There's lots going on in Louisville, Kentucky right now!
Three weeks ago, I had never been to the city. On November 24th, I will be there for the third time in six weeks!
Two weeks ago I was in town to present Kiva Zip to a room full of 40 mayors, as part of the Mayors Conference on Entrepreneurship, hosted by the Kauffman Foundation. Not only did I enjoy my first ever ride on a police-boat-escorted-hundred-year-old-bourbon-laden-paddle-steamer (The Belle of Louisville), but I was also inspired by the conference to write this blog post on how I believe Kiva Zip can play a much-needed role in supporting "unsexy entrepreneurs" with financial and social capital.
On that same trip, I was also privileged to attend Village Capital's agricultural cohort training course, and met a dozen passionate social entrepreneurs working (and pitching!) hard to create products and services designed to make life easier for America's farmers.
Speaking of farmers, this second trip was to attend the Slow Money National Gathering -- an inspiring and diverse convocation of farmers and financiers, hipsters and hippies aimed at building a more equitable and sustainable agricultural system. I was blown away by how much enthusiasm I experienced for the Kiva Zip model -- both from a financial perspective (zero interest loans that not many other lenders are making), and a social perspective (connections, customers, and community). I had the honor of speaking on a panel entitled Slow Internet -- mischievously moderated by Bryan Welch, who runs Mother Earth News, among other publications. And I had the even greater honor of meeting a number of farmers who had benefited from Kiva Zip loans as borrowers. I was particularly struck by a conversation with Andre Barbour from Canmer, Kentucky, who told me how moved he was to have 270 people from all around the world lend to his fourth-generation family farm.
Today sees the kickoff of the Neighborhood Economics Conference, which our Louisville Fellow David Taliaferro is attending, to represent Kiva Zip. As the name implies, it's a perfect fit with our team's commitment to serving the "neighborhood entrepreneurs" that inject so much color and character into our communities, and are so often overlooked in an economic development discourse that primarily focuses on thousand-employee companies and hockey-sticking tech startups.
Then last night the conference attendees were hosted by Christy Brown, on whose potent steps we heard from Wendell Berry and Vandana Shiva, named to Forbes' list of the Top Seven Most Powerful Women on the Globe. Over the last few months, Christy has been an invaluable champion of the Kiva Zip program in Louisville, and it's in large part thanks to her support that I'm coming back to Louisville for the third time, in a couple of weeks...
...And for us on the Kiva Zip team, that's the most exciting trip of all, because we're delighted to be unveiling Kiva City Louisville on November 24th! Kiva's Co-founder and President Premal Shah will be in town to officially launch the program at the Muhammad Ali Center, which seems appropriate, given, the legendary boxer's dedicated commitment to humanitarian causes. Over the last few months, David has been working hard to cultivate partnerships with dozens of trustee partners, and get the word of Kiva Zip out to entrepreneurs, farmers and small business owners throughout Louisville and the surrounding area. Stock Yards Bank and Trust, the Horseshoe Foundation of Floyd County, and the Rotary Club of Louisville have all provided capital to match loans, and the Owsley Brown II Charitable Foundation, Access Ventures, Metro United Way, and the James Graham Brown Foundation (as well as Stock Yards) have generously given the grant funding we need to make a Kiva City happen. We're wondering how quickly we can support 1,000 small business owners in Louisville with zero-interest, crowdfunded capital.
As you can tell, Louisville is abuzz with creativity and entrepreneurship, and we hope that the Kiva City Louisville program can help contribute to the city's very palpable spirit of optimism and citizenship.
One thing (or rather, person) that has struck me on both of these trips to Louisville has been the city's mayor, Greg Fischer. I am a firm believer that the culture of an organization (and I guess, a city!) is set from the top. An entrepreneurial CEO will lead an entrepreneurial company. And an entrepreneurial mayor will lead an entrepreneurial city. And Mayor Fischer demonstrates the latter very well. He is also an impressively gifted communicator. He did a great job of conveying Louisville's commitment to being an entrepreneurial city at the Mayors Conference, and last night he diplomatically illustrated a powerful parallel between the Veterans Day celebrations that were going on in the streets yesterday, and the Slow Money conference going on inside -- namely, that both groups of citizens were demonstrating their commitment to a cause greater than themselves, whether it be service in the name of their country, or the environment. And of course, if good communication is based upon consistency, Mayor Fischer's enthusiastic evangelism of Bourbonism ("the act of using Kentucky to enjoy Bourbon and local food"), is surely a masterclass!
Mayor Fischer is going to be announcing the launch of Kiva City Louisville on Monday 24th November, so here's hoping he is saving his most inspiring speech until last!
[Note: If you live in or around Louisville, and you are interested in attending the launch of Kiva City Louisville on November 24th, please shoot David an email at David.Taliaferro@fellows.kiva.org]