Joining the dots the Kiva way

An old expression, maybe, but “that idea is so simple I don’t know why I never thought of it” applies almost on a weekly or monthly basis when you’re tapped into the Silicon Valley technology/academic environment. Take YouTube. The idea seems like a no-brainer, but to take it from nothing to a $1.6 billion venture in less than two years really gets you thinking… What will be next? Can I get a slice of the action? Will Google spot me?

For a few years now I’ve been racking my brains trying to come up with ways technology can be used to connect donors and recipients, and build social networks to support and sustain it. I’m convinced that people would take more of an interest in what their money does if they can give it, or in the case of Kiva lend it, directly to the person that needs it. Traditional donations are relatively untargeted and given with an almost blind faith. How many people know what happened to the $10 they gave to the Asian tsunami appeal? Has it bought someone a fishing net, or helped them repair their boat, or their home? Or is it still sitting in a bank account waiting to be spent?

Kiva is, dare I say it, such an amazingly simple yet brilliant idea it’s pretty amazing that no-one (me included!) never thought of it earlier. Kiva lets you lend to a specific entrepreneur, or small business-person, in the developing world – empowering them to lift themselves from poverty. Not only does it provide a platform to make that virtual connection, it also creates an emotional one. Furthermore, it’s a loan, not a donation, so your $50 or whatever can be used over and over again. And you get to see it working.

Kiva is relatively new – it will celebrate its second birthday around Easter – yet it continues to expand both geographically (it recently launched in France) and in reach (new microfinance institutions are coming on board the whole time). It’s a perfect example of how technology can be used in a positive, constructive way. And it’s sustainable.

Who knows what’s next. Maybe I’ll think of something. But Kiva certainly raises the bar, and long may it continue to do so.