I first heard about Kiva on PRI [Public Radio International],
one of our local public radio stations. I came home and told Olga about it.
We looked it up on the Web and discovered they were local to the Bay Area,
and they were having a fund-raiser soon. We spent some time looking at businesses
in Kenya because Olga is from Kenya. She told me a fair amount about different
parts of the country and where the need was likely most urgent.
A big motivation for me is that, with Kiva, the money
goes directly to the people. There’s no middleman. I’ve lived there
[in Kenya]; I know the country. I don’t go back as often as I should,
but I still can tell Antonio: “You know, this definitely makes sense,” or “I
can see why people from this region are asking for loans.”
There is a shift of mindset that goes with being
the recipient of aid as opposed to being the recipient of a loan, where there
are practical results that have to be met and a repayment schedule that has
to be maintained. As for the lender, you become more engaged with the area.
You’re not just writing a check, where the money disappears, and your
commitment disappears with it until the next time you get an envelope in the
mail from an organization that sounds familiar. “Gee, did I write these
guys a check once?”
One of the big problems in Africa is that a lot of
the aid never reaches the people who truly need it. Obviously, some reaches
the right people at the right time, but one of the bigger things Kenya -- maybe
Africa as a whole -- is facing generally is that people need to take responsibility
for their own countries. We should not just rely on help. Easy money does not
solve our problems. Rather than just providing a handout, it’s a good
idea to make people responsible for their loans, empowering them, giving them
some dignity, and saying, “We support you; you are a responsible individual.” Corruption
is there in all sorts of forms. Overall, this is why Kiva is really interesting
to me. It goes directly to the people, and there’s a transparency.
I stumbled upon the site. Someone had forwarded me
an email that led to someone’s blog -- a designer who was talking about
the great use of technology on Kiva’s site. I checked it out, and I was
instantly interested. It was near my birthday, and I had $100 I was going to
spend on something else. I had heard about microloans from a friend, and so
I decided to donate right then and there. There’s something about the
tangibility of this compared to a straight donation. I’m helping to buy
a bicycle or a chicken farm or a taxi, and I’m helping to expand something
that already exists. That to me felt like -- if I don’t get my money
back, great, it’s a donation. But if I do, I can reloan the money to
someone else. And I can actually feel like a little Bill Gates Foundation or
Rockefeller Foundation in my own way.
I was interested in microloans probably before Kiva
was even conceived of. I was coming home from London, and I shared a cab with
an African minister who had been speaking in England and was returning home.
He was providing every possible form of social service in his village: He was
running women’s health clinics and schools; he was digging wells. I asked
him what program he had experience with that had the greatest impact on people’s
lives. Without hesitation, he said microloans … education for women
and microloans. So I have contributed to organizations that do microloans that
are not lender-to-borrower. You’re paying into a fund, and the fund decides.
That’s great, and I would do that again. But the instant I heard about
Kiva on the radio at work, I was on the site before the story ended.
I worked with Matt Flannery [Kiva founder]. So, as
the idea for the company was developing, he and I would talk about it. After
I met Matt, I looked into it more and went on a trip with the Village Enterprise
Fund [VEP] to Africa. We visited very small villages to see the infrastructure
in place and to see businesses working. In Kenya, we would go out to these
villages, and they literally had nothing. My son was playing soccer with these
kids, and they didn’t even have a soccer ball -- their soccer ball was
made of plastic bags bound with string. And the kids, if they’re lucky,
have one outfit that they wear continuously.
I do occasionally give to the Red Cross, World Food
Program, UNHCR [U.N. Refugee Agency] when there is some kind of catastrophe,
like the invasion of Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina, 9/11. It's hard
to know who to give to and what impact the money is having on a development
project. I guess it’s more interesting to see, on a business level, how
people are improving their own lives. I’m not really familiar with how
charitable organizations give money for business growth.