A Conversation with Fiona Ramsey, Public Relations Director for Kiva.org   Kiva.org, a San Francisco company founded in 2005 by husband and wife Matt and Jessica Flannery, is the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending Web si

te. Featured in President Clinton’s book Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World and on Oprah Winfrey’s talk-show, the site has enabled individuals to become micro-bankers and connect with entrepreneurs in the developing world through small business loans. Fiona Ramsey, the company spokeswoman, explains how Kiva (which means ‘unity’ in Swahili) can change the world $25 at a time.    How is Kiva revolutionizing the world of philanthropy?   Well microfinance has been around for about 30 years but with the 2005 international year of micro credit and Muhammad Yunus (the founder of Grameen Bank and pioneer of micro-lending) winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 there is of course a new interest in microfinance.   A lot more people are learning about it. There is a different feel to it than your traditional philanthropy where people give money to an individual or an organization. In this case the recipients are receiving loans and there is a huge element of self-dignity to it.   A lot of the enthusiasm around microfinance is because of the idea that once you get a business up and running it will continue to grow and the loan will be repaid. And there is also a phenomenon that I call “nation fatigue”. People are a little bit exhausted with images received through the media about poverty. They are looking for something different and Kiva is filling that gap. Americans want a lot more accountability for where their money is going and they also want a closer connection to the actual recipients of their loans. Kiva lenders want to know who they are helping but can’t always afford to go to Africa. With technology and the web we all have the ability to be connected with people in Africa and in the developing world.   Can you talk about the uniqueness of Kiva’s business model?   We are financed by donations and grants. When we can say to a lender “if you lend 25 dollars to a person that person will receive $25 dollars”, that’s really powerful. Paypal is letting us do it for free (by not collecting its usual fees).   What makes Kiva different is that we want to be very clear about what goes to whom.   The entrepreneurs pay interests to our field partners who update lenders on the progress of each loan.   Kiva is an open platform where people who want to lend can connect with people who need a loan through organizations that are very successful lenders. People can make a choice based on a lot of information that we can provide on our website. And that is really what we want to do: empower the lender rather than having this very passive experience where you just send some money away and hope that it ends in the right hands. We really want to make it a more active and engaged philanthropic experience.   Kiva is a start-up ran by entrepreneurs rather than a charitable organization?   Part of what makes Kiva feel different is this business feel. The majority of people that work here have a corporate background. We definitely treat Kiva like a business. And that’s how we wanted to operate to be most successful.   A lot of the issues that we talk about are business issues because we want this to be the world’s largest database of micro-entrepreneurs online. We want to be really driven. You can see the growth that we have achieved so far (Kiva has increased its total loan portfolio to more than $25 million) and that really relates to the strong business feel that we have in the office.   We look at people with whom we interact as our customers. We have a strong social mission but that doesn’t mean that we can’t see it as a business with customers we need to satisfy. We are not interested in having pictures of people looking miserable. We are interested in having pictures of entrepreneurs and a business description of what they are doing.   We are not writing stories about poverty but stories about entrepreneurship. People have been so overexposed in the media with these images of poverty and sadness. We want to get away from that. We are not doing charity here. We expect the money to be paid back. Philanthropic people are very used to encountering images and language that really focus on tragedy.  But somebody in California has no way in the world to relate to pandemic disease or war or famine or natural disaster. What Kiva is doing is trying to bring you back to something that’s very easy to relate to. Most people in the United States used a loan to go to college so it’s something that they can relate to. By Anne Senges, for Atelier For more information,visit www.kiva.org Related article: Kiva.org: When peer2peer lending helps in the fight against poverty FEEDBACK For comments on this article, email us at editorial@atelier-us.com