The $10 million without any strings attached was tempting, Jessica Jackley told the more than 200 attendees at a Feb. 12 lecture held at Kennesaw State University.
At the time of the offer, Ms. Jackley, co-founder of the micro-lending website kiva.org, was on a roll since her imaginative leap of 2005 to create the first person-to-person micro-lending website.
Talk show host Oprah Winfrey had interviewed her; former President Clinton had written about her.
Why not take the money and do more good? But she didn’t, simply because the company wanted to stay detached from the process. “All it wanted was for us to lend out the money and then give it back,” she said.
She didn’t dignify the firm by mentioning its name during her lecture at the Stillwell Theater to an audience that ranged from the faculty of the university’s Coles College of Business and its graduate students, university undergrads and even middle schoolers from the local Riverstone Montessori Academy.
The company didn’t want any kind of involvement and hence no engagement, and personal engagement is at the core of Ms. Jackley’s value system and wealth building, she said.
Instead of expounding on her knowledge gleaned acquiring a Stanford Business School master’s of business administration and the many lessons derived from the launch of the non-profit Kiva and then the for-profit ProFounder, which she is in the process of shutting down, she recalled her days as a little girl in Sunday school in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Then, as now in her mid-30s, she was preoccupied with the lives of the poor and how to encourage entrepreneurship to escape poverty.
“I got mixed messages from the Bible,” she said. Jesus taught to serve the poor, but the Bible also said that the poor “will always be with us.”
She also was perplexed by the television solicitations that “for the cost of a cup of coffee, you can save a life.”
“What sense does this make for a 6-year-old?” she queried.
A trip to Haiti as a high school student gave her an inkling of the difference between a “transaction” and an “interaction.”
By painting walls and clearing fields while working with Haitians, she learned to relate with people who were really poor but approachable and whom she could befriend if not empower.
At Bucknell College she learned how to ask the right questions through her philosophy and political science classes.
But it wasn’t until 2003 when she heard a lecture by Mohammad Yunus, the founder of the Grameen Bank, about lending small amounts of money to basket weavers in Bangladesh that she became obsessed with micro-lending.
Conducting interviews of farmers and small business entrepreneurs in East Africa provided the next step for her to co-launch Kiva, which became the prototype for crowdsourcing lending by marrying the technology of the Internet to solicitations for as little as $25.
The rest is history in the sense that Kiva became the fastest growing social benefit website ever and has collected hundreds of millions of dollars that have been lent to enterprises across more than 180 countries.
Ms. Jackley didn’t have time to address some of the business risks that Kiva has faced including suits trying to recapture funds lent to unscrupulous organizations or the inevitable collapse of failed enterprises.
Yet during the question and answer session following her remarks she encouraged the students to become personally engaged in whatever endeavor they undertake, in keeping with the theme of the lecture series: “Pathways to Peace.”
The Pathways to Peace series is an annual celebration at Kennesaw State University of activities that “significantly and meaningfully impact lasting peace across the globe.”
Last year the series invited New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof to speak. For a Global Atlanta article about his presentation, go here.
For Global Atlanta’s reporting on Mohammad Yunus’ visit to Atlanta in 2011, go here.