As Kiva approaches its fourth birthday (coming up on October 12!), Matt Flannery, CEO and Co-Founder, shares his thoughts on where we've come from, where we are today, and what we're looking for in Kiva's future:
What's In A Number?
As I write this, Kiva is on the verge of surpassing the $100M mark in terms of total loans sent to entrepreneurs through our website. $100 million is an impressive number by anyone's standards, but Kiva has never been about the numbers. Ultimately Kiva is about stories and the connections between people that are forged when those stories are shared.
Kiva started out as an experiment in an Eastern Ugandan village five years ago. It was a quite personal attempt to convey the hope that we witnessed during a trip to Africa. That trip changed our view of poverty and how we can relate to it. We felt that, surely, if everyone could have experienced what we experienced, they would want to get involved too. With the spread of technology, why couldn't everyone get involved?
Since that time, we've been working tirelessly to make that dream a reality. We’ve traveled all over the world and made friends most everywhere. We’ve witnessed an alarming amount of poverty. We’ve also seen a universal work ethic, creativity and entrepreneurialism that reside in the world’s working poor. It is that spirit that has made Kiva possible.
Along the way, we've received nothing less than complete outpouring of support from around the world. We have over a half a million lenders who lend at zero percent interest, sacrificing profit, to partner with low income entrepreneurs they have never met. We have hundreds of translators volunteering every day to bring you the site in English. We have Kiva Fellows traveling around the world in growing numbers to provide journals and serve as our eyes and ears on the ground where our Field Partners Work. We have dozens of foundations who pledge their support for this cause and help us create the technology that makes Kiva possible. Lastly, we now have a team of over 40 staff members in San Francisco and abroad who often forego lucrative careers to dedicate themselves to alleviating poverty around the globe. To
all these people and more, we say thank you. Because of your efforts, we’ve managed to stay financially healthy and to make quite an impact. We’ve grown a service that serves people in over 50 countries like Mongolia, Togo, Paraguay and even the United States. It still feels
like a dream.
Certainly, all these efforts were not simply in service of just raising money. Uploading photographs one at at time and writing thousands of journal entries may not be the most efficient process imaginable. When we were starting Kiva, people asked us, "why go through all this work? Why don't you just raise a lot of money from a wealthy person or a big bank? Why involve so many people at such small amounts? That sounds tiring!" I have to admit, they had a
point, it has been tiring.
But, Kiva has never been about just raising money. More importantly, Kiva is about raising awareness. Before Kiva, the majority of our users had never heard of microfinance or participated in International development. What we are finding is that we can have a large role to play in educating the public and creating a consciousness around the plight of the poor around the world. The dollars that are flowing at a lightning-fast pace through the website every day now are representative of the awareness being formed. The money tells a larger story of attitudes being changed.
What we will see, in the years to come, is that we are just at a beginning of a larger trend towards more connected experiences. Kiva is just one organization that will be part of a much larger shift. It is a shift towards personalization and partnership relationships of mutual dignity. Looking back, the $100M will seem like a small drop. The potential for big change from the aggregate tiny actions of many is now more enormous than ever.
So, we at Kiva wanted to thank our users for being involved through this early stage. In the past four years, we've done many things right, but we've also made a number of mistakes. Our active users have stuck with us the whole way. Now, as we start our fifth year, we are just coming out of childhood and are excited to pass into adolescence. As we grow up together, we ask that you continue to be engaged, and to provide us with feedback. In the end, your feedback is what makes us stronger and increases our chance of making a huge difference in this world.
CEO and Co-Founder