Jessica Jackley has had her hands full since stepping away from Kiva, the peer-to-peer microlender she co-founded in 2005. Between investing in startups through the Collaborative Fund; launching ProFounder, a crowdfunding site for entrepreneurs and small businesses; and consulting with companies to improve their social impact, the popular TED talker has also managed to give birth to three children. And she has a new book, Clay Water Brick: Finding Inspiration From Entrepreneurs Who Do the Most with the Least.
I met with this very busy entrepreneur at this year’s Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network Summit in Berlin, where she gave a keynote. Our interview ranged from the future of microfinance to the one-for-one social enterprise business model popularized by Toms’ Blake Mycoskie. Here's an edited excerpt:
What’s new with Kiva?
I advise the company, but I'm not a board member or a staff member, so I'm not there day to day. But I can say that the organization has been experimenting. Old Kiva is: lender, Kiva, microfinance institution as the field partner, and then the borrower. The field partner would administer the loan, collect payments, et cetera. The new model--that is, Kiva Zip--is more lender, borrower.
Kiva is there as a trustee to kind of vouch for the individual. It will get more and more direct over time.
Kiva Labs is another really great initiative. It’s experimenting around loan terms, to figure out ways to make sure the loan is really causing the most positive impact possible in the lives of the poor. Traditional, more-strict loan terms have not always ended up with the greatest social impact. Kiva Labs is trying to figure that out.
Kiva Zip seems like a response to criticism in 2009 over Kiva not brokering direct loans to borrowers. Is it?
I wasn't there at the time, but Kiva has always offered direct funding transfers to other human beings, period. What happened was, over time, we transitioned away from real time. Instead of waiting for a person to send over the wired money, microlenders would just fund the loan quicker with their cash reserves. It was still connected to the borrower, but it would come from the microfinance institution. If the borrower didn't pay, the onus was on the microfinance institution.
People got really upset, because even though it was written on the site, it wasn't flashing in red letters like it is now.
Kiva Zip wasn't a response to that at all; it was actually about making the process lighter.
Around the same time, Kiva set up shop in the U.S. That, too, was controversial. Critics felt that the mission was to help entrepreneurs in the developing world, not the developed world. Was that a mistake?
When we started, that's what was inspiring to me personally, but I don't think growing and serving others living in poverty is a bad thing. Yes, there are entrepreneurs on the site who are not living in poverty. It's just about creating opportunities for them. That’s certainly not a bad thing for the world.
What is the future of microfinance?
As it is with many things these days, it will be more mobile and lighter weight. There will be different ways of categorizing and weighting reputation, not just in terms of credit scoring.
Can you offer an example of a microlender doing interesting stuff besides Kiva?
InVenture’s Shivani Siroya. The company has this really amazing mobile banking technology. In Kenya, for example, it works with folks who haven't been reached by banks. If the user gives InVenture access to her or his mobile phone, the company can gather something like 10,000 unique pieces of data on the potential customer. And then within a minute, it can offer a real time personalized loan offering.
InVenture goes beyond just purchasing history. It might look at whether a borrower’s phone contacts are filled in completely. So it doesn’t just say “Joe” and “Jeff;” it says first and last name. Things like that correlate with whether someone will be a great borrower.
Are we at a saturation point for the one-for-one model?
I think we're approaching a saturation point. It matters, because organizations are going to have to innovate to create new storytelling strategies and find new focal points to capture the attention of would-be contributors--donors, lenders, volunteers, and others.
Are there other emerging social venture models that look promising?
The promise of B Corporations is underappreciated. A company registering as a “benefit corporation” (B Corporation) can declare in its articles of incorporation that the fiduciary duty of its execs includes “consideration of the interests of workers, community, and the environment,” and not just a financial bottom line. This is huge.
What prompted you to write your new book?
I wanted to inspire others to work and live more entrepreneurially. This doesn't necessarily mean that everyone should go off and start a venture; it means being able to see and seize opportunities more easily, every day. I've been able to meet hundreds of entrepreneurs around the world who have inspired me to do this in my own life, and I wanted to share that.
What is your favorite anecdote from the book?
The book is named for an entrepreneur in Uganda--a brickmaker--who started his business by digging into the earth with his bare hands and making bricks. He took clay plus water, and he made bricks. He literally found opportunity in the ground beneath his feet. If that's not inspiring to people who feel stuck, or feel like they don't have what it takes to get started, I'm not sure what will be.
What is the biggest takeaway you hope people get from your book?
That potential exists everywhere--sometimes in very unexpected places--and most important, within ourselves.