Vittana: No, it’s not a posture in yoga. Although, the social change it’s growing may surely prove something on which to meditate.
A Seed
Vittana is an Indian word for “seed.” It also happens to be the name of a Seattle-based nonprofit microfinance organization. Since it started in 2008, this little company made big news: It’s been featured in The New York TimesFast Company, and The Economist, just to name a few, when (similar to the like-minded Kiva) it succeded in joining social networking and philanthropy together in blissful harmony. The product of the union: Students in developing countries gain access to education.
You see, loans for higher education are nearly nonexistent in developing countries. Upon its initial launch by two ex-Amazon software engineers, Vittana had a site to facilitate online student profiles. With the added use of Skype, PBwiki, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, the company created a virtual community of borrowers and lenders. The model allows for anyone, from the American college student to the retired European business professional, to fund a loan for say, a student in Peru looking to get a certificate in engineering. Lenders are repaid by the student and the student gets a chance for a higher salary (often a 200-300% increase!), more opportunities, and most importantly, a sense of empowerment.
How It Works
Let’s go through one student’s story to show how it works:
  1. The Student: 22-year old Patricia Caceres Jara lived in Paraguay and wanted to pursue nursing at the Universidad Catolica. She needed funds for her education.
  2. The Microfinance Institution (MFI): Patricia applied for a loan with one of Vittana’s MFI partners, Fundacion Paraguaya. Once Fundacion Paraguaya evaluated Patricia’s academic standing, enrollment, and employment prospects, they disbursed a loan of $649.
  3. Vittana: Fundacion Paraguaya then uploaded information for Patricia’s Vittana profile. The profile displayed her school, MFI, educational program, location, age, photo, background, and loan details. Potential lenders could view Patricia’s profile on Vittana’s site and read her story.
  4. The Lender: On March 31, 2010, a total of 12 individual lenders fully funded Patricia’s loan and Vittana transferred the payment to the MFI. By January 2011, Patricia repaid all of her loan and Vittana distributed the payment to each of the 12 lenders.
At the end of this process, lenders have the choice of withdrawing their funds or reinvesting into other student loans. What is left standing is a sustainable philanthropic community. As of 2010, 708 students have been funded with a total of $500,000.
How to Get Involved
Vittana currently has active partnerships in Mongolia, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, and Vietnam. So what’s the next step?
Well, in 2011, they hope to make progress on an initiative in Africa, expand from 9 to 30 MFI partners worldwide, and serve up to 10,000 students.
“There are more than 600 million students worldwide who are graduating from high school, but who don’t have access to the funding needed to attend college or technical school,” reported Vittana Marketing Director Katie Gruver. “They’re stuck. Our job is to change that, as quickly and as smartly as possible. So in 2011, we’re working on bringing scale to our model and proving that student lending will work in many more corners of the globe.”
There’s a way for everyone to get involved. And of course, we can’t forget, you can follow Vittana on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube.

Tara Tran is a freelance writer and a guest blogger for My Dog Ate My Blog. She contributed this post in a new collaboration with TechChange. The content of this post solely reflects the views and opinions of the author.

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