When he was in sixth grade, Aiden Johnson heard a radio story about ordinary people helping entrepreneurs in Bangladesh by giving them small loans.
About this time last year, the Elmhurst resident was talking to his classmate Peter Salvino at Oak Park’s Fenwick High School.
“And we said, ‘Why aren’t we doing this on kind of a bigger scale?’” said Johnson, now 17.
Johnson, Salvino and their friend Johnny Mullin were able to persuade about 35 additional students to join them in their independent organization, Global Microfinance Foundation, setting a goal of helping 10 people in 10 nations in 10 months. That goal was reached in July.
“We’re all about getting the people in our group to spread awareness and find people who want to help support people in third-world and developing nations,” Johnson said.
The group set up a website and raised $2,000 to provide interest-free loans to entrepreneurs and small business owners worldwide. Members collected funds from their classmates at lunchtime and continue to seek new streams for funding.
Global Microfinance Foundation members collectively identify the individuals and projects they wanted to fund through another nonprofit organization called Kiva, a website that connects lenders and people in developing nations who need financing. All transactions also are made and regulated through Kiva.
“We strive to make loans that will lead to long-term economic stability for our clientele and also provide opportunities to oppressed or undervalued social groups,” the Global Microfinance Foundation’s website says. On average, borrowers take nine to 13 months to repay the loans.
“We can continue to help people off of the money we’ve raised,” Johnson said.
To date, the Global Microfinance Foundation has helped a farmer from El Salvador with an irrigation project, contributed to the purchase of a computer for a student in Bolivia, and paid for shop owners in Pakistan, Ukraine and Uganda stock their stores.
“It just felt very fulfilling,” Johnson said.
As Johnson enters his senior year, the group has a new goal: Continuing to raise money and funding programs that revolve around the them, “A Day in the Life.” This amounts to considering the activities people in the United States engage in through the course of a day, such as making a bed, brushing their teeth and eating breakfast, and making those same activities possible for people in developing countries by paying for clean water or chickens.
“We want to fund loans that can put into perspective things that people do in an average day,” Johnson said.
Though he graduates at the end of the school year, Johnson anticipates his association with GMF will continue.
Meredith Kisla, who also will be a senior, is one of the students Johnson recruited to join GMF. She designed the foundation’s logo: A globe representing the world the Global Microfinance Foundation wants to help, perched on the Dominican shield representing the organization’s roots at Fenwick, supported by a helping hand.
“Personally, I really enjoy being part of this,” the Western Springs resident said. “Just being able to see the effects of how this helps people is great.”
Like Johnson, Kisla, who recently went on a medical mission to Costa Rica, was inspired to join the group because of an experience when she was in sixth grade. Her class engaged in a similar project on a smaller scale.
“I just thought how a little project we did in grade school we could do in high school with more people,” she said.
As she prepares to apply to Boston University and University of Illinois to prepare for a career either in foreign service or as a physical therapist, Kisla hopes to study abroad.
“I definitely want to return on that medical mission trip and become a part of that, and I definitely want to make service a part of my life,” she said.
For more information, or to donate, visit globalmicrofinance.squarespace.com.