On Tuesday, I attended the first ever Giving Tuesday 'Jamathon' organized by Full Circle Fund. Kiva was one of seven Bay Area non-profits selected for the competition, and our team consisted of my manager Justin Renfro, four members of Full Circle Fund who have been designated as 'rising leaders', and me. We met a couple of times earlier in the week to establish Kiva Zip's main 'pain-point', expanding our lender base. On the night of the Jamathon, we were joined by two additional rising leaders to complete our team for the competition.
Preparing for the Jamathon
Hosted at the open, almost play-like workspace of Tagged Inc., the evening began with drinks, food and a general mingling of all seven non-profit teams. It was an eclectic bunch in attendance, all young, bright, and especially determined professionals. Amongst others, I met the founder of Kuli Kuli. She suffered the early stages of malnutrition in West Africa and decided with others to start a mission-driven business making granola bars from a super-food plant called Moringa while simultaneously supporting women-owned co-ops that grow the crop in West Africa. I also met the founder of The Reset Foundation, which offers a model of incarceration centered on learning, education, and reentry.
Following each non-profit's brief 'pain-point' presentation, the teams went to their assigned room or table and spent the next two hours brainstorming solutions. Intense conversations occurred over coffee and wine, ideas were vetted, some were thrown out and the better ones were written down. When time was up, each team presented its solution. In the end, we walked away with some excellent ideas thanks to the fresh views of outside experts looking at Kiva Zip.
On Friday, Kiva Zip had it's first ever Bay Area Holiday Marketplace. We began with a round table discussion of some twenty local Trustees on how to identify and endorse more borrowers. Later, Kiva's entire office was opened up to over one hundred Kiva Zip community members and their friends. 14 amazing Kiva Zip entrepreneurs showcased their products, and it was exceptionally nice to meet the borrowers face-to-face and sample their goods! From fermented cabbages to shoes made from recycled rubber, the goods being sold ran the gamut. As a Fellow, I felt warmed to finally put a face to name on several contacts I had made throughout my Fellowship via email and telephone. We drank, laughed and networked, and it was with some reluctance that I had to pull myself away.
Showcasing Kiva Zip Borrowers at Kiva Holiday Market
On Saturday, some other Kiva Zip volunteers and I attended the San Francisco Bazaar "quirky holiday craft fair and D.I.Y. marketplace". At our booth, we signed up both volunteers and lenders. Later, I hit the pavement and pitched as many individual vendors about Kiva Zip as time would allow, gently offering a nifty flier and a business card once I'd established some interest. We even ran into some vendors who had already raised funds using Kiva Zip, including a leather wallet craftsman who uses old furniture remnants, an artisanal soap manufacturer and a cupcake bakeshop. More than a few people with whom I spoke had already heard about Kiva Zip, attesting to its growing profile amongst the Bay Area community.
Kiva Volunteer Maximo Robles and I at the SF Bazaar
Holiday Shopping at the SF Bazaar
On the following Monday, I attended an event at Hult International Business School, home of the now famous Hult Prize. Here, a group of passionate Social Entrepreneurship Master's students officially launched their 'co-creation' hub, a hybrid between an incubator and a support group for students looking to start their own business. Under these auspices, they are currently building their own Kiva Zip Trustee profile.
I spoke briefly to the invited attendees, coming from various backgrounds, all passionate and determined to change the world for the better through entrepreneurship. The first project to come out of this hub might well be a recycling start-up that aims to credit the user of plastic bottles and aluminum cans everytime he/she deposits the used container into a pre-placed recycling receptacle. Their plan is to credit the consumer's bank account via the use of a phone app.
After the event, we headed for a beer at a local brew pub, where I pitched a Russian language TV host whom I had met at the event on the possibility of her producing a TV segment about Kiva Zip, perhaps highlighting a Russian borrower or focusing on one of Kiva's founders.
As a Kiva Fellow serving with Kiva Zip, I am continually inspired by the people I meet. The experience of volunteering has given me a more optimistic outlook on humanity - the world more generally and on my own potential for making meaningful, positive contributions to it.
For my next adventure, I go to Sierra Leone. It was not without some trepidation that I accepted the placement and even now I feel a little daunted by the challenges that lay ahead. But I know that it is the right thing to do and that I am continuing to forge a purposeful path in the service of something bigger than myself.
My hope is that some day, after we've proved Kiva Zip to be a self-scaling model of ground-up community empowerment, we'll take it to places like Sierra Leone, where interest free loans could revolutionize micro-finance. In the mean time, I urge you to help us grow the phenomenon, here in the United States of America, where there is so much important work still to be done.
To do your part, go to https://zip.kiva.org/loans today and find an entrepreneur that inspires you.
Know someone who's looking to volunteer for 4 months (or more) for a great cause? Check out the Kiva Fellows Program! It's a great opportunity to learn about how crowdfunding can be used as a tool for economic development in the US, as well as social enterprise and entrepreneurship. With positions in several U.S. cities, Kiva Fellows are our eyes and ears on the ground, working directly with Trustees, borrowers, and lenders and helping to further our mission. We’re always looking for Fellows to serve with Kiva Zip that are committed to support their local community - so we encourage you to share this opportunity with your contacts. Applications are accepted three times a year; the application deadline for the May 2014 class is January 26, 2014. More at www.kiva.org/fellows!