In many ways, Kiva is the ideal culmination of my work and personal history. I’m an Egyptian immigrant, a refugee of war, and my family faced significant economic struggle. I learned at an early age about the injustice of not having fair access to resources and opportunities. And I saw how this struggle can chip away at a person’s dignity, often setting the course of a lifetime and for generations to come.
The fact that half the planet’s population lives on less than two dollars a day is a compelling and disturbing manifestation of this injustice. Billions of people don’t have access to resources we take for granted simply because of where they were born, the color of their skin or some externality that is beyond their control. Knowing that the adversity I faced is a microcosm of a far larger mosaic instilled a deep desire for me to do my part to bring justice to the world: justice that is rooted in the triumph over inequality and lack of fair access.
As an entrepreneur from Silicon Valley, I naturally believe that technology and entrepreneurship are two of the world’s most powerful change agents. I devoted the last quarter of a century to pioneering uses of networking and the internet that have democratized access to information and communications. For the first time in human history, every person on this Earth can be connected to every other, while gaining equal access to the world’s growing body of information. In the same way that the internet has democratized access to information and communications, Kiva has democratized access to capital. Kiva’s use of technology has accelerated it’s global reach and impact, all of which have begun leveling the playing field for those disadvantaged by the biases of the world we live in.
I chose to work with Kiva because of its mass scale impact and the universal resonance of its person-person model - elegant and powerful in its simplicity. A model that many said was crazy and would never work at its inception, and conversely, an idea that now seems intuitively obvious. I believe that human beings naturally want to connect and be a part of each other’s stories. This is the essence of the human condition. No man is an island and it takes a village for any of us to survive and thrive. Kiva takes the notion of a village from local to global. When a group of us fund a loan, we become a global village of sorts for that borrower. When that borrower repays their loan, this lets us know that in some small way we have contributed to the betterment of their life. To their success in the face of extraordinary struggle. And in so doing, perhaps we have helped alleviate the suffering of another human being and restored their dignity. For me, compassionate acts like these serve our highest purpose in life.
I am passionate about supporting fellow entrepreneurs, the focus of my work today as a board member, advisor and angel investor. Kiva challenges and expands our ideas of what it means to be an entrepreneur. I love knowing that my work with Kiva supports hundreds of thousands of low-income entrepreneurs, over 80% of whom are women.
Julie with Matt, Kiva CEO, and Premal, Kiva President - at recent board meeting
I also chose to work with Kiva because of the team behind the world changing phenomenon. The Kiva model and its use of technology is the successful expression of its founders’ vision and the team that has made that vision a successful reality. Kiva quickly became a global movement, which means that it doesn’t belong to anyone, and yet it belongs to all of us. That sense of ownership and the network effect surrounding it are powerful, because it means we all consider ourselves stakeholders in Kiva’s success. One of the greatest gifts of community and public conversation is the natural accountability that occurs in the ecosystem, which goes a long way toward supporting inside-out integrity.
An important focus for Kiva’s board of directors centers on the goal of inside-out integrity. We iteratively scrutinize our governance practices and how we hold ourselves accountable as members of the global philanthropic community. I believe Kiva represents an emerging model for governance, oversight and expectation that's based on digitally-driven transparency. Embarking on this new model has involved a great deal of real-time learning and some mistakes. As we continue our journey into uncharted waters, there’s no doubt we will make more mistakes. With this in mind, one of my goals as Kiva’s board chair is to ensure we have a healthy, rigorous debate when faced with making unprecedented decisions and if or when mistakes happen, swift action is taken to mitigate them.
Kiva Board of Directors at dinner, in 2009
More broadly, Kiva’s board of directors provides support, guidance and steering on goals/objectives and strategic matters, while providing accountability for management.
There’s never a dull moment at Kiva. The issues being tackled day-in-day-out often read like headlines ripped from the global news. I have gained a deep respect for the thoughtfulness Kiva’s leadership and team displays when deliberating important decisions and how they respond when the unexpected happens, which it often does. Working with the team and leadership at Kiva is inspiring. One would never guess the tremendous behind the scenes diligence and work it takes to translate an infinitely complex global system with myriad independently moving parts into a simple, reliable and user-friendly web service. To my eyes, it's nothing short of a miracle.
Kiva's success and the global movement that has grown around it is a reminder that indeed a small group of committed people can change the world ... In this case, one loan at a time. Perhaps most important, Kiva is a testament to our collective humanity.
A few months ago, I gave a talk at TEDxPresidio about Kiva. The full version can be seen here: