Claire Golubski burst into tears while sitting at a bar in Austin, Texas, but not because she was happy or sad. The reason was because the beer she had ordered cost $7.
Golubski had just returned home after a month-long volunteer trip in a village east of Nairobi, Kenya, and her friends had thrown her a welcome back party. It reminded her of how much gets taken for granted in developed economies.
"You see the impact that a dime or a quarter would make on someone's life, so when you come back, you're so taken with what $7 could actually do with someone back in Kenya," Golubski said.
Claire was one of 15 employees in 2012 that Whole Foods supported to travel to Kenya, one of 61 countries where the Whole Planet Foundation, the company's nonprofit arm, partners with local nonprofits to provide small amounts of borrowed capital called microloans.
Borrowing rates vary, but are typically far higher than prevailing bank offered rates, according to data from CGAP. Depending on the location and the kind of project, microfinance amounts can range from a few hundred dollars to more than $10,000. Most borrowers pay back the mircoloans in their entirety, with default rates at about 3 percent.
So far, Whole Foods has sent more than 500 employees to help implement microloan programs around the world. Meanwhile, Whole Planet has raised more than $62.4 million since 2007—with all of it going to provide microcredit. The foundation also partnered with hundreds of microfinance institutions and so far supports 875,158 micro-entrepreneurs around the world.
"I've always wanted to be more involved but that trip was really the big jumping off point for me," said the 25-year-old Golubski. "Once you're exposed to the amount of impact you can make, you almost feel socially responsible to take up on yourself and create change."
Golubski is a specialty products manager for Whole Foods, and she credited the trip for having galvanized her to organize an art fair and outdoor concert with her co-workers at the Arbor Trails store in Austin. That event raised $2,000 for microloans, and this year's art fair raised another $3,426—enough to provide 17 loans.
"I channeled what Austin is already crazy about ... local art, crafts, beer and music," Golubski said, and turned that into fundraising fodder.