‘Be willing to take risks’

Matt Flannery
Matt Flannery advises would-be entrepreneurs to take risks. The co-founder of microloan site Kiva.org, he lectured at Tulane University on Thursday (Jan. 29) for the NewDay Social Entrepreneurship Distinguished Speakers Series. (Photo by Guillermo Cabrera-Rojo)

In his journey from software engineer to being co-founder of the world-renowned microloan site Kiva.org, Matt Flannery epitomizes a central concept of social innovation — using one’s innate skills to develop a program or service that has a clear positive impact on society.

Kiva has spread to over 80 countries, including the United States, and has lent out nearly $600 million, Flannery told a Tulane University audience on Thursday (Jan. 29) at the NewDay Social Entrepreneurship Distinguished Speakers Series.

“Don’t be afraid — if you have good intentions, be willing to take risks and things will likely work out in your favor,” Flannery advised budding innovators in the audience.

The road to his Kiva project began when he heard a talk on microfinancing by Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus.

“Yunus’ work presented a social innovation that enabled millions of people to access financial services for the first time,” Flannery said, “which I found incredibly inspiring.”

After college, Flannery traveled to Uganda to work on a social impact measurement project and decided to create a pilot program. He posted on a website the stories of Ugandans in need of small loans to start businesses or community-based projects. Each profile included background information, the loan amount, a repayment schedule, pictures and a comment section.

After the success of those first few loans, Flannery quit his job and recruited a group of motivated individuals to work on developing Kiva.org. Kiva’s model later shifted to partnering with grassroots microlending organizations such as churches and small banks around the world, which would become the go-betweens for the loans.

Ever the social entrepreneur, Flannery briefly discussed emerging trends in microfinance such as asset-based funding, in which individuals seek supplies or machinery that will help jump-start their business or other venture, and mobile credit, where mobile phones are utilized to transfer loans.

Originally posted by The New Wave. Written by Hannah Dean, a sophomore majoring in Latin American studies and political science at Tulane University.