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  • The stories we tell about each other

  • matter very much.

  • The stories we tell ourselves about our own lives matter.

  • And most of all,

  • I think the way that we participate in each other's stories

  • is of deep importance.

  • I was six years old

  • when I first heard stories about the poor.

  • Now I didn't hear those stories from the poor themselves,

  • I heard them from my Sunday school teacher

  • and Jesus, kind of via my Sunday school teacher.

  • I remember learning that people who were poor

  • needed something material --

  • food, clothing, shelter -- that they didn't have.

  • And I also was taught, coupled with that,

  • that it was my job -- this classroom full of five and six year-old children --

  • it was our job, apparently, to help.

  • This is what Jesus asked of us.

  • And then he said, "What you do for the least of these, you do for me."

  • Now I was pretty psyched.

  • I was very eager to be useful in the world --

  • I think we all have that feeling.

  • And also, it was kind of interesting that God needed help.

  • That was news to me,

  • and it felt like it was a very important thing to get to participate in.

  • But I also learned very soon thereafter

  • that Jesus also said, and I'm paraphrasing,

  • the poor would always be with us.

  • This frustrated and confused me;

  • I felt like I had been just given a homework assignment

  • that I had to do, and I was excited to do,

  • but no matter what I would do, I would fail.

  • So I felt confused, a little bit frustrated and angry,

  • like maybe I'd misunderstood something here.

  • And I felt overwhelmed.

  • And for the first time,

  • I began to fear this group of people

  • and to feel negative emotion towards a whole group of people.

  • I imagined in my head, a kind of long line of individuals

  • that were never going away, that would always be with us.

  • They were always going to ask me to help them and give them things,

  • which I was excited to do,

  • but I didn't know how it was going to work.

  • And I didn't know what would happen when I ran out of things to give,

  • especially if the problem was never going away.

  • In the years following,

  • the other stories I heard about the poor growing up

  • were no more positive.

  • For example, I saw pictures and images

  • frequently of sadness and suffering.

  • I heard about things that were going wrong in the lives of the poor.

  • I heard about disease, I heard about war --

  • they always seemed to be kind of related.

  • And in general,

  • I got this sort of idea

  • that the poor in the world lived lives

  • that were wrought with suffering and sadness,

  • devastation, hopelessness.

  • And after a while, I developed what I think many of us do,

  • is this predictable response,

  • where I started to feel bad every time I heard about them.

  • I started to feel guilty for my own relative wealth,

  • because I wasn't doing more, apparently, to make things better.

  • And I even felt a sense of shame because of that.

  • And so naturally,

  • I started to distance myself.

  • I stopped listening to their stories

  • quite as closely as I had before.

  • And I stopped expecting things to really change.

  • Now I still gave -- on the outside it looked like I was still quite involved.

  • I gave of my time and my money,

  • I gave when solutions were on sale.

  • The cost of a cup of coffee can save a child's life, right.

  • I mean who can argue with that?

  • I gave when I was cornered, when it was difficult to avoid

  • and I gave, in general, when the negative emotions built up enough

  • that I gave to relieve my own suffering,

  • not someone else's.

  • The truth be told, I was giving out of that place,

  • not out of a genuine place of hope

  • and excitement to help and of generosity.

  • It became a transaction for me,

  • became sort of a trade.

  • I was purchasing something --

  • I was buying my right to go on with my day

  • and not necessarily be bothered by this bad news.

  • And I think the way that we go through that sometimes

  • can, first of all,

  • disembody a group of people, individuals out there in the world.

  • And it can also turn into a commodity,

  • which is a very scary thing.

  • So as I did this, and as I think many of us do this,

  • we kind of buy our distance,

  • we kind of buy our right to go on with our day.

  • I think that exchange can actually get in the way of the very thing that we want most.

  • It can get in the way of our desire

  • to really be meaningful and useful in another person's life

  • and, in short to love.

  • Thankfully, a few years ago, things shifted for me

  • because I heard this gentleman speak, Dr. Muhammad Yunus.

  • I know many in the room probably know exactly who he is,

  • but to give the shorthand version

  • for any who have not heard him speak,

  • Dr. Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize a few years ago

  • for his work pioneering modern microfinance.

  • When I heard him speak, it was three years before that.

  • But basically, microfinance -- if this is new to you as well --

  • think of that as financial services for the poor.

  • Think of all the things you get at your bank

  • and imagine those products and services

  • tailored to the needs of someone living on a few dollars a day.

  • Dr. Yunus shared his story,

  • explaining what that was,

  • and what he had done with his Grameen Bank.

  • He also talked about, in particular, microlending,

  • which is a tiny loan

  • that could help someone start or grow a business.

  • Now, when I heard him speak, it was exciting for a number of reasons.

  • First and foremost, I learned about this new method of change in the world

  • that, for once, showed me, maybe,

  • a way to interact with someone

  • and to give, to share of a resource in a way that wasn't weird

  • and didn't make me feel bad --

  • that was exciting.

  • But more importantly, he told stories about the poor

  • that were different than any stories I had heard before.

  • In fact, those individuals he talked about who were poor was sort of a side note.

  • He was talking about strong, smart,

  • hardworking entrepreneurs who woke up every day

  • and were doing things to make their lives and their family's lives better.

  • All they needed to do that more quickly and to do it better

  • was a little bit of capital.

  • It was an amazing sort of insight for me.

  • And I, in fact, was so deeply moved by this --

  • it's hard to express now how much that affected me --

  • but I was so moved that I actually quit my job a few weeks later,

  • and I moved to East Africa

  • to try to see for myself what this was about.

  • For the first time, actually, in a long time

  • I wanted to meet those individuals, I wanted to meet these entrepreneurs,

  • and see for myself what their lives were actually about.

  • So I spent three months in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania

  • interviewing entrepreneurs that had received 100 dollars

  • to start or grow a business.

  • And in fact, through those interactions,

  • for the first time, I was starting to get to be friends

  • with some of those people in that big amorphous group out there

  • that was supposed to be far away.

  • I was starting to be friends and get to know their personal stories.

  • And over and over again,

  • as I interviewed them and spent my days with them,

  • I did hear stories of life change

  • and amazing little details of change.

  • So I would hear from goat herders

  • who had used that money that they had received to buy a few more goats.

  • Their business trajectory would change.

  • They would make a little bit more money;

  • their standard of living

  • would shift and would get better.

  • And they would make really interesting little adjustments in their lives,

  • like they would start to send their children to school.

  • They might be able to buy mosquito nets.

  • Maybe they could afford a lock for the door and feel secure.

  • Maybe it was just that they could put sugar in their tea

  • and offer that to me when I came as their guest

  • and that made them feel proud.

  • But there were these beautiful details, even if I talked to 20 goat herders in a row,

  • and some days that's what happened --

  • these beautiful details of life change

  • that were meaningful to them.

  • That was another thing that really touched me.

  • It was really humbling to see for the first time,

  • to really understand

  • that even if I could have taken a magic wand and fixed everything,

  • I probably would have gotten a lot wrong.

  • Because the best way for people to change their lives

  • is for them to have control and to do that in a way that they believe is best for them.

  • So I saw that and it was very humbling.

  • Anyway, another interesting thing happened while I was there.

  • I never once was asked for a donation,

  • which had kind of been my mode, right.

  • There's poverty, you give money to help --

  • no one asked me for a donation.

  • In fact, no one wanted me to feel bad for them at all.

  • If anything, they just wanted to be able to do more of what they were doing already

  • and to build on their own capabilities.

  • So what I did hear, once in a while,

  • was that people wanted a loan --

  • I thought that sounded very reasonable and really exciting.

  • And by the way, I was a philosophy and poetry major in school,

  • so I didn't know the difference between profit and revenue when I went to East Africa.

  • I just got this impression that the money would work.

  • And my introduction to business

  • was in these $100 little infuses of capital.

  • And I learned about profit and revenue, about leverage, all sorts of things,

  • from farmers, from seamstresses, from goat herders.

  • So this idea

  • that these new stories of business and hope

  • might be shared with my friends and family,

  • and through that, maybe we could get some of the money that they needed

  • to be able to continue their businesses as loans,

  • that's this little idea that turned into Kiva.

  • A few months later, I went back to Uganda

  • with a digital camera and a basic website

  • that my partner, Matthew, and I had kind of built,

  • and took pictures of seven of my new friends,

  • posted their stories, these stories of entrepreneurship, up on the website,

  • spammed friends and family and said, "We think this is legal.

  • Haven't heard back yet from SEC on all the details,

  • but do you say, do you want to help participate in this,

  • provide the money that they need?"

  • The money came in basically overnight.

  • We sent it over to Uganda.

  • And over the next six months, a beautiful thing happened;

  • the entrepreneurs received the money,

  • they were paid, and their businesses, in fact, grew,

  • and they were able to support themselves

  • and change the trajectory of their lives.

  • In October of '05,

  • after those first seven loans were paid,

  • Matt and I took the word beta off of the site.

  • We said, "Our little experiment has been a success.

  • Let's start for real." That was our official launch.

  • And then that first year, October '05 through '06,

  • Kiva facilitated $500,000 in loans.

  • The second year, it was a total of 15 million.

  • The third year, the total was up to around 40.

  • The fourth year, we were just short of 100.

  • And today, less than five years in,

  • Kiva's facilitated

  • more than 150 million dollars, in little 25-dollar bits,

  • from lenders and entrepreneurs --

  • more than a million of those, collectively in 200 countries.

  • So that's where Kiva is today, just to bring you right up to the present.

  • And while those numbers and those statistics

  • are really fun to talk about and they're interesting,

  • to me, Kiva's really about stories.

  • It's about retelling

  • the story of the poor,

  • and it's about giving ourselves

  • an opportunity to engage

  • that validates their dignity,

  • validates a partnership relationship,

  • not a relationship that's based

  • on the traditional sort of donor beneficiary

  • weirdness that can happen.

  • But instead a relationship that can promote respect

  • and hope

  • and this optimism

  • that together we can move forward.

  • So what I hope is that,

  • not only can the money keep flowing forth through Kiva --

  • that's a very positive and meaningful thing --