Last night I went to the Global Education Center for a banquet hosted by Nourish International, which featured Kiva‘s co-founder Jessica Jackley. This event was the culmination of Nourish’s “Summer Institute,” a 5 day training program for student leaders in colleges all over the United States.
After watching an exciting final for the U.S. Open, I was dressed in shorts, a shirt, and sandles and walked towards the Global Education Center for the banquet. The Global Ed. Center is only a minute away from my house. As I came closer to the building I saw that everyone was wearing some very fancy suits and dresses, so I thought I should probably wear something more formal than my sandles, shorts and shirt. After re-evaluating my attire, I was back at the Global Ed. Center eating some tasty hors d’oeuvres (there were even strawberries and pineapples from Edible Arrangements!) The crowd was older, but I saw several students in there as well. In total, I would guess we were about 100 people. We were ushered in to the Nelson Mandela auditorium where, after a brief introduction by James Dillard (Executive Director of Nourish), Jessica Jackley spoke about her life and Kiva — the organization she co-founded.
What struck me about Jessica was her modesty and humility when she spoke. She was not in any way pretentious, or talked as if she knew everything there was to know in the microfinancing world, even though she helped launch one of the most successful microfinance organizations to date. She grew up in a middle-class environment in Pittsburgh, where she first heard of the “poor” and “poverty” during the Sunday sermon at her local church. This was her first realization that she had to do something about this huge and seemingly unsolvable issue. Fast forward to college where she double-majored in Philosophy and Political Science from Bucknell University. She studied what interested her, but she was still not any closer to tackling that enormous problem of poverty in our world. For some reason, she really didn’t delve much about, Jessica got on a plane and flied to Stanford. She arrived without a job, a house, a car or bike.
She gave her resumé to whoever would take it, and soon enough found a job as a temporary assistant to someone who was in maternity leave (or something along those lines) at the Stanford Center for Social Innovation. Now, don’t think that this was a lucky coincidence, she had already heard about the Center for Social Innovation at Stanford, and I believe that’s what attracted her to Stanford in the first place. She was indeed very lucky to get this position (which was only supposed to be temporary, but ended up staying for about 3 years) where she was able to talk to people and get herself involved with projects that were changing lives. After 3 years of working she decided that she wanted to actually go out and experience these issues herself. She applied to several non-profits in Africa and was able to land a volunteer position with the Village Enterprise Fund, where she had to interview entrepreneurs in East Africa and handle the funds that went to their projects. According to her, this was the best job she has had. She met a ton of inspirational people in East Africa, each one who had their own story to tell. She was fascinated with these stories and began to write about them in her journal. When she was able to get an internet connection she sent them out to family and friends. One can start to see where the first stages of Kiva originated. She came back to the US and wondered what would happen if she just sent some loans to her friends in East Africa. Would you need a license? A business?
She started to ask lawyers and almost everyone she talked to did not want to get involved. After a year of frustrating talks she decided she was going to launch Kiva with her partner Matt. She said that the first two weeks of starting Kiva taught them more than the previous year had. I wanted to ask Jessica more about the start of Kiva, since she didn’t really elaborate much on the topic. However, she went back to Stanford, this time to get an MBA, and learn about running a business, since she had never taken a business class before starting Kiva. These stories always encourage me since you don’t always have to do what you studied during your college career. If you studied environmental studies (like I have) but are interested in developing a business on some environmental technology (like I am) I believe I could simply start one (like Jessica did). Of course this is over-simplifying the matter, but I believe it is true. She said that the first year of Kiva, they were able to raise $500,000 (this is the loans for entrepreneurs in the Kiva website), second year somewhere around $10 million, third year about $45 million, now in their fourth year they have raised $85,808,135 (this is a cumulative total). This is an exponential increase in loans. What is even more amazing than this staggering number is that all the loans are made with amounts of$25.
The big take-away that I got from her talk was about believing in yourself. She spoke about something that I often think about. If you have an idea that you want to create, or see in the world. Then you look it up in Google and see that there are about 15 different forms of that idea, you should not be discouraged. The “entrepreneur” will find a way to get that idea out in the world. There might be 1000 people that have the same idea as you, but maybe you are the only one who has the determination to actually see it happen.