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    Zinghang

    Inspired by her mom who raised her as a single parent in rural northern Myanmar, Zinghang is determined to become an entrepreneur who promotes a better working environment for women in her hometown.

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    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.

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    Shwe Sin

    Working as a midwife in Umpiem Refugee Camp inspired Shwe Sin to pursue a degree in nursing. She hopes to become a registered nurse and eventually a health resource and authority for her community.

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    Pan

    Pan is the first high school graduate from her hometown in northern Myanmar, and the first to study abroad. She dreams of someday going back to build a school for students there.

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    Pwint

    A budding teacher studying education and psychology, Pwint looks forward to returning to her hometown to teach students who have either dropped out of school or never had the opportunity to attend.

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    Jasmine

    Arriving in Thailand opened Jasmine's eyes to the possibilities education provided. A bent for nursing, she hopes to become a nurse and nurse administrator after graduation.

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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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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

77

Number of Students

66%

Female Students

$321,915

Funds Provided to Date

$4,181

Average Loan Amount

6

Number of Loans Repaid

20

Students in Repayment

$23,377

Student Repayments to Date

219

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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