Social Innovation Profiles are a series on Impact Hub NYC’s local members. In this social innovation profile, Christina Cobb interviews local Impact Hub NYC organization, Kiva & Kiva Zip. The team includes – Liezl van Riper, Director of Development (East Coast); Jessica Feingold, Development Manager (East Coast); and Katherine Lynch, Program Associate for Kiva Zip (New York).
“Kiva is a non-profit organization with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. Leveraging the Internet and a worldwide network of microfinance institutions, Kiva lets individuals lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world. Through Kiva Zip, we support entrepreneurs here in the US with 0% interest loans that we underwrite based on an entrepreneur’s character, rather than their credit score. ”
Christina: How and why was Kiva founded?
Katherine: In 2005, our founders, Matt Flannery and Jessica Jackley, were in Uganda. They met an entrepreneur for whom a very small amount of capital — maybe $500 — could change her chances of success. She couldn’t find that capital within her community. Matt and Jessica’s reaction was that it wouldn’t be very hard to raise $500 among their own friends and family back in the US. They thought, “wouldn’t it be amazing if we could connect our networks to fund small loans to this entrepreneur, and others like her, in the developing world?”.
Jessica: At the same time, in another corner of the world, Premal Shah was on sabbatical from his job at eBay in India where he witnessed the same problem of lack of access to capital. Although there was no infrastructure for it, as a test, he posted a loan for an Indian entrepreneur on eBay to try to crowdfund it. The post was taken down. When Premal returned to eBay, he began incubating an idea to address the same issues Matt and Jessica were working on. They were all living in the Bay Area, where they met and joined forces, and Premal became a co-founder. They all complement each other well. From Uganda to India…that’s the origin story of Kiva, the first crowdlending platform.
What’s the difference between Kiva.org and Kiva Zip?
J: It’s important to remember that Kiva is just a platform. We are a website anyone can go to and lend $25, or as much as they can, to support an entrepreneur. Kiva itself is not a microfinance institution. We work through a network of those kinds of organizations: microfinance institutions, community development finance institutions, and social enterprises on the ground. These are our field partners that really know the borrowing communities we lend in, know the business owners and underwrite the loans.
We spend a lot of time doing due diligence on our field partners, which now make up a network of 295 organizations across 86 countries. These partners deploy the loans, collect the repayments, and send them back to Kiva. That’s how our model has grown, and how it’s possible at all. There’s a huge diversity among our field partners. Some serve particular communities of need, for example women with HIV, while others will make loans for products like solar lights and clean cook stoves or any product that needs financing. We’re getting increasingly creative in the ways we think about financing.
K: That reminds me of a creative project in Peru, where the loan funds a pregnant pig. The idea is you pay for the pregnant pig, and then the borrower receives the pig and brings in income from the piglets.
K: Kiva Zip’s inspiration grew out of the 2008 US recession, when banks really tightened up, especially on what they were willing to lend to small businesses and startups. Requirements around credit scores, collateral, and cosigners became barriers to accessing capital for small and marginalized entrepreneurs. Kiva lenders themselves noticed this, and brought it to our attention. We got comments saying, “Kiva is amazing — I’ve re-lent my $25 contribution six times all over the world — but the coffee shop around the corner is really struggling. Why can’t I work with that entrepreneur, in my own community?”
Kiva Zip emerged as an answer to that call. We’re different from Kiva in that we don’t work through microfinance partners. We’re run entirely through technology, meaning that in the US, the loans are administered entirely through PayPal. We have a great in-kind partnership with them that enables us to provide no-fee transactions when lending on Kiva. And because we’re lending directly, there’s 0% interest on Kiva Zip loans.
Hands down, the coolest part of Kiva Zip is our social underwriting. We’ve developed a way to tease out one’s character and network of trust, and we use that in lieu of traditional financial underwriting, which often blocks entrepreneurs from accessing capital.
The growth of Kiva Zip really took off in 2011. My role in the US is about growing the program here in New York City in particular. Since we started the program, we’ve supported 1,300 entrepreneurs in the US with $5.1 million in capital, and leveraged more than $700K to support NYC entrepreneurs. We work with partners we call trustees, that may be a service provider, vendor, or distributor. They refer many of our borrowers. Entrepreneurs can also apply directly through our website.
Do your borrowers have to demonstrate financial hardship?
K: We are very flexible, but we look for borrowers with incomes below $100,000. We are the only microlender with maximum requirements (such as household income) instead of minimum requirements like credit scores. About 45% of our borrowers are low income and 85% are low to moderate income, which captures where we are most active. Also, 3 in 4 of our borrowers in NYC, and 1 in 2 nationally, are ethnic minorities. That gives you an idea of the breadth of the types of people we’re working with.
Tell me about a recent campaign that’s especially successful.
K: One of my favorite Kiva Zip borrowers is from Flatbush, Brooklyn. Her name is Janelle (https://zip.kiva.org/loans/7567) and she’s a former NYC teacher. She couldn’t find anywhere in her community that provided quality after school programming. So she came up with an idea called the Brooklyn Greenhouse, offering hands on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) learning — gardening, cooking and all different types of innovative approaches – that complement the cut and dried educational experience in most public schools. What she’s doing is unique in the neighborhood, and is an incredibly valuable resource.
Janelle got a $5,000 loan to retrofit her garage to be able to hold classes in it. Kiva Zip provided the crucial startup funding she needed to open the doors. She wouldn’t have been able to access this loan from any other traditional lender. She’s now an entrepreneur with a source of income for her family, but the bigger story there is that she’s providing a much-needed resource for her community.
J: I recently visited with Janelle and I learned how to make these very simple greenhouses using a Ziplock bag, cotton balls, water, seeds and of course sunlight. Very low tech and inexpensive — and they work. I sprouted a Jalapeno plant in mine!
J: As for other successful campaigns, I’m really excited about some of our recent corporate partnerships. Early on in Kiva’s history, we offered Kiva gift cards. For the holidays, people gave a Kiva Card of say $25, and the recipient would go online and make a loan. People loved it. Years later, we’ve scaled that idea by working with companies to give the gift of Kiva to employees. For example, a company can sponsor a $1M loan fund that is divided up into 40,000 shares for employees, who each receive a $25 Kiva gift code. As entrepreneurs repay, the repayments all go back to the company, so employees can lend again and again. Our employee engagement programs are a way to get a lot of new people to try Kiva. It’s like a starter account in impact investing. Kiva allows employees to see what it means to support entrepreneurs around the world, to see that the loans are repaid, and to experience this amazing way to connect with someone.
Our biggest success has been with HP, a partnership that launched just over a year ago. HP disbursed $7M into Kiva, and divided it among 285,000 employees in more than 40 countries. Every employee got to make at least one loan…those who were lending a lot were given the chance to lend more and more. Because we have a 98% repayment rate on Kiva.org, HP has now lent a total of $9.4M from the initial $7M investment. Now we’re replicating this initiative with other companies including Deutsche Bank, MetLife and Google. A large part of my role is to expand the corporate program to more companies in NYC and on the East Coast. I’m approaching them saying, “we want to take money that may be sitting in a your marketing or philanthropy budget, and put it into the hands of the working poor. And when you’re paid back, either the repayments get returned to your company, or they can be reinvested to triple or quadruple the impact”.
What are the breaking developments for Kiva in 2015?
K: Kiva Zip is a growing, burgeoning access-to-capital tool in New York and across the United States. We just hit 132 fully funded borrowers in New York City. We have a lot more growing to do, but every entrepreneur we’re able to fund is another drop in the bucket. We’re looking to make an impact of 1000 loans in NYC in the next three years. As far as what’s on the horizon, we have a “Taste of Kiva Zip NYC” event at the Impact Hub on July 29th (http://nyc.impacthub.net/event/kiva-zip-nyc-interest-free-business-loans/). We also have a City Launch coming up this November to create more buzz and awareness of Kiva Zip and finally make us an official Kiva City.
J: Another development is that instead of having two websites, one for Kiva.org and another for Kiva Zip, we’ll have one unified Kiva website by the end of the year. The big advantage there is that we’ve had 1.5 million people in 180 countries make a loan on Kiva.org. Now, Kiva Zip borrowers who are in the East Village, or in St. Louis, Missouri, can have access to that global community of lenders.
K: As an amazing example of the linkages being created, someone from Senegal recently made a loan to one of our NYC borrowers.
Has being part of Impact Hub NYC contributed to Kiva Zip’s work?
K: Just now I saw a borrower who started a Kiva Zip profile walk by. We’re in a place where there’s so much synergy through entrepreneurship and social mindfulness. This is the kind of environment with which Kiva wants to be associated.
J: Also, I’d add that Marissa Feinberg and the Impact Hub are among Kiva Zip’s trustees. The fact that they know so many entrepreneurs means they’ll refer entrepreneurs to us, which is a huge part of our reciprocal relationship.