Premal Shah, the President of Kiva.org, is speaking at PARC tomorrow, and I'm really excited. Kiva.org is a non-profit organization that provides microloans to individuals in the developing world. Over the last few months, as reported by the NYTimes Magazine, Kiva.org has had so much demand, that some visitors to the website was greeted with the message, "Thanks Kiva Lenders! You've funded EVERY business on the site!!". When was the last time you heard from a charity that it had enough money to do everything it wanted to do? That's the amazing popularity of Kiva.
After seeing a PBS Frontline special late at night in my hotel room while I was traveling out of town in Nov 2006, I immediately opened my web browser and joined other people in discovering the joy of being a microlender. The experience has been amazing. I've made 8 loans so far and tell everyone about Kiva whenever I can.
What's amazing about Kiva is that it uses Web2.0 application design principles to connect lenders to borrowers.
First, it builds a social network around a microloan, so you can see everyone who has also loaned to the same person. While I personally have not really experienced a lot of communication between lenders so far due to my busy schedule, the feel of the community is real. People build their lender profile pages, and some even appears to compete to see who can make more loans.
Second, it exploits the long tail of participation to reach people at all economic levels as potential lenders. If you are willing to part with $25 for a while, you can be a microlender too, and the risk is just a 0.14% default rate! It's hard to convince someone to part with large amounts of money, but it isn't hard to convince almost anyone to loan out $25 that have a good chance of being paid back (and you get to help someone in the mean time!) The concepts of microloans is pioneered by Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
Third, it builds and thrives on end-user participation. On the fansite, KivaFriends.org, user-generated content show screencasts of how to make a loan step-by-step, people post about their experiences, and organize fundraisers and sell calendars.
I'm really looking forward to the talk tomorrow, and will post the video of the talk here as soon as I can.