In the News

Chicago Microfinance Conference-A Closing "Fireside" Chat with Premal Shah of Kiva

Thursday, May 12, 2011 6:00 am
by Opportunity International

At the closing of the Chicago Microfinance Conference, Premal Shah, president of Kiva, sits down for a Q & A keynote with Marc J. Lane, founder & president of Marc J. Lane Wealth Group. Shah shares the story of how he moved from PayPal to help grow the nascent Kiva with Matt Flannery and Jessica Jackley, and discussed the growth, current state and future of Kiva and the microfinance industry as a whole.

Premal Shah Tells His Story:

Having parents who grew up in India, I know that global poverty is such an injustice, especially given the wealth and all we have in this country.

So when I was working at PayPal, I went back and spent a summer in India, and tried to launch a business to empower local women, which never got any traction. I returned to Palo Alto and ran into Matt Flannery and Jessica Jackley, who were working on the Kiva concept.

We need to always continue to evolve to make our organization better. We work strategize how to diversify without the wheels coming off the organization.

Kiva allows you to fund businesses and now students in 58 countries, but it often feels “like you're building the plane while you're flying it.”

With the software engineers, every few weeks we have an “iteration period” when they can innovate and launch new ideas in that space, and we do not let day to day work overshadow that because innovation is so key.

Kiva's biggest challenges are three (Responding to audience questions):

  1. Keeping loans on website – in early days, when had 50,000 people visiting but no loans to fund, that was very frustrating. But we're getting better and better. In internet community, we grow fast, but in microfinance industry, we're really still dependent on our partnerships and our on-the-ground connections.
  2. Keeping lenders engaged – and getting existing users to use money they've donated, designating it somewhere and not letting it sit dormant in their Kiva accounts.
  3. Keeping the lights on – we run on a deficit, which we close with corporate and individual grants. Though 100% of donations go to people for their microfinance loans, we then keep lights on by asking for optional additional donations from users, who give on average an additional 7% on top of their donation.

I think we're in a place in the microfinance industry in general where the players and MFIs are becoming really robust and smart about assessing what works and what doesn't work to impact clients in a lasting, sustainable way. There's also a lot of promise in microfinance outside of loans: savings is crucial to making an impact, plus insurance and remittances. Loan officers have a deep relationship with clients, visiting them in person on a regular basis, and this is a great asset because they have an inside knowledge of their lives and needs. We need to use that knowledge.

At Kiva, I know we're better able to do our job as a nonprofit, so I feel strongly that we should remain that way. For every one staff member we have, we have eight volunteers, and that's how we are able to thrive and scale to the level at which we are now. Though I believe profits and the market are great engines of business, Kiva simply wouldn't work and couldn't be sustainable if we weren't a nonprofit.

(In response to audience question about recent controversy on Kiva around a Ugandan MFI's misreporting their loans) Since that incident, we've learned that imperfect credit is okay, but imperfect reporting is not. We must always do our due diligence in a very rigorous way.

How does Kiva stay sustainable?

Last year, we were 70% sustainable from our donor “tips” that I mentioned earlier. But we intend to increase and scale our loan volume in the next few years so that eventually we will be 100% sustainable.

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© 2010 Opportunity International, a 501(c)3 nonprofit.

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