It’s no easy feat for students to formulate a plan for their futures. Because of this, the College of Humanities and Fine Arts strives to provide its students, and the greater campus community, with inspiration and motivation in many forms. On Thursday, February 10th, the College hosted the accomplished entrepreneur Jessica Jackley, founder of start-ups Kiva and ProFounder. Jackley’s speech, entitled “Love, Money, and Work: Social Entrepreneurship as a Career,” gave the audience plenty of food for thought about their passions and how to apply them. Jackley’s speech imparted four lessons tailored for the college audience: Know your mission, co-create with others, iterate, and the expression “(love + money) > money.” It is through these four credos that Jackley created a niche for herself in the world of social entrepreneurship.
Jackley’s speech addressed the “power of a connected education,” as illustrated by her own, somewhat winding career path. She was first drawn to charitable giving during her Sunday school classes as a child. She felt inspired by the stories of the poor, while simultaneously confused that poverty was seen in the world as an absolute. Jackley named poverty alleviation – and, she hoped, its ultimate extinction – among her life goals.
Jackley went on to study philosophy, political science, and poetry during her undergraduate career at Bucknell. She actively participated in community service initiatives, and got to see poverty first-hand in Haiti. Upon graduation, Jackley secured a temporary position at Stanford’s Center for Social Innovation within the Graduate School of Business, which examines business strategies and practices and how they can be applied to social problems. There, Dr. Muhammad Yunus opened her eyes to the wonders of microlending with accounts of entrepreneurs in debt bondage to capitalistic, price-fixing suppliers.
After three years of free lectures and classes at CSI, Jackley moved to East Africa to research the potential for microcredit service in under-developed regions. She felt connected with those she worked with, contrasting it with the vapid experience of “dropping a dollar in a jar” for charity. Jackley spoke of the guilt that much of middle-class America feels as they routinely see images of poverty-stricken areas abroad, and come face-first with it at home. But all too frequently, charitable acts become financial transactions that possess little meaning.
Jackley observed that, starting with just $25 segments, lives were being changed and financial philanthropy was being revolutionized. Instead of handouts, these loans constituted a partnership between lender and recipient, establishing a relationship of equality. Jackley got to see, first hand, how the East African entrepreneurs were working hard and enjoying the quality of life improvements they made each day. The connections she established made the experience of giving far more personal and engaging.
Kiva, Jackley’s start-up, combines the microfinance phenomenon with the omnipotence of the Internet to alleviate poverty and build sustainable economies. “Connecting people” is emphasized, and has helped propel Kiva past $200M in loans in less than six years of existence. After leaving Kiva, Jackley went on to create Profounder, a community-sourced web resource for small-business investments. Through these companies, Jackley has proven what humankind forgets all too often: a people united under a common goal are unstoppable. These institutions are transforming the possibilities of social change through personal empowerment.
We at UMass are very grateful to Jackley for speaking about the burgeoning field of social entrepreneurship and sharing her efforts toward ending global poverty.
by Christian Waterman