On Tuesday morning, we attended an incredible presentation by Jessica Jackley, the founder of kiva.org. I don’t want this blog to get too long, so I will simplify the story a little bit, but hopefully I can convey her moral. As a child, Jessica struggled with the idea of charity and could not strike a healthy balance between enjoying her own life and helping others. Ads showing starving children and suffering villages depressed her and coerced her into donating. As time progressed, however, she began feeling guilty to spend anything on herself. On top of that, donating slowly lost meaning. Just writing checks did not provide the fulfillment she craved.
One afternoon, Jessica attended a seminar about micro loans at her University. She left the talk believing that she had just wasted an hour of her time. But, slowly she came to realize the significance of what she had just learned about. Soon after, Jessica’s travels took her to Africa. Many of the locals she was meeting were determined entrepreneurs. In most cases, all they needed were small loans for $50-$100. But, local banks took advantage of their desperation and charged interest rates, which at times could top 300%.
She saw an opportunity to help and started kiva.org. Essentially kiva posts online profiles of small business owners overseas that are seeking loans. Charitable friends in the States go online and lend their money to the entrepreneurs. Over time, the loans are paid back with a negligible interest rate. However, none of the interest goes to Kiva or the lenders, but rather to local banks in the countries of the borrowers. To this day, Kiva has loaned just under half a billion dollars.
Although Jessica still struggles with striking the perfect balance, her outlook on charity is now entirely different. Helping others doesn’t mean you merely have to write checks to people you’ve never met. Charity doesn’t have to be defined stories of tragedy or desperation. She helps thousands of deserving, hardworking, and resourceful people all over the world every single day. Kiva doesn’t guilt donors with horrific images of human suffering, but rather attracts its users with uplifting stories of hope and perseverance.