. At Hillbrook, “We are an intentionally diverse community committed to a unified vision—to inspire students to achieve their dreams and reach beyond themselves to make a difference in the world.” Kiva is also committed to achieving dreams, to making a difference, and to the diversity of Silicon Valley. Of the $1 billion in Kiva loans (made to 2.6 million borrowers since 2005), 80% have been to women. And since their launch in San Jose and the peninsula October 1st, 75% of local Kiva loans have been to black or Latino borrowers. These statistics are not typical of funding opportunities in Silicon Valley, but they do reflect part of our Hillbrook Core belief that “in order to achieve our vision, our community needs to reflect the diversity of Silicon Valley.”

Back at school, our students buzz during a Buddies Day Kiva Lending Club meeting. In 7th and 3rd grade Buddy pairs, students who have opted into the club are debating which loans would make the most impact. They read through Kiva applicant profiles to find businesses that remind them of their own dreams and interests. They believe that lending to a third world country business owner would make a bigger impact than lending locally. Though their individual conversations take different angles, they all center around one belief: that the $25 loan they are about to make is a substantial one. The idea that “every dollar counts” is as much true for our students as it is for the Kiva entrepreneur who will receive their loan. And as the educators guiding them, we find ourselves pushed to address the real-life questions that loaning money raises. We see our own uses of money magnified by student inquiry, both at the personal and organizational level. We commit to reaching beyond our current teaching of financial literacy (if it occurs at all) not just as budgets or spreadsheets but as a way of saying to someone, “I believe in your dream and I want to support the difference you are trying to make.”

(This is part one in a series of posts about ways Hillbrook is investigating the teaching of finance as part of reaching beyond to make a difference in the world. Tune back in later this Spring to hear more…)