The $25 Way to Foster Entrepreneurship

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You pulled off that group project, helped a friend through a tough spot, hosted Sunday dinner—and now you’re writing a check to your favorite charity. Check, check, check. But somehow, signing on that dotted line doesn’t feel all that satisfying. You know you’re doing a good thing, but as someone who thrives on connection, you wish you could give back in a more meaningful way. You don’t want to just write a check— you want to connect to a face and a story.

Enter Kiva, an international nonprofit that will direct a loan (big or small) to an entrepreneur of your choice. You get to feel that connection you’re craving—and help your borrower create real change.

Some employers, like BlackRock, an asset management company with offices around the world, partner with Kiva to make it easy for their employees to do just that.

Creating Impact and Involvement

When Greg Levin joined BlackRock’s Global Philanthropy Team, he entered into an evolving conversation about social impact. Sure, the world’s largest asset manager was committed to making a difference—but what about the connection piece?

Greg knew employees would benefit from a more intimate role. Through volunteering, many were already using their skill sets to inspire change. But with 13,000 employed globally, getting everyone involved would be quite a task. And while there was awareness of BlackRock’s ongoing humanitarian efforts, Greg realized talking at people about inspiring work doesn’t change anything.

What does? Involving employees. Creating easily actionable opportunities, personal choice, and strong connections. “Kiva,” Greg concluded, “seemed like a great way to make it happen.”

Through Kiva’s website, BlackRock could supply capital to entrepreneurs looking to make positive personal and local change. And it was as simple as five minutes and $25.

That’s how many BlackRock dollars each employee could loan to a self-starter in any industry, nearly anywhere in the world. What better way to get thousands on board, and make a real difference—for the underserved, and within the company’s culture?

The Pitch

Kiva, according to the their Senior Director of Communications Jason Riggs, was born from the simple idea that people would be generous and act as global citizens if given an easy, transparent way to do it. “Our goal,” he explains, “is to support people who through no fault of their own lack access to loans that could transform their lives.”

Greg’s team sent out a link connecting BlackRock employees to Kiva, where they could browse stories and choose a borrower. “If you’re interested in agriculture in Kenya, you might loan to a farmer there,” he explains. Employees could help someone begin anew in the country of their choice.

And did they ever.

Eighty percent of BlackRock’s workforce has connected with a borrower, and participants are eager to share their experience. “Who’d you make your loan to?” is commonly heard around the office, and nearly everyone—from analysts to managing directors—has joined the conversation.

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Finding Your Story

Linsey Thornton, a relationship manager who also acts as a volunteer coordinator, loved talking about the program so much that she became a “Kiva Champion.” Now Linsey encourages participation in her office, and designates captains to organize efforts in other locations.

Of course, Linsey also chose a loan, crowdsourcing with her relationship management team to help a Kenyan woman named Grace purchase cows, chickens, and farm equipment. She and her co-workers knew they’d made a difference when the farmer began repayment. “We talked a lot about Grace and what her experience must be,” Linsey shares.

She is proud that her company’s mission extends to entrepreneurs. “In asset management, we’re in the business of improving financial futures by providing services and goods that support financial needs. This program is a natural extension. We’re reaching the grassroots.”

At BlackRock, you might choose to help a Ukrainian shop owner repair plumbing, a seamstress in need of dye in Nicaragua—or someone like Agustina, a businesswoman in Caacupe, Paraguay.

Agustina and her family own a food business where they make bread, sausages, and snacks. The loan enabled her to invest in the business and also improve her home.

And with the business funded, she can work on her dream of getting a degree—“even,” she says, “if I’m 45!”

BlackRock has found a way to invite employees into Agustina’s story, Grace’s story—whoever’s story inspires, through a simple click. It’s a small investment with tremendous impact and, as Greg and Linsey have seen, great emotional reward.

With Kiva, lenders know how they have helped transform a life. “You should teach a man to fish, right?'” asks Jason. “But what if a woman in the Philippines already knows how to fish, and all she needs is a net?”

At BlackRock, there’s net worth. And now, there is that woman’s net—and its incalculable worth.

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