The motto of their online nonprofit philanthropy is simple: Give to learn, learn to give.

And that's what Joyce Meng, Xiang Li, and Jennifer Chen decided to do as seniors last year at the University of Pennsylvania.

In September, they launched the fruit of their labor - Givology, a microphilanthropic organization that raises money for scholarships and education projects for needy students in developing countries.

They've raised more than $5,000 and funneled it to 15 organizations in Uganda, China, Kenya, India, and Rwanda. That may not sound like a lot of money, but as little as a couple of hundred dollars can buy a semester of education for students in some places, the women noted.

"It just seems like it's the right thing to do," Meng, 22, said in a telephone interview from Oxford in England, where she is a Rhodes scholar. "There are so many underprivileged children who really do deserve a chance to go to school. Givology is a way for us to leverage the Internet and make a difference."

Some schools are far from students' homes, and money is needed for room and board or transportation, Li said. Textbooks and uniforms also add up. And when families have several children, needs mount, she said.

The group works only with nonprofit organizations in countries that have proven track records. The organizations find the beneficiaries and get the money to them. Givology is funding 35 students and 11 projects, the women said.

Donors, who can give as little as $5, view projects and students at www.givology.org and click on those they want to support.

Among those featured are:

Qinghai Ran, 17, of China, whose family has an annual income of $130. "Lately, we have lost much money in our crops, and my brother left the village to find a job. He wants to become a teacher."

Kwagala Sarah, 9, of Uganda, whose parents are dead. "I would like to finish my education and become a teacher."

Chao Xu, 16, of China, whose mother earns $214 a year as a laborer. "Six years ago, my father mysteriously disappeared, leaving my mother to raise my sister and me."

As Penn graduates, Li, Meng, and Chen all have benefited from the best that the American education system has to offer.

"Education is sort of the fundamental resource that every person needs to be able to self-advance," Li said. "It's the key to break the cycle of poverty."

Li, 22, vice president of Givology, sees to her duties from Seattle, where she works in marketing for Microsoft.

Meng serves as Givology's chief executive officer from Oxford, where she is studying economics for development.

And Chen, the president, who's from East Brunswick, N.J., oversees the operation from New York, where she works for a private-equity firm.

Their positions are voluntary, as are those of about 15 other Givology workers, including Penn students such as Carl Mackey, a doctoral candidate in computer science who built the philanthropy's Web infrastructure.

Chen, Li, and Meng spend about 10 hours a week on the enterprise and collaborate weekly by phone.

Their work has won praise from the New York Times' Nicholas D. Kristof, who wrote about it in his blog after speaking at Penn, and from Penn president Amy Gutmann, who noted the effort in highlighting Meng during a speech Jan. 5 at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China.

All three women were in the Huntsman program at Penn, earning dual degrees in international studies and business from the Wharton School. As part of Huntsman, each had to become fluent in a foreign language.

"You really do feel connected to the world," said Meng, of Vienna, Va., who studied in Madrid and became fluent in Spanish.

Li, who studied Chinese, was born in China and grew up in Alpharetta, Ga.

Inge Herman, executive director of the Huntsman program, described the women as high achievers destined to accomplish a lot. She said they had excelled at academics while being involved in high-level projects aimed at making the world a better place: "They're incredibly accomplished in so many ways."

To make sure the money is used as promised, Givology requires video footage, letters, attendance records, and progress reports.

"Donors even have the option to message the students they are supporting," Li said.

The monitoring efforts work, Meng said. The women recently discovered that a couple of the students they were supporting had dropped out of school; money was refunded to donors, she said.

Early on, the women said, they got questions about why they weren't helping students in Philadelphia.

Meng said small donations made a big difference in developing countries, but had little impact in the United States. And students here already have more social services and support.

Givology is gaining popularity on the Penn campus and plans a fund-raising dance marathon for the fall.

"We'd like to get to the point where every student on campus knows about us," said sophomore Danielle Matsumoto, 19, who is majoring in business and history and volunteering for Givology.

The group hopes to raise $20,000 by the end of the year and $45,000 by the end of 2010, Meng said. Her own career goal is to work for the International Finance Corp.

"But I always want to be involved," she said, "in social entrepreneurship."

Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com.