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Matt Flannery, co-founder of Kiva Microfunds, recently spoke in our hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas, and discussed his path from toiling social entrepreneur to international game changer. Kiva or as it is known by many of its users, is a non-profit that allows people to lend money via the Internet to low-income and underserved entrepreneurs and students in 70 countries.

With Kiva being such a great success story, I for one was interested in the marketing of Kiva, and curious as to what the tipping point for the organization was. Matt, appearing quite comfortable in his own skin, had no problem admitting that it was equal parts good idea and good fortune that helped fuel their amazing growth. The first break came from meeting Bill Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative and a subsequent mention in Clinton’s book, Giving. Clinton went on to introduce Matt to Oprah, no last name required. This meeting led to an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the subsequent Oprah effect — which is a lot like the butterfly effect, if said butterfly had a wingspan of a 747.

Matt Flannery had no problem admitting that it was equal parts good idea and good fortune that helped fuel their amazing growth.

Of course, being on Oprah was just the break. It still took a smart guy (two degrees from Stanford) a brazen idea (loans with no collateral), and a talented team to pull it off. He and his collaborators spent countless hours Pre-Oprah (P.O.) honing the product and the delivery mechanism. During this time, he basically had two full-time jobs — one that paid him to design the software behind TiVo and one that didn’t pay at all, at least monetarily, to create Kiva. He and his co-founders officially launched Kiva in 2005 and by 2009 had provided loans totaling $100,000,000 to borrowers in need.

Kiva celebrated its eighth birthday in October and continues to roll on, increasing its game changing reach to even more parts of the world — most recently opening up its loan program to clients in the United States. Kiva has even extended loans to entrepreneurs right here in Arkansas, making Matt’s appearance in the Natural State even more inspiring.

It was a great talk by a dynamic guy that contained something for just about everyone who attended — from students to business professionals to countless others who are no doubt plotting the next great word-changing venture. After all, all they need is a big idea and a big break.

If you want to help Kiva give someone a break, become a Kiva lender.

P.S. If you aren’t familiar with the lecture series at the Clinton School for Public Service, in conjunction with the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, you really should check it out. They continue to bring in an array of thought provoking guests and attendance is free of charge. Click here to see the list of upcoming speakers.


Author Thoma Thoma

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