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Meet Jessica Jackley!

Posted Nov 5 2012 - 12:00pm

Meet Bucknell alumni Jessica Jackley, a woman who has figured out the key to success – she’s making an impact in the world one step at a time. Jessica founded Kiva.org, a non-profit organization serving to alleviate poverty by connecting people with international microfinance institutions. This organization works to create opportunity where none existed previously.

HC: Tell us a little bit about Kiva.org and how you got started.

JJ: Kiva lets anyone lend $25 or more to a specific entrepreneur online. Essentially, this allows people to lend money to small local businesses in developing countries and in the U.S. I was six years old when I first heard stories about the poor.  I remember learning that people who were poor needed something material -- food, clothing, shelter -- that they didn't have. After a while, I developed a predicatable response: I started to feel bad every time I heard about the less-fortunate. I started to feel guilty for my own relative wealth, and so naturally, I began to distance myself. I stopped listening to their stories quite as closely as I had before. And I stopped expecting any sort of change.            

Thankfully, a few years ago, things shifted for me because I heard this gentleman speak, Dr. Muhammad Yunus. He spoke about strong, smart, hardworking entrepreneurs who woke up every day and worked to make their lives and their families’ lives better. All they really needed was just a little bit of capital. It's hard to express now how much that affected me -- but I was so moved that I actually quit my job a few weeks later, and I moved to East Africa to see for myself what this was about.  And I learned about profit and revenue, about leverage, all sorts of things, from farmers, from seamstresses, from goat herders. I hoped that these hopeful stories might be shared with my friends and family, and through that, maybe wefigure out how to loan them some of the money they needed to be able to continue their businesses. And that’s how Kiva.org began.

A few months later, I went back to Uganda with a digital camera and took pictures of seven of my new friends, posted their stories of homegrown entrepreneurship, and spammed friends and family and said, "We think this is legal. Haven't heard back yet from SEC on all the details, but do you want to help participate in this, will you help provide the money that they need?" The money came in basically overnight. We sent it over to Uganda.  And over the next six months, a beautiful thing began to happen: the entrepreneurs received their capital, paid back their loans, and their businesses grew. They were able to support themselves and change the trajectory of their lives.  After those first seven loans were paid, my partner Matt and I took the word “beta” off of the site. We said, "our little experiment has been a success. Let's start for real." That was our official launch. And then that first year, October '05 through '06, Kiva facilitated $500,000 in loans. 

HC: What was your major/minor at Bucknell?  

JJ: I majored in Philosophy and Political Science, with a minor in poetry.

HC: How can Bucknell students get involved with Kiva.org?

JJ: There are so many great ways to get involved. The simplest and most obvious is that anyone can lend, at anytime! But there are other ways too. First, there are three Bucknell-related Kiva lending teams, which would be great to check out.

Additionally, there are Campus Kiva programs, all info is here: 

There are numerous volunteer and internship opportunities at any given time as well. All info here: 

And my favorite option for college students, the Kiva Fellows program is a phenomenal option for a summer or post-grad experience for several months. 

Last but not least, there are great jobs available from time to time, so graduating seniors should check them out! 

HC: What are your Bucknell favorites? (spot on campus, meal at Bucknell, class, Freeze flavor, etc.)

JJ: Oh my goodness, this is tough... I don't know if they are still there but I loved studying in the library on the lowest floor, on the beanbag chairs!  Also obsessed with 7th St Cafe, of course. And maybe the least obvious favorite spot was the Stadler Center for Poetry. I have very fond memories of classes and workshops there. In fact, my favorite class was there (or, favorite classes were there). I actually took the same poetry workshop -- which was my favorite class -- over and over again so I could learn from each new poet in residence. It was so awesome. Freeze flavor?? That's the toughest question yet. I would mix it up and get different stuff each time, so I guess I don't have one. ALL of them were great.

HC: Tell us four fun facts about yourself.

  1. I am the very proud mama of twin boys, Cyrus and Jaspar. They just turned 1 and are the loves of my life! 
  2. I have some crazy travel stories and stats, lots of them. I'll stick to stats to keep it short. Here are three:
  3. I proudly survived sitting in a middle seat, last row, on a 17-hr flight direct/nonstop from Dubai-SFO. (BTW, I don't recommend this.) Another time, I was in a different country every day for the whole week straight, and on the last day of that week I came home to the US, but was in DC because I had to go directly from the airport to a meeting at the White House (which had more security than some of the countries I'd visited days earlier). My heaviest travel year was being gone 10.5 out of 12 months total. (Those travel days are a thing of the past now bc of the babies, but I wouldn't trade it for the world!)
  4. I love to surf, though don't get to do it as much as I'd like. I live in NYC this year but usually live in LA, and when I'm there it's much easier to go, obviously!
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