How Passion and Purpose Can Change the World

By | 2016-12-01T19:13:52+00:00 July 7th, 2015|Startup Culture|

Jessica Jackley was haunted by the fact that half the world was living on less than $2 day. She was driven by the desire to alleviate poverty and inspired by Muhammad Yunus, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering work in microfinance as the founder of the Grameen Bank. Having seen first hand the prevalence of mobile and the difference small loans made to entrepreneurs in the developing world, Jackley leveraged the potential of technology to take microfinance to the next level.

Jackley tells her story and that of the entrepreneurs served by the company she co-founded, Kiva, in her book Clay Water Brick: Finding Inspiration From Entrepreneurs Who Do the Most With the Least. Her story is circuitous, as is typical of entrepreneurs, with many ups and down, including leaving Kiva and her marriage to one of its co-founders. Like other entrepreneurs, Jackley shows true grit — courage, resolve and strength of character — in the pursuit of her passion.

Lawyers, who are trained to help entrepreneurs avoid risk, saw only obstacles to Kiva’s business model. Luckily, Kiva’s co-founders didn’t heed their warnings. Instead, they went directly to the SEC to find out if what Kiva wanted to do was possible. As long as they charged zero interest, loans would not be considered a security and Kiva would not need to comply with SEC regulations, which would have been complicated and expensive.

When you’re blazing a trail, articulating to others what you’re doing is difficult. But communicating your passion is critical to bringing others on board. Trial-and-error, being open to feedback and meeting people where they are in their knowledge of microfinance allowed Jackley to hone her pitch. Prior to launch, Premal Shah joined the founding team. He is part of what has come to be known as the PayPal Mafia, a group of PayPal alumni who have gone on to found or co-found other successful companies, including YouTube, LinkedIn, Tesla Motors and Yelp. PayPal, an important strategic ally, waives its payment service fees, saving Kiva millions and millions of dollars. Reid Hoffman, well-known internet entrepreneur, venture capitalist and co-founder of LinkedIn, joined the board.

When Kiva launched in 2005, it wasn’t to great fanfair. Just friends and family made loans. But soon bloggers took note, followed by mainstream media, including an interview with Oprah. With success came failure. Servers crashed when the floodgates opened. A strategic partner was caught stealing money. Jackley persevered, showing resilience and resolve.

Kiva’s mission is to alleviate poverty by connecting people through lending. The mission statement tells the all-important why, but also the how and the what. Kiva used its mission statement as its guiding principle when it turned down $10 million that came with strings attached. When the values of an impressive, strategic alliance didn’t align with Kiva’s, it turned them away, too. When you’re starting out, that takes guts.

The biggest take-away from Jackley’s book is that passionate entrepreneurs are changing the world. Some, like Kiva, play on a global scale and others, like the entrepreneurs Kiva serves, play on a local level. All are making a difference.

How passion and purpose can change the world

Geri Stengel is president of Ventureneer, a marketing research company targeting small business. Geri is a regular Forbes contributor, consultant, Kauffman facilitator and the author of Forget the Glass Ceiling: Building Your Business Without One.