This month marks the seventh anniversary of Kiva, a California-based nonprofit that allows ordinary citizens to make small loans to such unlikely entrepreneurs as sheep farmers, fruit vendors and shawl weavers across the globe.

In that time, 835,000 lenders from Minnesota, the United States and across the globe have funded nearly $360 million in loans to 880,000 people in more than 66 countries -- all with loans starting at $25.

Birthday parties are planned at Kiva chapters from Paris to Melbourne to Minneapolis.

Twin Cities Kiva supporters have something else to celebrate: the merger of two student chapters that have been lending money independently for the past few years.

Their Oct. 20 celebration at the Cedar Cultural Center is designed to introduce more young people to newly merged Minneapolis-St. Paul Kiva. It links a thriving Kiva group formed at Wayzata High School with a newer University of Minnesota chapter.

Both groups are committed to the notion that a small loan can make a big difference.

"It's different than just putting money down on a charity,'' said Kevin Hansen, a founder of the Wayzata group and current U of M student. "You help people lift themselves out of poverty.''

''I've studied a lot about social issues, and this is the most promising way to fight global poverty,'' added Jenny Weber, who started the U of M chapter last year. "Our main goal now is to get more people involved.''

A look at the group's website shows some of the 65 beneficiaries of Minnesota financing: A woman running a general store in the Philippines. A blacksmith in Ecuador. An auto repair man in Iraq. A woman poultry farmer in Cameroon.

About 130 young folks belong to the Twin Cities Kiva chapter, dispensing $17,000 so far. Weber said she's hoping that the "loan-a-thon'' launched at a birthday party Saturday night will boost that figure. Said Weber: "This is a way to build community between Minneapolis and St. Paul lenders --and to have fun.''

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511