Jane Wurwand at Dermalogica’s headquarters in Carson.

With a campuslike, 145,000-square-foot headquarters in Carson, a roster of 125 skincare products, and multimillion-dollar sales spanning more than 80 counties (the brand’s “Daily Microfoliant” exfoliator recently surpassed the eight million bottle mark), it’s safe to say that Brit-born beauty guru Jane Wurwand, founder of Dermalogica, knows firsthand the impact a little investment can make. Twenty-seven years ago, with an initial outlay of just $14,000, she opened The International Dermal Institute, a small education center, in Marina del Rey.

Now, with the help of the 25,000 salons worldwide that stock her brand, the millions of shoppers who adore it, and partners like actress Geena Davis, she’s helping thousands of women follow their own entrepreneurial dreams.

Wurwand’s vehicle for change is joinFITE (Financial Independence Through Entrepreneurship), which nearly two years ago teamed up with the world’s largest micro-loan site, kiva.org (sort of the Kickstarter of socially motivated lending), to help women in more than 60 countries connect with private lenders (including nonprofits, businesses, schools, and microfinance institutions), who disburse money (in increments of $25) through the website.

“It’s about giving women a hand up not a hand out,” clarifies Wurwand. “It’s about letting them fulfill their potential. And it’s not about charity; 98.97 percent of loans are actually paid back in full.”

From Gugu in South Africa, a single mother who sought $160 to buy chickens in order to start an egg business, to New Yorker Efia, who used joinFITE to help relaunch her e-commerce site, the stories are as varied as the women and the countries they come from.

A joinFITE promotional poster.

For 2013 the group aims to expand its vision to empower women to grow their businesses through skills, training, and education. “And that’s just the first step,” says Wurwand. “This time [when we make loans], we’ll be focusing on those looking to borrow funds to get training: nurses, teachers, and the like. I believe by the time I drop dead we’ll have [lent money to] a quarter of a million women—we’re just going to keep going!”

Wurwand, who was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, but raised in Bournemouth, England, credits her passion to help women to her difficult start in life. “My mum was widowed at 38, with four girls to raise. But, thank goodness, she had her training as a nurse to fall back on and was able to put food on the table. She drummed into us that it wasn’t just about a traditional education. You have to learn to ‘do’ something.”

And putting money into the hands of women makes economic sense, too. According to kiva.org, “Research has shown that women who are financially independent can be the greatest agents of change in their communities.” However, the site points out, “Only two percent of all international aid money goes to women.””

In an age where we can connect with the stories of individuals around the world at the click of the button (there are currently about 1,500 women on the website seeking help) and transfer a $25 loan with more ease than going to buy a cup of coffee, Wurwand believes joinFITE is a new model for helping others.

“We thought money just had to sit in the bank, but in fact you can allow it to be used and continue to be used,” she says. “There are two children in Australia who just announced on Twitter that they have funded more than 30 women. That’s shows the impact of just $25 being recycled again and again and touching so many lives.”

Wurwand has been galvanizing her LA connections to get involved, too. “One of my friends, Terry Ross, who is one of the city’s top attorneys, has already funded 27 women.” Her motivation, explains Wurwand, is that “her dream as a child was to become a fashion designer, so she seeks out women who are looking for funds to start their own fashion business. She follows their stories because she wants them to have the chance she didn’t,” Wurwand says.

“I say to my teenage girls, ‘You are able to write the script of your life, and the only danger is if you don’t write it big enough.’ Everyone should have the chance to write that script.”

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