Archive for Kiva

Kiva Expands Lending to U.S.

The timing seems right. In the midst of the deepest American recession since the Great Depression, peer-to-peer microlending pioneer Kiva.org has opened the doors to its long-planned domestic lending program – connecting its network of lenders to small businesses like Enrique, a New York cobbler seeking a $5,000 loan for leather, rubber soles and general working capital.

Kiva’s success in enabling small loans to business owners in developing nations – more than $76 million from half a million lenders, $25 at a time – has linked the 30-year-old microcredit movement to western philanthropy, spurring a host of imitators and huge community of fans who drive the success and spread of the four-year-old nonprofit.

While the average loan syndicated online by Kiva (which works with in-country field partners to administer the actual loan programs) is about $415, the organization will make much larger loans in the U.S. The initial roll-out of the program has 45 entrepreneurs, seeking loans ranging from $1,025 to $10,000, enabled by field partners OpportunityFund.org or Accion USA.

In a post by Isabelle Barres, the Kiva blog discussed the organization’s natural progression into the developed world:

…to be a truly global organization, Kiva is expanding into microfinance markets in the developed world. Since over 70% of our lenders are currently from North America, the United States was a natural first choice. We know there is much more to be done to fully achieve our mission of connecting people throughout the world, but we are very excited about this first step. We look forward to the day when money is flowing in all directions around the world through Kiva: a Guatemalan woman making a loan to an entrepreneur in Detroit, a man in Uganda making a loan to an entrepreneur in Rwanda, and an Italian lending to a Filipino farmer.

Two months ago on a panel that I moderated at the Skoll World Forum in Oxford, Kiva president Premal Shah noted that Kiva’s impact was still small, considering the world’s vast needs – and he indicated the organization’s large-scale ambitions for changing how people help other people. But the new model he talked about at Skoll was less geographic and more aimed at the community of users: Build.Kiva opens Kiva’s stream of information about its loan opportunities to developers who might use it to build other Kiva-related software tools, like an iPhone application or a WordPress plugin, so that loans can be made “where the people are.”

To me, the community of users that Kiva has empowered and inspired is the real story of the organization’s success, $76 million in loans notwithstanding. Its expansion to U.S. microcredit has the potential for expanding that excitement to helping local people who need a lift up.

In CauseWired: Plugging In, Getting Involved, Changing the World (Wiley, 2008), which chronicled the rise of online social activism, Kiva founder Matt Flannery talked about the need for risk in the social sector – for blending the desire to do good things with taking the chance on new models for getting things done.

One thing I’m excited about is the democratizing of philanthropy. On the source of funds side, a lot of money is clustered in a few people. There is a big disparity between philanthropists with power and the rest of us, but if you can unlock every twenty-five dollars under the mattress, you can change things. I’d love to see more people take risks. A hundred thousand people with twenty-five dollars each will take risks, but the Gates Foundation with billions won’t take risks. That’s because they have this built-in responsibility to spend the money wisely. We need more venture capital. There is a sense of shame when you make a bad donation, and that’s harmful. We need to remove the shame and have some tolerance for failure.”

It’s clear that the U.S. expansion is an experiment – its relatively small scale and ambition underscore its pilot program nature. What’s interesting is that Kiva, arguably the top brand/success story in the online peer-to-peer social entrepreneurship sector, willing to put its reputation at risk and try to connect small-time lenders with small-time businesses at the edge of U.S. poverty.

In other words, I think it’s a very good thing that Kiva is so obviously restless, despite its success.

And I agree with what Leigh Graham said on the Change.org Poverty in America blog:

…there have always been small and micro- enterprises in this country that lack access to traditional credit.  Recession or not, it’s exciting that Kiva is bringing its business model home.  Beyond the individual economic benefit of small business lending, a less tangible sense of reciprocity goes a long way towards poverty alleviation.

Guest Post: Hillary Clinton on Social Media and Causes

Okay, so it’s not formally a guest post per se – but we think this section of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech to gradautes of Barnard College yesterday touches as much of a ‘CauseWired’ chord as any talk by a major political figure of late:

Some months ago here in New York, I had the privilege of meeting a young girl from Yemen. Her name is Nujood Ali. When she was nine years old, her family offered her into marriage with a much older man who turned out to be violent and abusive. At ten years old, desperate to escape her circumstances, she left her home and made her way to the local courthouse where she sat against a wall all day long until she was finally noticed, thankfully, by a woman lawyer named Shada Nasser, who asked this little girl what she was doing there. And the little girl said she came to get a divorce. And thanks to this lawyer, she did.

Now in another time, the story of her individual courage and her equally brave lawyer would not have been covered in the news even in her own country. But now, it is beamed worldwide by satellites, shared on blogs, posted on Twitter, celebrated in gatherings. Today, women are finding their voices, and those voices are being heard far beyond their own narrow circumstances. And here’s what each of you can do. You can visit the website of a nonprofit called Kiva, K-i-v-a, and send a microloan to an entrepreneur like Blanca, who wants to expand her small grocery store in Peru. You can send children’s books to a library in Namibia by purchasing items off an Amazon.com wish list. You can sit in your dorm room, or soon your new apartment, and use the web to plant trees across Africa through Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt movement.

And with these social networking tools that you use every day to tell people you’ve gone to get a latte or you’re going to be running late, you can unite your friends through Facebook to fight human trafficking or child marriage, like the two recent college graduates in Colombia – the country – who organized 14 million people into the largest anti-terrorism demonstration in history, doing as much damage to the FARC terrorist network in a few weeks than had been done in years of military action. (Applause.)

And you can organize through Twitter, like the undergraduates at Northwestern who launched a global fast to bring attention to Iran’s imprisonment of an American journalist. And we have two young women journalists right now in prison in North Korea, and you can get busy on the internet and let the North Koreans know that we find that absolutely unacceptable. (Applause.)

These new tools are available for everyone. They are democratizing diplomacy. So over the next year, we will be creating Virtual Student Foreign Service Internships to partner American students with our embassies abroad to conduct digital diplomacy. And you can learn more about this initiative on the State Department website.

Hat tip to the always interesting Nancy Scola at the fab techPresident.com for the quote; as Nancy says, Secretary Clinton does indeed speak with the ardor of a recent convert.

Open Source Giving: Does It Change the Web?

Next week, I’ll be hosting a panel discussion at the Skoll World Forum at Oxford University that takes its title from one of my favorite John Lennon songs: Power to the People. The discussion will center around online social activism and peer-to-peer philanthropy via networks, and it features a great line-up of social entrepreneurs who aim to change (and hopefully expand) both charitable and for-profit social ventures. If you’re going to Skoll, I really hope you’ll join us.

But if you’re not, the discussion has already started – and your ideas are most welcome.

Thanks to Social Edge, the Skoll Foundation’s online community for social entrepreneurs, we’ve been busily talking about “open source giving” over the past two weeks. I set up the discussion to focus on this question: “So how does this movement, this explosion in wired social ventures, change the web?”

Read the rest of this entry »

The CauseWired Roundup

Guest Post: Social Actions Roundup #16

Photo by Maneno.org

Spot.us, a new platform for community funded journalism, officially launched this week! Spot.us enables the “public to commission journalists to do investigations on important and perhaps overlooked stories.” It’s a great idea with an awesome and well though-out execution. Spot.us is also the first open-source action platform, which may enable others to re-use and adapt the code to launch their own platforms. You can check out the code and also contribute on GitHub here. For more, check out the launch post here as well this MediaShift post

Congrats to David Cohn and the entire team of Spot.us

Links & Discoveries of the Week

  • Al Gore: The Internet can help climate change – Al Gore speaks @ the Web 2.0 summit and describes how online social activism is in its infancy and Web 2.0 must have a purpose. Read the NYTimes article here. Watch the CNET video here. Another great quote: “The Internet — specifically, the “cloud” where information is stored — also has a role to play, Mr. Gore said. “We have to have the truth — the inconvenient truth, forgive me — stored in the cloud so that people don’t have to rely on that process, and so we can respond to it collectively.”
  • When imagining this new green web – check out the beginning of a comprehensive “climate change API” (AMEE) and a new project called AccountAbility that’s trying “to make use of resources that gather product and company reviews, as well as distill these reviews into quantifiable numbers, or ratings.” More on AccountAbility on the Bilumi blog.
  • Idealist.org and the Art Director’s Club launched a website to connect nonprofits and causes with designers and creatives. – DesignismConnects (Press Release – here)
  • Apps for Democracy Review – 47 apps built in 30 days worth $2,000,000! – How a simple contest inspired an array of web applications that helps people connect to goverment data – from iPhone apps, Facebook apps, web apps, mobile apps, to maps mash-ups and a wiki
  • CrisisWire Launches – From Nate Ritter’s launch post: CrisisWire is a self-aggregating website that pulls information on any disaster around the US and displays it on one page.” Also featured on Mashable and Ecopreneurist.
  • Virgance re-launches their site and “snaps up 1 Block Off the Grid to give solar buyers more power” – (NYTimes.com) – 1Bog enables “consumers who want to install solar panels [to] band together into coordinated buying groups to cut a deal for their own home’s installation.”
  • The Virgin Group plans to launch ‘Virgin Money Giving‘, an independent not-for-profit organisation designed to facilitate widespread UK fundraising and help charities receive more of their charitable donations. Press release here.
  • The Knight Foundation launches a new community site called Knight Pulse, a place to discuss the future of information.
  • [MP3] From SSIR’s Online Giving MarketsListen to Premal Shah, Kiva.org President, on the Creation of Online Giving Markets and how the power of online communities can strengthen the world of microcredit.
  • SSIR Blog: People-Powered Content: It’s Driving the Web and Could Drive Your Community! Amy Sample Ward shares awesome examples and tips for how nonprofits can activate their supporters for change.

Social Actions News & Updates:

This was a whirlwind of a week for the SocialActions community!

  • A few days after announcing a logo winner (Congrats again to Kelli Sorrentino), we were extremely excited to re-launch the new Social Actions site Thursday night.
    It’s now super easy to connect with actions – whether you’re trying to find actions, add actions to your site, or develop an application. Check out a before and after (plus a guide to the new site) here.
  • We’re also very excited to announce a collaborative project, Change the Web 2009, which seeks to transform the web for social change. Via a contest launching in January 2009, we hope to encourage a new wave of web applications that embed opportunities to make a difference on the websites, blogs, and social networks that we already visit online.
    Do you want to join us on an adventure to change the web for good? Check out this new post (*with 9 ChangetheWeb adverts*) and leave a comment!

What are Social Actions Roundups?

Each week, Social Actions community members post links and news about online social activism – This round-up is a summary of the links that surfaced in the last 7 days. You can now share links and news for future Social Actions rounds ups in the Peer-to-Peer Social Change FriendFeed Room. Check out past roundups here.

Social Actions roundups are also syndicated on CauseWired, TakePart, and NetSquared.

New: You can also tag your delicious bookmarks with “p2pchange” or include “#p2pchange” in your tweets – we’ll scoop them up and review them for future Social Actions Roundups.

One Widget, 20 Platforms, Your Blog, Infinite Ways to Change the World…

Congrats to the Social Actions team on the launch of their new widget, which recommends ways to take action on behalf of causes related to the content of any web page. Tailor-made for blogs (and I’m going to experiment with it myself), the widget is powered by the new Social Actions open API – so you probably guess this is just the first step in rolling out cause-related actions from many databases. According to Social Actions, “the widget automatically identifies the keywords on any page and lists social change campaigns related to the stuff you’re writing about. These campaigns are gathered from social action platforms like Kiva, DonorsChoose, Change.org, GlobalGiving, Care2, Idealist.org, and fourteen others.” You can go get it and read more here.

What’s in a Name: Why ‘CauseWired’?

The book’s title has one thing going for it – it tends to make people curious. “CauseWired, eh?” they’ll say, perhaps rubbing a chin or two. “What’s it about?” The easy answer is “the rise of online social activism,” but that’s too short for anything but the quickest of elevator rides. So I thought I’d do a post borrowing a few thoughts from the book on what “CauseWired” means, how far it reaches, who it involves, and what it may come to encompass.

First off, “CauseWired” is a term of art – a bit of marketing short-hand that publishers love for book titles. It comes directly from a headline that the good folks at Contribute magazine put on an article I wrote last summer about Web 2.0 utilities and philanthropy. So I didn’t invent the term, but my publisher liked it and I thought it might come to stand for much of the activity I set out to chronicle. And I did break it down a bit before adopting the neat catch-phrase.

First, the “cause” part. To me, causes are situations that motivate people to try and change some part of the status quo; causes are, by definition, progressive. They are what drive people to seek change. But I also favor the widest possible definition for the purposes of this study. That change can be fairly conventional – what we’ve always thought of charities and nonprofit institutions to be about: healing the sick, feeding the hungry, protecting the environment, fighting injustice, educating the young. These areas, at the least in the United States, are dominated by established 501c3 tax-exempt organizations and religions organizations. Many of these groups have pivoted sharply in recent years and adopted cutting-edge technology in their fundraising and donor cultivation activities – they realize that as the donor pool gets younger and more open in its connection to causes, they must evolve quickly or be left behind.

Certainly, large nonprofits are part of the story but they’re not all of it. Unless you’ve been hiding away from the tumult and national argument, you’re undoubtedly aware of the effect online organizing has in recent politics. Millions of Americans have signed on as virtual supporters and they’ve contributed tens of millions of dollars to their candidates; all the while, a new class of activist-journalists drives debate and challenges the mainstream media’s view of the national polity from behind the dashboards of their blogs. Then there are what I call the “flash causes” – quick and fast-moving drives to organize people online to take action, in response to a disaster or news story, for example. Finally, there are the social entrepreneurs, a rising class of visionaries that is building online activism into plans for a new generation of change agent organizations.

And what is “wired” about this movement?

Surely, nonprofits and politicians have been raising money online for more than a decade now. And “wired” itself just doesn’t cut it in a media landscape so dominated by wireless technology. Yet, there is something about the current environment that makes wired causes so compelling right now, as opposed to a few years ago. First, “wired” doesn’t just mean the chords attaching your computer to the wall, or the high-speed cable inside that wall and leading out to the street. It means the people on the vast network of networks; never before have we all be so wired – that is to say, so closely related. Email was one thing, the “killer app” of the first decade of the commercial Internet – and it remains a vital connector.

But we’ve moved well beyond it, to a far more connected Internet. On any given day, I stay in touch with hundreds of people – real friends and Facebook “friends” – and they keep track of me, through Facebook, via Twitter (a short-messaging service that limits posts to 140 characters) and FriendFeed, by subscribing to blog feeds or Flickr feeds or YouTube accounts. That wired – or wireless, of course, but it makes for an inferior metaphor – infrastructure of personal interaction and its growth over the last three years creates fertile ground for fast-moving social activism online. It allows for a kind of charitable involvement that is both personal and open to the world, what microfinance pioneer Susan Davis terms “the philanthropy of you.”

There’s another force in the “wiring” as well. We’re living in a time of widespread experimentation involving causes – call it social entrepreneurship, venture philanthropy, social enterprise or whatever term strikes your fancy. But at its core, this movement favors a tolerance for risk in seeking social change. It’s no accident that two of the poster children for changing how society engages in philanthropy are web-based, social network-friendly, highly viral – the microfinance site Kiva.org and the targeted philanthropy enterprise DonorsChoose. The ability to tap vast databases and provide a personal donor or lender experience is at the forefront of online social activism. Together they form what Ben Rattray, founder of the innovative giving portal Change.org, calls “the mega-public,” a vast and interconnected army of people who, at least in part, want to change the world.

Technology makes it possible, of course – new protocols and software “hooks” that allow websites to talk to each other, that break down the barriers and silos that held back true online collaboration in the early days. The authors of Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams, describe that model for widespread collaboration: “Call them the “weapons of mass collaboration.” New low-cost collaborative infrastructures—from free Internet telephony to open source software to global outsourcing platforms—to allow thousands upon thousands of individual s and small producers to co-create products, access markets, and delight customers in ways that only large corporations could manage in the past. This is giving rise to new collaborative capabilities and business models that will empower the prepared firm and destroy those that fail to adjust.”

Tapscott and Williams, who focus primarily on consumer markets, foresee something of a golden age – “a critical turning point in economic and social history” – and it may well be possible extend their view of online collaboration to causes. Wikipedia, the massive free online encyclopedia that is written and edited entirely by its own user community, is emblematic of this possibility. In seven years, that community has built Wikipedia into a strong consumer brand – the the fifth highest brand ranking by the readers of brandchannel.com – with over 10 million articles in 253 languages, comprising a combined total of over 1.74 billion words by March, 2008. Yet, Wikipedia is itself a wired cause, run by the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. a non-profit organization headquartered in San Francisco. To its most ardent volunteers, Wikipedia is a vital cause, a rallying point for online social activism: “Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That’s our commitment,” reads the foundation’s credo. Wikipedia’s 75,000 active users write and edit and check facts – and they support the cause of knowledge using a set of digital tools unavailable a decade ago. They’re part of a hidden economy, or “prosumers” as futurist Alvin Toffler calls them – amateur or semi-professional volunteers and activists, passionate in their work and contributing real value to the greater society. In terms of social activism, they’re part of Ben Rattray’s increasingly powerful mega-public.

And not to put to fine a point on it, much of that mega-public is young. The headlines and the ubiquitous B-roll footage don’t tell a particularly compelling story about the priorities of young people these days. To the popular press, young Americans are “generation clueless” – millions of selfish, naïve and coddled starlet types staggering through their lives intentionally blind to the suffering of others, to world poverty, to the great issues of our day. To some degree, this reputation is hard earned.

But the generalization of a materially obsessed generation masks a vital and important movement – a subtle shift in priorities and aspirations that will have a huge impact on the future of philanthropy. At no point since the student movements of the 1960s have young people worn their causes so openly – but this time around, the Facebook Generation isn’t fighting the establishment. The own it. For today’s super-wired, always-on, live-life-in-public young Americans, the causes you support define who you are.

And so, they’re CauseWired – at least I think so. What about you?