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Premal Shah

Premal Shah

Posted: January 5, 2011 10:06 PM

Kiva.org Takes on a New FITE

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What do skin care and microfinance have in common?

This past summer, I flew down to Los Angeles to meet with Jane Wurwand -- founder of the skin care company Dermalogica -- and find out. I was there to talk about a possible partnership between her company and the non-profit I help run, Kiva.org.

Five years ago, Kiva built a website that empowers our users to lend to entrepreneurs across the globe. We've been blown away by the response: since its launch, our website has enabled half a million people to lend over $180 million to entrepreneurs and borrowers around the world. We've been approached by a number of corporations about possible partnerships and we often have to turn them down. But I sensed a sincerity and passion from Jane, and wanted to hear more about her idea firsthand.

Rather than explain her idea first, Jane did something unusual: she told me her life story. In many ways, it's a story of entrepreneurship that could go up on Kiva.org alongside the other 480,000 entrepreneurs we've funded over the years.

Jane came to America from England in 1983 and began to teach classes on skin care, as well as create the products that became Dermalogica. As she worked with a growing number of skin therapists, she quickly discovered something we've also learned at Kiva: women are natural entrepreneurs. Here at Kiva, 82 percent of our loans go to women entrepreneurs. The skin care industry has even more women entrepreneurs: 98 percent of all skin therapists of women, and many of them have started their own business.

In some ways, both Jane and I had worked to build organizations devoted to the same thing: helping empower entrepreneurs (often women) to lift themselves up by starting a business. Now she was contemplating stepping down as CEO of her organization in order to spend more time focused on helping women start or grow a business. Her idea: to start a site, joinFITE.org, that focused on empowering corporations -- starting with Dermalogica but also expanding to other businesses -- to help enable loans to women and creating Financial Independence Through Entrepreneurship.

The proposed approach: Jane's company would fund the development of a site at joinFITE.org, which would be populated with loans from Kiva. Then, Dermalogica and other carefully selected corporations could work together to encourage their customers to visit the site and make loans. For example, Dermalogica offered to put information about joinFITE.org on their top five best-selling products, along with special codes; when their customers redeemed the codes at joinFITE.org, Dermalogica would make a $1 loan to entrepreneurs through Kiva. And Dermalogica's example would hopefully inspire other strategic partners to join FITE and create similar programs.

I liked the idea, because in microfinance we've long ago learned that investing in women can have disproportionate effects: making a loan to a woman can produce a positive ripple effect of improved health, education, and welfare for all household members (including men!) And if strategic partners could help us reach these goals, it could help accelerate Kiva's progress towards its mission to connect people through lending to help alleviate poverty.

I was impressed by Jane's sincerity and passion to help, but even more so by the audacity of her goal: she proposed in the first two years to help enable 25,000 women to start or grow a business through Kiva-powered loans. More than that, she was mobilizing all the resources of her company behind the effort. Finding new ways to even more empower people is exactly why I joined Kiva, and got me really excited about the possible fit between our organizations. Kiva had never partnered with offline partners with this type of unique promotion before, so the possibilities were deeply intriguing.

Jane and I put together a team to get joinFITE.org off the ground and after a lot of hard work, joinFITE.org was ready to go. In fact, it is launching today. True to her word, Jane has brought with her the talent and resources of Dermalogica to really help get the project off the ground. And ahead of schedule, she's inspired a growing list of strategic partners to come on board: retail companies like Eileen Fisher and Seventh Generation, and actress/advocates like Geena Davis.

Needless to say, I've become a fan of Jane's work and am very excited about our new project, joinFITE.org. We'd love to give you all a sneak peak at the joinFITE.org video premiering today, on how helping women achieve financial independence can make a difference. You can see the video here:

If you like the video, please share it and spread the message! Together we can help empower 25,000 new entrepreneurs to join the fight and connect even more people through lending to help alleviate poverty.