Over the last five years, my answer to this question has evolved. When I first came to Kiva as a volunteer in 2009, the objectives were clear - firstly, spend as much time as I could on the golf courses of San Francisco, without getting fired from my unpaid internship. And secondly, help poor women in Africa to access microloans.
I had spent eight months of my "gap year" teaching at a school in Zambia, and had determined that I wanted to do what I could to alleviate the dire poverty that I witnessed there first-hand. These people were why I loaned on Kiva. While I was peppering Bay Area bunkers, Kiva challenged this paradigm, by making its first loans to U.S. entrepreneurs.
As I saw it, Americans already had abundant access to resources. For every $25 that I loaned to a U.S. small business owner on Kiva, that was $25 fewer dollars going to a farmer in Uganda. I didn't mind if other lenders wanted to lend to U.S. borrowers on Kiva, but I certainly didn't. Over the last five years, my perspectives on this question of "Why I Zip" have changed.
I've personally witnessed the intense income inequality that exists in America, and realized the challenges that fledgling small businesses have in accessing the capital they need to grow. I've been shocked that the median wealth of White households is 20 times that of African American, and 18 times that of Hispanic households. I've walked past the bricked-up windows of once-thriving restaurants and shops in inner-city Detroit and the south side of Chicago.
I've learned that while small businesses account for the majority of net new jobs in the economy, in the face of 8,000 small business loan applications being rejected by banks every single day, only 25,000 U.S. microloans are made over the course of a typical year. I believe hard-working, talented, passionate, would-be entrepreneurs throughout the world are often prevented from chasing their dreams not by a lack of ability, but by a lack of opportunity. And I believe millions of them live in America.
I no longer believe it's a zero sum game. I used to worry that every loan that Kiva made in America would mean fewer loans made in Angola. I now think the opposite is true. Whenever the Richmond Times Dispatch or the New Jersey Star Ledger cover Kiva Zip, or President Bill Clinton or Senator Mark Warner promote our program, that's more people learning about Kiva.
Whenever funders like Capital One or the Knight Foundation financially support our U.S. microlending, that's more resources that we can use to build better platforms, which will help small business owners in every country in the world, as well as this one. For every U.S. entrepreneur that we make a loan to on Kiva Zip, 20 new lenders are signing up to make their first ever Kiva loan, because they want to publicly demonstrate their support for their friend, family member or neighbor. We hope that when these 20 lenders get repaid by the friend they loaned to, many will relend their repayments to other Kiva borrowers - whether they are on the other side of that lender's street, or on the other side of the world.
Most importantly, I've made friends. Over the last three years I've had the privilege of personally getting to know hundreds of Kiva Zip borrowers throughout the United States. I've been inspired by their passion, and humbled by their determination to succeed at what I consider to be the hardest job in the world - owning your own business. I've eaten their pupusas, purchased their flip flops, got a little merry on their potent beer, and had my hair cut in their barbershops.
This is the most important part of my own personal "Why I Zip" evolution: Sheer poverty alleviation is no longer the sole motivation. It has been joined by the desire for personal connection. I love being able to support Kiva Zip entrepreneurs, not just with 0% interest financial capital, but with my custom, my promotion of their businesses to my 12 Twitter followers, my words of affirmation and encouragement, and the occasional snippet of business advice (which they would in almost all cases no-doubt be better-advised to ignore). These personal connections are what I mean by social capital.
For me, the biggest possible vision for the Kiva Zip experiment is of a whole new model of "philanthropy" (whose etymology is from the Greek words for "loving mankind"), based upon closer connections, and greater empathy -- not between "donors" and "recipients", but between co-members of a supportive community.
I dream of a whole new financial system, based not upon profit, greed and numerical transactions, but upon people, generosity and human connections.
That naïve, moonshot vision is #WHYIZIP.