Q&A with Lisa Hogen, Chief Development Officer at Kiva

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By Contributors  /  July 15, 2016

Lisa Hogen is chief development officer for Kiva, one of the biggest crowdfunding micro-lending platforms in the world. Kiva is a non-profit organisation that allows people to lend money to low-income entrepreneurs all over the world in order to alleviate poverty, using their online platform.

Kiva has raised US$500 million in loans to date and fund over US$10 million loans each month. There’s few finer missions in life than to empower people to help themselves, we say, so we caught up with Hogen during her recent trip to Hong Kong to find out more about the woman behind it all. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your path to fundraising?
I have always been passionate about social change. At elementary school, I ran canned-food drives for the local homeless shelter, and collected signatures for Amnesty International at high school – I was driven to make the world a better place. After college, this desire brought me to a job with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) where I worked on the fundraising team for their Asia Pacific Program. We were raising money for coral reef and rainforest conservation work throughout Asia and the Pacific. At TNC I learned the power of raising funds for causes that I cared about. It was only through the amazing partnerships we created with individuals, corporations and foundations that we could fulfil our mission.

I also found that I loved the process of engaging people in conversation about the power of philanthropy and creating meaning through money. Needless to say, I was hooked on fundraising and I have since enjoyed similar positions at non-profits focused on multiple causes including the local food movement, international education and literacy, and now supporting global poverty alleviation through Kiva.

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What’s Kiva’s mission is in a nutshell?
At Kiva, we envision a world where all people hold the power to create opportunity for themselves and others. We celebrate and support people looking to create a better future for themselves, their families and their communities. Through our website (kiva.org) we connect lenders (those with capital) to borrowers (those looking for capital). By lending as little as $25 on Kiva, anyone can help a borrower start or grow a business, go to school, access clean energy or realise their potential. For some, it’s a matter of survival, for others it’s the fuel for a life-long ambition. Over our 10-year history, we have loaned $875 million to more than two million borrowers across 80 countries.

What is the importance of empowering women with a platform like Kiva?
In every corner of the globe, women entrepreneurs are breadwinners, change-makers, and transformational leaders. As their businesses and incomes grow, their children’s health and education improve, jobs are created, poverty is reduced, and countries become stronger. Yet, the economic potential of women entrepreneurs globally remains largely untapped. According to the International Finance Corporation (IFC), there are approximately 104 million women entrepreneurs in emerging economies, 70% of whom express difficulties in accessing finance. The IFC has calculated that this results in a $260-$320 billion dollar credit gap. This lack of access to finance is a persistent barrier that limits women’s ability to start or expand their businesses and fully participate in economic, social, and political life. It holds back women, their families, their communities, and entire economies.

This is where Kiva comes in – we are able to bring highly risk tolerant capital that is supplied by our incredible network of 1.5 million lenders, to the far corners of the planet so that women who would otherwise not have access to capital, are given a chance. About 80 percent of the borrowers that we serve through Kiva are women and through our platform, so we are giving them the opportunity to grow their businesses, send their kids to school, and make a better life for themselves and their families. 

What is a typical working day like for you? 
My day typically starts with getting my kids (ages 9 and 12) ready for school and out the door. My husband is very hands on, so this is a shared responsibility. Making breakfast, getting beds made, getting them dressed and out the door, you get the picture.

I then head to work and my day is split between internal meetings, and external calls and meetings with current and potential supporters. I can go from a meeting where we are reviewing our monthly KPIs, to joining a call where we are pitching a Fortune 500 company, to hosting a delegation of businesswomen from Argentina who are visiting to learn about innovative technology companies in the Bay Area (no joke – that was a day in my life a couple of months ago).

My evenings vary greatly. A couple of days a week I leave work early to pick up my kids from school and drive them to their various activities. I feel lucky to have those extra few hours with them. On the evenings when I work late, I am either out playing soccer with my over-35 all-women soccer team (go Spitfires!), dinner with friends, or occasionally attending networking events for Kiva. I will say that I tend to put family and friends first these days, and try to keep a balance between work and life. I feel lucky that Kiva’s culture allows for this. We can do good in the world and still have a personal life!  

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What’s the most important thing you do at Kiva?
I think my most important job is managing my incredible team. There are only nine people on my team, but they are an incredibly passionate and hard working group of individuals and I am continuously reminded how much I absolutely love working with them. My mantra is to hire the best and the brightest and then get out of their way. So I work hard to reduce friction for them internally and remove any barriers to their fundraising efforts. I take great pride and joy managing this high performing team.

What are the key ingredients to Kiva’s success? 
Kiva is unique in three ways. Firstly, we are tech company and a non-profit focused on addressing global poverty. We have created a way to provide a loan, rather than a gift – making it a hand up rather than a hand out. Our platform enables everyone who wants to help others a way to make a difference and allow us to choose where to make an impact. The impact is multiplied due to repayments as many people keep the money after it is repay to continue giving out loans, so  the same $25 can revolve for many cycles thanks to our 98 percent repayment rate.

What have you found are the key factors that corporates look to satisfy when they consider which cause to support?
Many companies are looking to create programs that increase their social impact while positively raising their public profile, they want a big ‘bang for their buck’, and a growing number of companies are looking to meaningfully engage their employees on both fronts. We have an unique employee engagement program where corporate philanthropic dollars are distributed to employees in the form of Kiva codes that can be used to make a free loan on Kiva.

Employees are given the chance to engage in the company’s philanthropic pursuits, social impact is tracked in real time by seeing how many individuals around the world are given a loan through the program, and with repayments on each loan going back into a revolving fund which can be reused over time, their impact can be multiplied many times over.

How does Kiva qualify those that seek a loan and pledge their ask on the platform from its millions of lenders?
Kiva serves borrowers in more than 80 countries on five continents. We have about 110 staff stationed around the world and incredible volunteer fellows working in the field throughout the year. In addition to all these dedicated Kivans, we would not be able to reach so many communities and scale our impact without the extensive network of over 300 Field Partners who help connect us with borrowers. Field Partners are usually micro finance institution or small local banks that screen borrowers, post loan requests to Kiva for funding, disburse loans on the ground and collect repayments. Most Field Partners are micro-finance institutions, but they can also be schools, NGOs or social enterprises. 

Does Field Partners and micro financial institutions charges interests to borrowers? if so, what is the typical interest charged?

Our Field Partners (local micro finance institutions, small local banks) do charges interest to borrowers. The average interest rate charged to by our Field Partners is 35%. This seems higher than developed countries but in Developing countries which usually have high inflation rate of around 20% per annum, to cover operational and transactional costs and be sustainable, they need to charge interest greater than 20%.  Self-sustainability is critical to creating long-term solutions to poverty, and charging interest to borrowers enables our Field Partners to bear costs and achieve self-sustainability. A developed banking system can provide funds at lower rates, because when a bank facilitates larger loans, a lower proportion of costs is needed to cover transactional expenses due to scale. Microfinance is an expensive business, which is essentially the reason small loans are not provided by large banks.

Kiva does not charge interest to Field Partners for the capital it provides, this is done in order to reach communities and populations that may not otherwise be served.  Kiva however do require Field Partners to fully disclose their interest rates and only partners with micro finance institutions that have a social mission to serve the poor, unbanked, and underserved.  We also have about 30+ Field Partners who choose to to charge 0% interest to their clients thanks to Kiva’s capital.

 
 

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Quick five steps to take when considering contributing, supporting or volunteering to a cause?
1. Pick a cause you care deeply about
2. Look at the board and senior leadership to see if they are people you trust
3. Do a quick google search to see if any articles pop up – both positive and negative
4. Follow them on social media to learn more about their programs and any new initiatives they are launching
5. Visit their website to see how the track and measure impact

If someone wants to shortcut this process, are there any standards or ratings that non-profit organisations are held accountable to?
Not perfect, but a guide for people who are clueless and want to be responsible citizens but not fall for any scams are in the US, many people turn to Guidestar. They have a 4-star rating system that evaluates a non-profit along multiple factors including the mission, legitimacy, impact, reputation, finances, programs, transparency, governance, and much more. Another alternative is GiveWell – they vet non-profits based on impact data.

What are the new initiatives at Kiva that you would like our readers to know about?
The Women’s Entrepreneurship Fund is one initiative that I am really excited about. It is an effort to raise $5 million in loan capital from individuals, corporations and foundations to support women globally. With capital from supporters, the Fund will match, dollar-for-dollar, the amount that Kiva’s lenders provide through Kiva.org. The Fund will leverage Kiva’s crowdfunded, 0% interest, risk tolerant, and socially connected capital to help finance the delivery of flexible loan products which are tailored to businesswomen’s needs. Anyone who believes that women’s economic empowerment is one of the best philanthropic investments out there, should join in this Fund. 

What do you tell people who are waiting to gather capital before they feel they can contribute to causes and help others?
Don’t wait! Even with small dollar amounts, you should start flexing your philanthropic muscle. Whether it is a $25 loan on Kiva, $30 to charity to bring clean water to one person for a month or $50 to help buy a cow to feed a family through Heifer International, there are many options out there where a small amount can go a long way.

What do you eat for breakfast?
That’s a terrible question because I am guilty of gulping down a cup of iced coffee every morning and then rushing out the door. I typically hit the snack bin at work by midday to keep my going (such a bad habit). 

What are you reading now?
I’m reading Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels right now. If I can’t travel to Italy this summer, I may as well visit through a good book. I also just downloaded The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen, but I admit that I will read five books of fiction while chipping away at one business book. 

And finally, what’s your favourite quote?
“Be the change you wish to see in the world” – Gandhi.

 

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