By Yardain Amron, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 12, 2013
Most students aren’t too keen to work on finance on a Friday — unless it’s for a good cause.
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Students and community members dedicated their Friday to social entrepreneurship and funding at the first ever Social Innovation Summit, held at the Ross School of Business. About 375 registered attendees gathered to participate in panel discussions, exchange ideas, network and hear from experts such as Matt Flannery, co-founder and CEO of microfinance firm Kiva.
The event was conceived and organized by the Nonprofit and Public Management Center, a multidisciplinary unit combining elements of the School of Social Work, Ross School of Business and Ford School of Public Policy.
Rishi Moudgil, managing director of the center, said a lot of the topics discussed at the forum are often covered at different events, but Friday’s event was a great opportunity to mold the disciplines into one collaborative discussion.
Attendees first heard from seven experts profiling a range of funding alternatives — from microlending to crowdsourcing — and then listened to an armchair conversation between Flannery and Moudgil. While Moudgil guided the keynote, audience members also contributed questions through a Twitter feed and Post-It notes.
Flannery offered a frank assessment of Kiva’s success. The nonprofit — which provides loans to low-income individuals across the globe — was conceived as a late night side-project after a trip to Uganda in 2004 while Flannery was discontented as a software engineer for Tivo, a DVR company.
“At night I was managing an African microfinance institution, and programming (DVR) by day,” Flannery said.
Lenders contribute as little as $25 through Kiva, which works with microfinance institutions to distribute these loans where central banking systems are weak or nonexistent. Kiva boasts a 99-percent return rate on these loans.
A budding Kiva initiative back in the United States has begun providing loans to small businesses that banks deem too risky to support. So far, 500 loans of roughly $10,000 each have been awarded. Flannery noted these loans only have an 85 percent return rate — a point of concern for Kiva.
Flannery was quick to point out his failures prior to Kiva. He tried to write a Hollywood screenplay, work for the CIA and even start a DVD vending-machine business and online clothing rental business — all of which failed.
Even Kiva's start was slow.
“We ended up not raising any money for two years, and I’d say venture capitalists generally thought it wasn't a good business,” Flannery said.
Today, Kiva obtains three quarters of its funding through optional $3 donations by lenders and additional funding through grants and corporate sponsors.
“That's one thing I don’t like,” said Public Policy junior Courtney Green, who loaned $100 through Kiva after a trip to Lebanon this past summer. “I think that Kiva should raise its own money and not ask the lender to pay.”
At the end of the keynote, Flannery offered a few words of advice to aspiring social innovators.
“Go to the field, wherever that is,” Flannery said. “Don't start by working in an office ... start by doing it yourself, and you'll get an original voice.”
Flannery began offering field-intensive internships after friends backpacking around the world continuously asked him how they could get involved with Kiva. In 2007, the Kiva Fellows program was conceived, and now offers 100 unpaid internships each year. The application deadline for this upcoming year is Jan. 26.