Community Building, One Loan at a Time

7 Mar

This is a story of an amazing woman, Jessica Jackley, philospher, humanist, and cofounder of Kiva. I listened to her TED Talk a while ago and have wanted to share this with you for some time. Please take a few minutes (about 12) and watch her give her speech. (see link below.)

She begins her talk with a very important statement about her life view- the stories we tell about ourselves and others matter. Seems simple enough. She says this as a simple introduction to her understanding of poverty and poor people. She guides us through her exposure and gives a wonderfully provoking insight into what she feels in reaction to these stories. Hopeful participation– I can help, I can be a part of the solution and I can feel good about my contribution. Helplessness– the problem will never go away, there will always be poor people and they will always need more than I can give. Shame– I can’t do enough, I feel guilt and pain, so I run from the pain and refuse to listen to the stories, refuse to watch the commercials begging for help, refuse to acknowledge because it’s just too painful to feel the shame.

But this is not a true story; this is not the only story. This is, in fact, the wrong story.  She explains that this story actually disconnects the individuals from the story, turns them into a commodity that is then sold to the viewers for the cost of a cup of coffee a day. Sound familiar? I never thought of it this way- selling poverty. Selling my guilt, which I turn around and buy for a few cents. I’m buying my guilt, and I’m not even satiating the central need inside of me- to help in a meaningful way that connects with individuals. in short, to love.

To see the poor as active, inspired, hard working people who want the same things you and I want- to provide for ourselves and have a sense of contribution to the community, is a paradigm shift. Artists and mothers and entrepreneurs, teachers and lovers and managers. Surrounded by abundance they create.

No longer just the images of children and elders sitting on floors covered in dirt with blank looks of hopelessness, but excited children raising their hands to answer questions in a schoolroom, dressed in impeccably clean clothes that their mothers and grandmothers sacrificed energy to make sure their children can look good and be proud. Streets of vendors selling handmade product, listening to and watching their patrons to predict the market demands and conditions. Thoughtful people trying to make their world better, safer, cleaner, healthier and happier; a reflection of all of us.

So what do they need to be successful? What do you need to be successful? Education, infrastructure and banks. Yes- banks. You need a loan to buy that taxi, or those dry goods to sell in your store. Your school needs a loan to construct that classroom since more children are able to attend classes instead of working to put food in their bellies. And your community needs a loan to build the enclosed sewer system so that fewer people get disease and need hospital care.

So Jessica Jackley, a philosophy major, cofounded one of the most successful microloan organizations in the world, Kiva. With no experience in finance or even math, just a desire to truly help people improve their lives, she created Kiva so that today, over 100 million dollars has been loaned out in small increments to vastly improve the lives of entrepreneurs across the world. I have donated just $35 dollars over time. But with a 100% repayment history, this small amount had helped a woman in Guatemala increase her sales of clay cooking pots, a woman in Mexico grow her dry goods store, a family in Afghanistan start a tailor shop, a woman in the Philippines expand her farm, a group of women in Uganda start a weaving factory, and a group of women in the Dominican Republic start a clothing store. All with just $35. How is this possible?

Kiva does this by facilitating these small loans from me and distributing it to lending partners in developing communities as per my request. Their mission is to connect people, to blur the lines between rich and poor and to help dispel the false dichotomy of haves and have-nots. They do this wonderfully by telling their stories; I search through a catalogue of stories and decide to whom I will donate. This helps me know exactly who I’m helping, and they learn about who is helping them. It becomes a partnership between us; they can see that I count on them to repay the loan so I can continue helping others like them.

As you can see from the list of people I’ve loaned to, I personally choose to loan to women. Statistically, women invest more of their earnings back into their families and their communities. They feed and clothe their children, purchase medicine and grow their businesses with their profits. They are less likely to purchase alcohol or gamble away their earnings, as more men are statistically shown to do. I feel better about my loan because not only is the money doing more work, but also it’s helping a category of people who are disenfranchised world-wide. Win-win!

Kiva is an amazing organization, started by an amazing woman. Her passion and honesty, insight into the human condition, and raw speaking style are all incredibly inspiring to me. I hope you will listen to her story, and then maybe choose to visit Kiva to start a partnership with a business entrepreneur working somewhere on this small blue planet.

There’s something much more important I want you to hear, though. It’s the last part of her talk. She says that she thinks we all already know that giving is an expression of love, and love is resilient. But the important message she wants to share is this:

“Forget the tools, forget the moving around of resources; that’s the easy part. Believing in each other, really being sure that when push comes to shove that each one of us can do amazing things in the world, that is what can make our stories into love stories, and our collective story into one that continually perpetuates hope and good things for all of us. So that, this belief in each other …, that’s what I believe will change the world and make tomorrow better than today.”

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