The CRCC asked Barer Visiting Fellow Jessica Jackley to share some insights on crowdfunding, micro-lending and what makes her tick
CRCC: What sparked your interest as a young person in social entrepreneurship?
I wasn’t interested in social entrepreneurship per se at an early age; I was interested in serving the poor but had no idea how to do this in a way that would really matter, that would really have lasting impact. I did learn about social entrepreneurship a few years out of college and thought it sounded incredibly interesting, but I didn’t yet have a mission yet, and it’s impossible to be an entrepreneur without knowing exactly what you want to do.
When I learned about microfinance, I became totally passionate about the idea of tiny loans to the poor and tried to find experiences that would let me learn more about that. Eventually my adventures learning about microfinance led to the idea for Kiva, and we were able to grow that idea in an entrepreneurial way. So, it was mission-finding first, having an innovative idea, then applying entrepreneurial thinking and business principles to create and grow the organization itself.
CRCC: Seven years after co- founding Kiva.org ( http://kiva.org/ ), what are some of your most cherished accomplishments?
My most cherished accomplishments are really less about specific organizations or roles and more about having a part in changing how people think. Many lenders, for example, now see and know about the lives of others they would have never encountered otherwise, and instead of seeing the poverty they see potential. That’s huge.
The other “accomplishments” I care about most are very personal, and are less accomplishments than they are relationships, gifts that I am doing my best to care for and steward well: my marriage, my babies, my family, and my closest friendships. This is what I cherish most.
How would you explain crowdfunding and what socio-economic role do you see it playing now and in the future?
Crowdfunding is about allowing many individuals to contribute financially, often in relatively small amounts, to support a project or business. It’s clearly a trend and with the JOBS Act we will see a proliferation of crowdfunding-related sites. We’re already starting to see this, and it’s changing the way we all imagine and can have access to the resources we need to pursue more entrepreneurial paths. It’s very exciting.
CRCC: What advice can you give to young people interested in philanthropy and community involvement about starting/re-focusing their careers?
Run after the things (and the people) you love. Don’t get too caught up in figuring out exactly what job you want to pursue or whether or not you want to start an organization and “be an entrepreneur”… instead think broadly about the purpose of your life, and the kind of impact you want to have over the course of your career.
Do you want to impact children through education? Wonderful! There are countless ways to do this: teach in a classroom; build an app to help kids practice math or language; raise money for a nonprofit that provides scholarships; start a charter school; start 100 charter schools; etc. Don’t get hung up on the first few jobs you have, just try to work with people you respect, on projects/in an organization you believe in and that has something to do with your overall mission.
CRCC: You spent a semester teaching Entrepreneurial Design for Social Change here at Drew. How do you think liberal arts students can apply the kind of course you offered in the real world?
I think my students in particular have heard me say this a million times, but if you focus on getting to know, really deeply getting to know, the person or people you want to serve in the world, and if you bring some discipline to trying to understand them and their needs, you can come up with solutions to problems that matter to them. Liberal arts students have an advantage because they are masters of making creative connections among seemingly disparate subjects. They have a diverse set of knowledge and a broad, usually very open-minded worldview. All of these things make for better, more powerful, more creative innovators!
CRCC: In addition to teaching, you are a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a 2011 World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader, and you serve on numerous boards. What do you do in your “spare” time?
CRCC: Tell us about one of the quirkiest experiences you’ve had traveling abroad.
I have too many stories… Once in Rwanda I was charged by one of the largest, oldest living silverback gorillas. He was maybe 15 feet away, and a friend took a photo with a flash (a big no-no) so the gorilla freaked out, roaring, and then charged at us, taking out two trees along the way that were in his path. At the last minute our guide jumped in front of me to block him; he puffed up his chest and grunted at the gorilla, mirroring him — seriously communicating with him — they locked eyes for a minute, staring each other down, and then the gorilla sighed (no joke) and turned and walked away. Super scary.
CRCC: What’s next for you?
JJ: I’m happily serving as a venture partner with the Collaborative Fund, so that’s keeping me plugged in and busy. But I’m thinking about starting another venture myself as well. Follow me on Twitter (@jessicajackley) — will announce soon!
Cara Townsend, C’05
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