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January 28, 2023

Jackley delivers final 2014 FAS talk

By ELLIE PENATI | April 17, 2014

Jessica Jackley, co-founder of KIVA.org, spoke to an audience in Mudd Hall on Wednesday as the final speaker of the Foreign Affair Symposium’s (FAS) 2014 speakers series.

KIVA.org, the world’s first peer-to-peer microlending website, allows users to lend as little as $25 to impoverished entrepreneurs around the world as a way of providing capital to their small yet growing businesses. After a period of time, these loans are paid back in full to the lender who can then proceed to donate to another entrepreneur. 

Jackley spoke about how her path to co-founding KIVA was unexpected. She was first introduced to the world of mircolending and low-income entrepreneurs while attending a talk at Stanford University by Mohammed Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the Grameen Bank.

“These entrepreneurs were the most self-sufficient, ‘go-conquer-the-world doers,’ and so you see the poorest entrepreneurs and hear stories not of sadness and suffering, desperation and hopelessness but hear stories of strength, dignity and hope, all of which was game-changing for me, flipped everything on its head for me,” Jackley said.

KIVA.org has become an international success and a form of modern community engagement and outreach. Since its inception, the organization has loaned over $500 million to borrowers in 206 countries.

From then on, Jackley found a concrete solution to her lifelong desire to help the global community in a proactive way.

“I had a nice long list of things that I did. I gave what I could, but emotionally I was tuning out, it wasn’t always visible but I was kind of rolling up the window. I wasn’t as open as I had been as a little kid to these stories of these people that I wanted to help and connect with,” she said. 

For Jackley, these insights about engaging with the community in a civic-minded yet proactive way led to the formation of KIVA.org.

In accordance with the FAS’s spring series theme of “Confronting Global Dissonance: The Balance Between Realism and Idealism,” Jackley suggested that the creation of KIVA.org allowed her to bring idealism and realism a bit closer to one another as her ideals about community outreach approached reality.

“I encountered somebody smiling, not frowning with flies on their eyes asking me for my money, someone who was really proud of their work and wanted to show me what they had done, their harvest coming up — when I encountered somebody like this, it changed how I felt. It was visceral,” Jackley said.

Jackley spoke of one of her first times lending to a woman in Uganda. She asked the woman what she first purchased with the loan. When the woman responded that she had bought sugar for her tea, Jackley’s initial reaction was one of shock and dismay.

“I thought ‘No, why would you do that first?!’ but then I asked her why and she basically explained to me how when she had sugar in her home, not just put in her tea but to offer to guests, she was more confident inviting people in,” Jackley said.

As a result of the small purchase that, according to Jackley, seemed at first unnecessary and unrelated to entrepreneurship, the woman was able to grow her business. 

“When she was inviting people in more, she had a different role in the community, she was more confident doing business and her business did well. She saw her self-esteem go up and believed in herself differently and it started with this — just sugar in her tea,” Jackley said.

After discussing the inspiration for co-founding KIVA.org and its multifaceted impacts on the global community, Jackley spoke about her concept of entrepreneurship and what it means to succeed in business.

“This changed what I believed about poverty, changed what I believed about entrepreneurship. It made me realize that entrepreneurship itself didn’t just have to be about the things I thought it had to be about, it wasn’t just about Wall Street or greed. It could be about survival like a woman working to feed her family and lift them out of poverty.” Jackley said.


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