Jessica Jackley is an American businesswoman and entrepreneur. Best known for founding kiva and later ProFounder both organization that promotes development through microcredit.
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Hi all! I'm the author of #claywaterbrick (
I have also worked in a developing country when I was a fresh grad, as a very young, and physically small woman. Unfortunately that experience left me a bit scarred and afraid to work in developing country again.
Have you encountered safety issues or a sense of being less empowered from being in an environment that might not have the same degree of safety or respect of boundaries as in developed/ western world? If so, were you able to overcome these threats or anxieties?
I'm so sorry to hear that you had a bad experience. While I don't know the specifics of your experience, I have had some scary ones too. They were difficult at the time, but so far the positive has surpassed the negative and (thankfully) I haven't been too traumatized to keep going back. But I hear you and believe this is an important thing to talk about.
I think the best advice I have is to always have at least 1-2 people around you in the local environment who you can trust and who you can call upon - not just to help you out in emergencies (God forbid) but to give you advice in day-to-day scenarios. They can help you just simply avoid trouble, be aware of local customs/norms/expectations, and that sort of thing. And if you can have them by your side as you go about your work, all the better.
Strangely, my worst experience happened outside of Nairobi with a fellow traveler- an older man, a board member of the org I was working with, who lived in the same city as me back in the US. He just wasn't a safe (or healthy) person. This may seem like a weird anecdote but I say it to remind us that there are safe as well as unsafe environments (and people) everywhere you go in the world.
Last but not least, I consider myself pretty adventurous up to a point but then, past this point, I do not mess around. My boundaries are super strict and I've said "no" to great potential adventures that just didn't feel right to me. I don't feel bad about this, or ever wonder "what could have been" if I'd have made different decisions in the moment. There are myriad places to go, adventures to have, and wonderful people to meet all over the planet. You don't have to dive into the harshest environments to make a big difference. Be gentle on yourself. And find - and focus on - the positive people and experiences as much as you can.
What's the first step I should take to change the world?
Listen carefully - to the people you want to serve, and to yourself.
You need to have a deep understanding of the problems facing anyone you have a desire to help. This can be especially difficult if you haven't experienced those problems directly yourself, so it might mean spending significant time with them before you can really feel confident that you know what to do to be of assistance to them.
On top of this, know yourself. Know what you're good at, know what you enjoy doing, and try not to fight your natural gifts/tendencies too much - otherwise you'll be unhappy and probably not that effective! There's a LOT to get done in the world. There are countless ways to create value. Pick one that you're passionate about!
do you get any discounts from payment processors as a non-profit -- do you think there would be a viable market for a lower-cost payment processor geared towards philanthropic payment processing?
YES - Kiva was the first nonprofit to get free payment processing from PayPal, way back when we started 10 years ago, and it made a huge difference. I would love to see more innovation in this space, and would be especially excited to see something like what you're describing!
What are the biggest obstacles people face today in starting their own business, and what were the biggest ones you personally had to face?
I think most people assume the biggest obstacles in their paths are resource-centric - like not having enough money, or the right network, or education/pedigree, etc. But I truly believe that there's usually a way over/around/through these sorts of challenges. The greater obstacles are internal, invisible ones, much more about what people believe is really possible for themselves. Howard Stevenson (HBS prof) defines entrepreneurship as "the pursuit of opportunities without regard to resources currently controlled" and I really love this definition bc it focuses on the pursuit - the actions we can take - not the resources/advantages we might have at any given moment. This makes entrepreneurship possible and accessible for anyone. This is one of the main things I hope to share and convince people of in my book CLAY WATER BRICK.
How can a $25 loan through Kiva make a significant difference in someone's life?
$25 can go a very long way in the hands of someone who is motivated to change their lives for the better. Realistically, it's a bit more than $25 though - usually the $25 is part of a larger loan (ave loan size right now on Kiva is $416 - all stats here http://www.kiva.org/about/stats). But even that is still a relatively small amount. Yet, it can go far when that funding is received at the right time, and focused on a specific improvement/set of improvements in a microenterprise or small business.
I'm a in my senior year at the Free University of Brussels and I'm currently doing my graduate thesis about peer-to-peer micro-lending so you're really a big inspiration for me! I've got a lot a lot of questions but my 2 biggest questions are: How do you rapidly scale innovation and/ or risk management in this global economy while staying true to your mission? And have you ever had a sort of life changing lesson/ advice from a simple farmer or fisherman from a developing country?
Thanks for the kind note and these great questions. I'm going to answer your 2nd one first - you couldn't have timed it better, because my book CLAY WATER BRICK is out today and shares stories of exactly that: the life-changing lessons that so many entrepreneurs, like the farmers and fishermen you mention, have taught me along the way. In fact, the title of the book comes from the opening story, about a young man I met who changed his entire life by literally digging into the earth with his bare hands, and making bricks one at a time. He taught me about seeing opportunity where others see none (for him, this was literally in the ground beneath his feet!), and simply deciding to start, even when you may not have what you think you need. He was young, orphaned, uneducated, virtually homeless, and had every excuse in the world NOT to start, but he did it anyway. And by the time I met him he had a thriving business with several employees - and he'd built himself his own house out of the bricks he'd made himself.
To your first question, I think the most important thing you can do to stay grounded while you scale up is to revisit your mission, your theory of change, and your values very frequently and continuously ask yourself, "What do we know now that we didn't know then?" In other words, "What's changed?" .. As you take in new information, you can of course make adjustments to mission/values/etc. but more often than not, you won't need to, and in fact those things will anchor you as your venture grows. They can help put the things you're learning along the way into context.
On a very practical level, one of the most powerful things you can do to make sure the entire org stays focused on these things (again, mission/values) is to tell stories that continue to build and perpetuate your culture. This is the glue that will hold your team together and that will allow you - as a large group - to make decisions again and again based on what's important and that are aligned with who you (as an org) want to be.
Love the quote!
Me too - I'm a little obsessed with it. It's so empowering!
I was really inspired when I met you at Rice University 7 years ago, and now work on social enterprise!
What's your advice for those in social enterprise who are reaching out to investors, but aren't part of traditional networks (Stanford, UC, Harvard, etc) and come from underrepresented communities, but have ideas for investment that can change the world?
Well hi again! Thanks for the question - and wow, Rice was 7 years ago..! Time flies.
Really interesting question. I have a few thoughts here. First, remember that certain communities may be underrepresented in some places but thriving in others. Go to where they are. Listen to them, rally them, and in general just do all you can to hear the voices of people who aren't given the kind of platform they deserve. Second - and I'm clearly preaching to the choir on this one - remember that there is often great power to be found in a new perspective, like the ones that those in underrepresented communities necessarily have. They'll be more likely to have fresh, different ideas that might spur innovation in a completely unique way from mainstream investors. They are more likely to "be contrarian, and right" - in other words, to have an opinion or an insight on something that hasn't been considered much before, but that is resonant and timely and could be the foundation for great innovation.
Let me know if this makes sense or if you need more..... and thanks again for the question!
What has been your most rewarding experience with someone who has benefitted from Kiva?
Oh, this is a tough one.. Difficult to choose the "most rewarding" experience bc there have been so many wonderful ones!.... I'll name two kinds.
There's nothing quite like meeting a borrower who has received funding, repaid, and is thriving - and who has been so inspired by her experience that she's actually become a lender herself. I'm so inspired when I get to see that happen and generosity comes full circle.
On the other side of things, I feel deeply moved when I hear anecdotes from lenders whose experience with Kiva has changed the way they think about poverty and potential. If being a lender on Kiva can make them more confident that there is opportunity for everyone in the world to thrive, and more confident that great things are possible for every individual if they are just given the chance to reach their potential....that's a huge step forward too.
How do you balance being a mom with all the amazing work you do?
I am at my best when I prioritize like crazy - then I can have complete clarity and zero guilt when I say "no" to anything that doesn't help me 1) invest in and nurture my family or 2) help me get the most mission-critical stuff done every day re: my work.
I also plan a lot; I once made a spreadsheet of when my twins (who are now 3 but were around 6 months at the time - the age of my youngest now!) napped, and I planned weeks of meetings only around their nap schedule so I could be present as much as possible during their waking hours.
But I haven't mentioned the most important thing: I have an amazing husband and support team (my mom, and our nanny) who share the love and the load of raising our amazing boys. Reza (husband) also works from home most of the time, and when either of travels, we travel together as a family. All five of us (or more, w my mom or nanny!). So we're ALL around a lot, and together a lot. I'm very blessed!
What was the biggest challenge in writing the book?
Thanks for the question! The toughest thing about the process for me was figuring out which stories to include and which to let go (or save for use elsewhere) - every entrepreneur I've met has had something interesting to share, and it was a challenge to pick the stories that weren't just special to me but that would be meaningful to a wide audience. (I also had three kids from the start of the writing process to the end of it. That was a lot to balance too!)
What inspired Kira?
I first learned about microfinance in 2003, at a lecture that Dr. Muhammed Yunus gave at Stanford Business School. He spoke about microfinance, which was an amazing thing to learn about, but he also talked about "the poor" in a way I'd never heard before. He didn't just tell stories of sadness and suffering, but instead, of potential and empowerment. My cofounder Matt and I wanted to share those stories and provide a new way for people to connect - through a small loan, online. That was the beginning of Kiva.
What tool(s) did you use to write Clay Water Brick? Do you have an "Author Platform" and if so, what do you consider it to be? A set of tools, one tool in particular?
I used Scrivener for some of it, which really helped when I felt I needed to move parts around or re-organize sections. Hugely recommend it.
Interesting. How long does it take someone on average to pay back their loan?
In the early days of Kiva loan terms were 6-12 months(ish). Now, there are much longer loan terms and a variety of loan types. While we originally focused strictly on microenterprise, anyone can help a borrower do a variety of things - yes, start or grow a business, but also go to school, access clean energy, afford a home, or other endeavors that will help them realize their potential.
How profitable is writing a book like yours? It seems like everyone wants to write a book and give speeches so it appears to be very lucrative. I feel like a lot of people see writing a book and appearances as a way out of the rat race whether they are as successful in business as the image/story they tell or not. It feels like the modern day version of someone pushing snake oil.
I hear you. Look, for me, speaking and writing happened organically as people learned about Kiva's work years back, and started to invite me to be a part of panels at conferences, then keynote, then do my own events. It was much more a matter of being invited and saying "yes" then trying to manufacture a message and push it out into the world. It was more of a pull, and I responded. I'm incredibly grateful for this piece of my work now, not only because it does help provide an income for me so I can help support my family, but also because I just enjoy it so much and feel that, if done right, it can make a big positive impact. As far as writing goes, yes, I also agree with you that there are some books out there that seem mostly like commercials for the organizations/companies their authors represent. I don't think these are necessarily bad; they just are what they are. For what it's worth, that wasn't my intention with this book. It was a very personal endeavor, because quite frankly I feel really lucky to have had the experiences I've had - they've taught me so much, and changed my life - and I wanted to share them with others. I could have written a "Kiva" book but I didn't want to do that - my book is broader, about my own journey, and the journey and wisdom of others whose stories probably wouldn't ever make it into a book otherwise.
And I almost didn't answer your original question. How profitable? I won't disclose the details of my specific situation here but I will say, all of the payments one receives (if any, in advance, bc many people self-publish) are spread out over the years it takes to write the book. It was definitely enough to allow me to say "no" to enough other opportunities so that I could focus on writing the book. I'm grateful I could do that.
Thank you everyone for the questions! Talk to you next time!
Best reading? I love poetry and Jorie Graham is a favorite. So is Gabrielle Calvocoressi (she is also a friend). Best meal? Anything after a long hike cooked outside under the stars.
Kiva has shown to be successful in impoverished areas but only to those who are literate, have access to a computer, and have enough computer knowledge to make a profile. Do you have any ideas on how to best help the people who don't have one of those 3 things?
Kiva borrowers haven't traditionally created their own profiles; loan officers or others do that. But regardless, I'm really excited for mobile banking options to reach people who are currently unreached bc of one of these reasons!
What did you expect to be lame but turned out to be totally awesome?