• Meet

    Ying

    As a child, Ying worked as a migrant laborer on farms in Thailand for a dollar a day. A Zomia loan will help her reach her dream of becoming a community nurse in eastern Myanmar.

    Meet Ying View All Students
  • Lend $25 to

    Spring

    The daughter of Karen freedom fighters, Spring grew up with refugees and migrants along the Thai-Burma border. After graduation, she hopes to work with the Myanmar migrant community in Thailand as an education administrator or teacher.

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  • Lend $25 to

    Thazin

    At just 18, Thazin became one of Zomia's youngest students to enter college. She is active in issues related to social justice and is well on her way to an early university graduation.

    Lend to Thazin View All Students
  • Meet

    Jom

    Smart, charismatic, and a natural leader, Jom was Zomia's first loan recipient and first full team member. He is a relentless activist who dreams of leading Myanmar's Ministry of Health.

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  • Meet

    Leakhena

    Friendly and earnest, Leakhena took a loan from Zomia to help defray the costs of attending school for her family. She hopes someday to learn Japanese, work in Japan, and start businesses in Cambodia.

    Meet Leakhena View All Students
  • Lend $25 to

    Nanda

    Nanda is passionate about clean water. He hopes a degree in urban environmental management will prepare him to give competent advice to the Myanmar government on issues related to industrial zone planning and wastewater management.

    Lend to Nanda View All Students

Fund a Student Loan in Southeast Asia

How It Works

How Zomia Works: Fund a Student Loan

What is Zomia SPC?

Zomia SPC is a social purpose corporation launched in 2014 to increase access to higher education among students in marginalized communities. We do so principally by facilitating affordable student loans, engaging a community in a peer-to-peer lending process that connects students in need with individual lenders.

Registered in Washington State, Zomia SPC is a for-profit corporation with a social mission. In 2018, Zomia amended its bylaws to allow interest earned on student loans to be used in covering loan administration costs.

What is peer-to-peer lending?

Peer-to-peer lending (often abbreviated “P2P”) occurs when one or more individuals lend money to another without the involvement of a traditional financial institution such as a bank. Zomia employs a peer-to-peer lending model tailored for higher education, in which individuals can contribute a small loan towards financing a student’s education. Learn about P2P lending on Wikipedia.

Where does Zomia work?

Currently, Southeast Asia. Zomia was launched to address the unusual disparity of opportunity that exists in the region, particularly among the Myanmar immigrant population in Thailand. While high-quality universities exist in Southeast Asia, the lack of traditional financing available to students from marginalized communities makes them prohibitively expensive.

How does lending work on zomia.org?

Visitors to zomia.org register as lenders and fund student loans using a credit card or PayPal account. Over the course of a student’s education, lenders and borrowers can interact virtually through updates and messages to each other. After graduation, a borrower’s financial situation is assessed; if appropriate, Zomia begins collecting income-based repayments, which are then distributed to lenders proportionally via their lending accounts. Lenders can then withdraw their funds or re-use them to support other students.

Do my loans go directly to students?

It depends. If a loan is marked “pre-funded,” the student has already received funding from Zomia and lender funding is replacing Zomia funding. This allows Zomia to identify and support other students for future funding. Backfilling is critical to the Zomia model, giving students confidence they will be funded for a full term even before funding is secured on the website.

Loans marked “partially pre-funded” have not been pre-funded or disbursed in full. Zomia must secure additional lender contributions to meet the total funding need. In either case, loan funding provided by lenders can only be used to support student loans, and lenders are linked to the students they support for loan repayment. Lenders can search for pre-funded and partially pre-funded loans from Zomia’s student roster.

Do I receive interest on the loans I fund?

No. Although lenders receive repayment up to the amount they lend, without adjustment for inflation, the act of lending to a Zomia student is philanthropic in nature.

Forfeiting profit enables students to borrow with peace of mind at an affordable rate. Neither Zomia nor its lenders profit from a student’s financial need.

Are my loan contributions tax-deductible?

No. Although the act of funding a Zomia loan is philanthropic in nature, it is not tax-deductible because lenders receive repayments after a student finishes school. While full repayment is not guaranteed, Zomia employs a rigorous underwriting process and repayment pooling (among other mechanisms) to reduce the risk of loss to individual lenders.

Will I get repaid? If so, when?

Zomia strives to ensure that every lender is repaid in full, but full repayment is not guaranteed. Mechanisms such as repayment pooling and incentives during repayment are used to encourage repayment and reduce risk, but Zomia’s loans are unsecured. (No homes or land can be seized in the event of loan default.)

Repayment typically takes at least two years, with larger loans taking a decade or longer. Loans are listed with a target repayment start date and contract duration. Contracts range from ten to twenty years depending upon the amount borrowed and may be extended via deferments. If the contract period elapses before a loan is repaid and all contract requirements have been met, the remaining debt is forgiven.

Our History & Progress

Zomia Timeline

Photo of fog settling in the hills of Shan State

Inception

After years of interest and activity in Southeast Asia, we identify higher education among marginalized communities as a critical factor affecting the region's development. In the hills of Shan State, Myanmar, a pact is made to begin experimenting with ways to sustainably increase access to higher education in the region.
Logo of SPCs (Washington State)

SPCs are Born

Washington State (USA) establishes a legal framework allowing businesses to register as “social purpose corporations,” or SPCs. What is a social purpose corporation? You can think of it as the nexus where the for-profit and charity worlds meet. Learn about SPCs at spcwa.com or explore the broader benefit corporation movement at benefitcorp.net.
Portrait of Jom, Zomia's first student

Experimentation Begins

Jom, a Shan student from Myanmar, borrows $2,000 to pursue a public health degree in Chiang Rai, Thailand, becoming our first loan recipient. Although terms are rough, the agreement calls for income-based repayments to begin after he completes his program and is earning a reasonable salary.
Portrait of Sitha, Zomia's first student from Cambodia

Experimentation Expands

Sitha borrows $500 to study banking in Phnom Penh, becoming our first student in Cambodia and serving as the impetus to begin formalizing our loan model and lending process. Terms of her agreement allow for small, seasonably adjusted payments to be made by Sitha's family while she is still in school.
Photo of part of the Zomia Logo

A Name is Chosen

A decision is made to formalize our efforts and move forward with creation of a legitimate organization. After receiving feedback from 99 survey respondents, the name “Zomia” is selected from a pool of 10 potential names. On January 1, 2014, the first zomia.org email accounts are created and e-mail messages sent. “Hello, World!” What Does Zomia Mean?  |  Why Did We Choose the Name?
Screenshot of webpage: apply.zomia.org

Student Applications Begin

The first version of Zomia's online loan application is created and students begin applying online. In addition, a partnership is established with BEAM Education Foundation in Chiang Mai, Thailand, to assist migrant students from Burma.
Photo of the Washington State Seal

SPC Incorporation

Zomia SPC is officially incorporated, becoming one of the first 125 social purpose corporations registered in Washington State and among the very first with an international focus. Zomia's stated social purpose is to increase access to higher education and skills training among marginalized students worldwide.
Photo of Zomia's first class at BEAM's education center

Inaugural Class is Formed

After applications are submitted and reviewed over the summer, 30 students are offered loans from Zomia. Loan agreements are finalized, and student meetings are held in Cambodia and Thailand. Zomia's inaugural class is formed.
Zomia team member conducting a needs assessment

Student Services Expand

The Zomia team visits students in Southeast Asia and conducts needs assessment to identify additional student services to be provided beyond education loans. Development of the student community begins in earnest, and design of the online lending platform takes shape.
Zomia Platform code text

Lending Platform Development

Zomia builds the first version of its online lending platform, allowing external lenders (both individuals and organizations) to contribute directly to the financing of student loans. Relationships between students and lenders are fostered, fulfilling the first stage of Zomia's long-term vision to create a rich, dynamic community of students and supporters.
Zomia on the Moon

Zomia Platform Launch

Amidst much fanfare and excitement, Zomia's online lending platform is launched! The first random lender to support a student on the Zomia website is a doctor from Yangon.
Mokawn, Zomia's first student lender

Our First Student Lender

Having paid off her $1,600 loan within a year of graduation, Mokawn becomes the first Zomia student to fulfill her contract and become a lender. She is given 10% of the amount borrowed as an "earned deposit" and funds four Zomia loans. Once those loans are repaid, she can withdraw the funds or redistribute to other students.

Lending Snapshot

Statistics & Sample Student Profiles

128

Number of Students

64%

Female Students

$522,774

Funds Provided to Date

$4,084

Average Loan Amount

9

Number of Loans Repaid

25

Students in Repayment

$33,639

Student Repayments to Date

312

Consecutive On-Time Payments

Our Conviction

Talent and intelligence are universal—access to resources and opportunity is not.

Our Team

Members of the Zomia SPC Team

Poe Ei Phyu

Poe Ei Phyu, a Zomia alumna, serves as our Student Services Coordinator. Born in Myanmar, she has been living in Thailand for over 12 years, where she earned a BA in English Communications from Payap University and a M.Ed in Educational Administration from Assumption University. As the bridge between Zomia's students and our team, she plays a crucial role in ensuring student success and shaping the services we provide. She is excited about getting to know students old and new, as well as working with our partners and schools in the region.

Kirk Acevedo

Southeast Asia has captivated Kirk since he joined a college study trip to the Thai-Burma border. As an undergraduate, he led the American University Student Campaign for Burma, interned with the US Campaign for Burma, and launched Scholarships for Burma, a capital campaign of the Human Rights Action Center, to raise funds to send a Shan woman to college in Thailand. From 2012 to 2014, Kirk served as a volunteer with the Peace Corps in Cambodia. He holds a BA in International Relations from American University in Washington, DC.

Ryker Labbee

Before shifting to Zomia full-time in 2014, Ryker served as the Myanmar Country Director for Cascade Asia Advisors. He has volunteered in various capacities in Southeast Asia after first visiting the region more than a decade ago. Prior to catching the international affairs bug, he spent seven years as a consultant and technical architect with a systems integration firm then known as Equarius, Inc. Ryker holds an MA in International Affairs from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and a BA in Computer Science from Pacific Lutheran University.

Wouter Kneepkens

Following university, Wouter spent several years in finance as an investment banker, at a hedge fund, and in private equity. During his MBA, he moved into the tech startup space and tried his hand at various ventures. He later moved to Singapore with his wife, Mirte, to get involved in impact while continuing his work in financial markets. At Zomia, Wouter is able to combine impact, entrepreneurship, and finance. He holds an MBA from INSEAD, an LLM in Financial Law from Erasmus University Rotterdam, and both an MSc and BSc in Business Administration from RSM Erasmus University.

Be Kalyan

In addition to serving as Zomia's student representative in Cambodia, Be Kalyan works as a conservator for the National Museum of Cambodia and the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts. She earned a BA in Archaeology in 2004 from the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh and completed an MBA in 2012 at the National University of Management. Kalyan has also volunteered with Apsara Arts Association, a nongovernmental organization working to train Cambodian youth in classical Khmer music and dance.

Ken Prayogo

Born and raised in Indonesia, Ken continued his studies in the United States, where he earned a BA in Information Systems and Operations Management from the University of Washington Michael G. Foster School of Business. His experience ranges from serving as a UNICEF chapter co-president to teaching high school students. Leveraging his newfound passion for technology, Ken serves as a technologist for Zomia, where he enjoys using his skills to help others gain access to quality education.

Sai Hseing Pha

Sai Hseing Pha is a health professional who recently earned a master's degree in Biomedical and Health Informatics at Mahidol University in Bangkok, Thailand. He also works as a freelance mobile health trainer with Shan State Development Foundation along the Thai-Burma border. In addition to serving as a student representative for Zomia, he became the organization's first loan recipient while studying at Mae Fah Luang University, where he earned a Bachelor of Public Health degree in 2014.

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