With what seems like the whole world gradually going broke, we – the ‘regular, little people,’ the vanishing middle class, the ‘commoners’ – have certainly seen our share of hardships.
BUT – we’ve also seen some great new glimpses into global innovations concerning commerce, nutrition, creative communities, international relationships, engineering, gardening, education…
This is, in large part, due to a portable computer’s ability to empower and transform one person’s creativity Â into clever, community-based movements. As such a surplus of information has become available to us so instantaneously, Â the 21st century has brought, despite its diverse crises and dire circumstances, some incredibly hand-crafted start ups capable of restructuring what’s been lost …quite possibly for the better.
I’m sure most of us often hear this comment amongst people of all ages:
“I mean, imagine if Facebook were really doing something GOOD… Like… actually, really using personal interconnectivity to make a difference… Â Â We could totally change the WORLD.”
A system which, in essence, allows absolute transparency in the act of making friends, giving back and contributing to the life of someone you may have never met… In a country you’ve always dreamed of visiting… Who’s starting a business strangely similar to yours… Half way around the world…
Moreover – there’s no hook. No catch. No clause. You don’t lose anything – not money, time, privacy.
It’s simple: Make new connections, that foster new communities, around the world.
Sounds a lot like Facebook, huh? …if it were ‘actually, really using personal interconnectivity to make a difference.’
And yes, for all of you who’ve said such things, about the powers of the internet, personal profiling, and Facebook in particular – you’re right.
You’re right when you say it could change the world.
….And that’s it.
You log on… Peruse incredible profiles of real people from all over the world starting businesses that benefit both their families and local communities… Provide a small loan to provide them preliminary entrepreneurial push off… And get repaid.
And, in the meantime, you meet a fisherman from Peru, a seamstress from East Africa, a carpenter from Columbia… all sorts of incredible people you may never have otherwise had the opportunity to know.
I was fortunate to have a few moments with Premal Shah,Â a core KIVA representative, who shared some invaluable isights about the world of giving and getting back.
Watch & read more below to learn more from Shah about the benefits of person-to-person & pocket-to-pocket microfinancing, social entrepreneurship and seizing the day!
How was KIVA created? Did it begin with an idea? An organization? A network?
Kiva was born of the idea that people, if given the opportunity, will work to create a better life for themselves and their families. Similarly, people are by nature generous and, as weâ€™ve seen through Kiva, will help others if given the opportunity to do so in a transparent, accountable way. Â By connecting people in this way we can create relationships beyond financial transactions, and build a global community expressing support and encouragement of one another.
Kiva was founded in 2005 by Matt Flannery and Jessica Jackley who, after visiting East Africa in 2004, witnessed the power of microfinance for the first time. After seeing and hearing how grants had been used to build small businesses which could then support a family, they were inspired to find a way to facilitate loans to small business owners in the developing world. Â Upon returning from that trip, they began developing the concept of an Internet-based fund where socially-minded individuals could loan directly to these deserving entrepreneurs. They spent the next year researching and creating a business plan to make Kiva a reality.
Why do you consider micro-loans as means for empowerment?
Microfinance is the idea that low-income individuals are capable of lifting themselves out of poverty if given access to financial services. We see that as economic empowerment in the truest sense. Helping someone with the funds they need to establish or expand a business that supports his or her family and puts food on the table is empowering.
Microfinance is also often seen as a way of empowering women. Many studies have documented how access to financial services has improved the status of women within the family and the community. Women have become more assertive and confident. In regions where women’s mobility is strictly regulated, women have become more visible and are better able to negotiate the public sphere. Women own assets, including land and housing, and play a stronger role in decision making.
Kiva also recently started offering student loans, which empowers people with education and the means to obtain good jobs and become successful.
If any, what were some early challenges KIVA encountered while creating a sustainable business model?
Awareness of microfinance globally has always been a challenge. This includes both the awareness of potential loan recipients that microfinance can be an option for them, and awareness among the potential lending community that microfinance is a way that they can make a big impact in the developing world. We are addressing this challenge through a number of ways including partnerships to help boost awareness among the entrepreneur community.
Does KIVA have a diverse audience/user range? Who is the typical KIVA user? Was KIVA initially intended to appeal to this demographic or has it shifted over time?
Kiva users vary significantly, from male to female, based in the US and abroad, young and old. Our goal has always been to connect people all over the globe, regardless of demographic. We think our current numbers demonstrate that diversity.
In a web-based survey we conducted late last year, we found the following age and gender breakdown:
Age break down:
Do you find that young adults are frequent visitors of the site? (Age 18-25) What about adolescents (age 13-18)?
In order to become a Kiva user, you must be at least 18 years old. (In the case of Kiva in the Classroom, teachers are using Kiva to educate younger people on microfinance.)
As noted above, the same web-based survey found that 4.7 percent of users were ages 18-24. It significantly jumps from ages 25-34, which accounts for 20.4 percent of users.
Do you feel that utilizing something like KIVA in schools or independent study programs – to expose young students to the importance of person-to-person empowerment and international job creation – is a plausible goal for the future?
We definitely see value in exposing students to Kiva in the classroom. In fact, Kiva already offers a program called â€œKiva in the Classroom,â€ to help schools do just that. Kiva offers a pre-developed curriculum guide for teachers of grades 9-12 along with presentation materials, videos, brochures, and information on setting up classroom lending teams. Using the Kiva website to connect with and lend to entrepreneurs around the globe:
Exposes students to the complex histories and cultures of countries often vastly different to their own
Provides practical use of computer skills, in both navigating the Kiva website and using the internet as a research tool
Teaches about basic business practices and economic principles
Engages students in the practice of microfinance as microlenders
Introduces students to the possibilities of social entrepreneurship
Empowers students to know they can make a difference in the wider world today
What about the KIVA experience do you consider different from other micro-loan/financing/credit programs?
Kiva is unique in the way it combines technology and microfinance expertise to help lenders make a personal difference. No other company has combined the internet and microfinance in such a personal and connected way.
What, if any, is the most notable success story between a borrow and lender? How deeply has a single KIVA loan impacted a life?
There are so many great stories of impact. One of my favorites is Ali Sesay in Sierra Leone, whoâ€™s a tailor. Alie runs a tailoring business, called â€œAlieâ€™s Tailoring Shop.â€ An important aspect of Alieâ€™s business is his Apprentice Program for disabled men and women. This program is associated with the Koinadugu Disabled Association. The apprentice program takes disabled beggars off the streets of Kabala. The apprentices suffer from a variety of disabilitiesâ€¦ war amputees, birth defects, crippled by disease, etc. The apprentices become part of Alieâ€™s tailor program for about 6 months. Once they graduate from the program they are prepared to start their own tailor businesses. The apprentice program is free.
Alie has taken out a series of six group loans, through Kiva, to expand his business and buy supplies. The loans have been critical for Alie setting up the apprentice program for disabled beggars. They allowed him to buy the machines and tools necessary to take on more apprentices.
Alie is an amputee. In 1994 during the Sierra Leone civil war, rebels amputated Alieâ€™s right foot. Following the amputation he was unable to work and had to rely completely on his family. Alie has turned his own personal tragedy into a motivating force to help others with disabilities. He is using his loans to help more than just his family; he is helping improve the community by allowing disabled beggars to become self-reliant tailors.
Have you found your website design and user functionality to play a key part in KIVA’s success?
Kiva’s mission is to connect people, through lending, to alleviate poverty. Â Our first website was incredibly simple, but it tapped a powerful force. Â The Kiva website created a personal connection between our borrowers and lenders, and unleashed the first of what is now over $231 million in loans from our community.
Since then, we’ve worked to build on that early work and strengthen that personal connection. Â As part of that effort, Kiva recently released its first significant website redesign since launching in 2005. Â Kiva’s redesign made the borrower front and center, and in doing so, demonstrated visually that the borrowerâ€™s personal story has always been at the center of Kiva.orgâ€™s mission.
How do you feel that technology has affected the nonprofit world, both for better or worse?
The internet makes it possible for Kiva to facilitate loans quickly, efficiently, and on a large scale. Itâ€™s changed microfinance by helping it grow and reach corners of the world that were previously untapped.
Additionally, the internet has brought microfinance into the mainstream. It has made it so that anyone can get involved â€“ all they need is an internet connection and $25. That incredibly low barrier to entry has helped raise awareness and get more people involved.
I think the internet will continue to change microfinance quite significantly as mobile payments become more sophisticated. Currently, Kiva works with local field partners to disperse loans to entrepreneurs on the ground. We hope to someday facilitate loans directly from entrepreneur to lender via mobile payments.
How would you define a global citizen?
I would define a global citizen as someone that is an active participant in his or her global community. A global citizen makes a moral and ethical decision to do their part in making a change in the world. That decision is motivated by a concern for equality and fair treatment of fellow human beings.
What would you tell an ambitious young person entering the world of nonprofit work with intentions of creating a network and/or structure similar to KIVA?
A lot of young entrepreneurs spend a lot of time researching and discussing their idea, but not enough time actually building the site or executing the vision. Â Entrepreneurship is a ‘learning by doing’ journey. Â It’s important to get started and test your ideas on the web quickly and adjust accordingly.
Do you feel there are ways in which more adults can help sooner educate emerging youth about global situations and opportunities to create change?
We’re seeing teachers reach out to their students through programs like Kiva High School and Campus Kiva, which has been amazing. Â We’ve even seen demand from elementary school teachers, so we’re creating a new program called “Kiva in the Classroom.”
Lastly, if you feel there are already such platforms/resources available to young people which would you cite and to what would you attribute their success?
One thing we’ve learned is that young people these days are not only looking for inspiration. Â They already are inspired to want to change the world. Â They just want to know how they can do it. Â If you can help show them how to change the world, they will unlock the power of a whole new generation of innovation.