Helen Twose

Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Success: Sharing, caring way to prosper

Even failure can be an inspiring experience, says visiting US entrepreneur and pioneer of micro-lending.

Jessica Jackley says her passion for entrepreneurship is reflected in every aspect of her life.
Jessica Jackley says her passion for entrepreneurship is reflected in every aspect of her life.

American entrepreneur Jessica Jackley greets every morning feeling grateful to be working on the things she loves.

That's not such a stretch when work involves spending a day at Disneyland as research for a consulting role with Walt Disney Imagineering, a creative arm of the Disney empire.

It's a world away from where her entrepreneurial journey began more than a decade ago, talking to small business owners in East Africa.

Her direction was set after she heard Nobel Peace Prize winner and Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus talk about how the bank gave small loans to poor people, describing it as more effective than charity in breaking the poverty cycle.

"I was blown away by the idea that here's a very efficient, well-timed bit of capital given to a person who can use it to lift themselves out of poverty," says Jackley, who will be in New Zealand next week, talking about her work.

"I loved that it was based on the entrepreneurial spirit in everybody. I was hooked."

The result was Kiva, a non-profit, online micro-lending platform that connects lenders to entrepreneurs who wouldn't normally be able to borrow from banks.

Individual loans start at US$25 ($29) and lenders get progress reports over the life of the loan. When it is repaid, the lender can take back their money, donate it to Kiva, or make another loan.

Since it began in 2005, Kiva has had more than a million people lend US$560 million to people in 76 countries, almost 99 per cent of which was repaid in full.

Crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending and the sharing economy are now part of the entrepreneurial vernacular, but Jackley says those words were unknown when she started.

Like the language, her interest in entrepreneurship has also evolved.

She has become interested in creating a way for American entrepreneurs to obtain capital more efficiently from friends, family and the wider community.

This led to the creation of ProFounder, a do-it-yourself toolkit for entrepreneurs to raise money through crowdfunding.

Profounder stalled in early 2012 as US lawmakers held up legislation allowing equity crowd funding.

Jackley's most recent project is the Collaborative Fund, an investment fund backing companies that have a creative focus or are part of the sharing economy.

The sharing economy challenges the idea of ownership, and new businesses are springing up to allow renting, borrowing or bartering of anything from a clever bit of software code to a catchy tune or the use of a car.

"The increasing ability of technology and the peer-to-peer element are two really defining features of this more recent wave of sharing economy-type companies."

Jackley says it's easy to get utopian about all this, but the shared stories and investment create a different dynamic that can be contagious and inspiring for others who are considering the plunge into entrepreneurship.

Even failing in public has its upside.

"I love that people are kind of forced to put their story in the public eye.

"I think it's really, really healthy for us to see each other's path.

"They are never just all sunny and perfect and only success stories, there are always ups and downs and sometimes, yeah, there is out and out failure and that's really good for others to see, to learn from and realise you can get back up and keep going.

"To watch other people be resilient, I think encourages the observer to be more resilient too in their own lives, their own endeavours."

Jackley says her passion for entrepreneurship has bled into every aspect of her life.

"The great entrepreneurs I know see opportunities where others don't. They ask the right questions and they try to find a way where no one else sees a way.

"They're real smart about stepping up and deciding if they, or they plus their small team, can go create value around that opportunity.

"It's really that combination of seeing opportunities everywhere and deciding that I'm ready right now to go try, to go pursue this opportunity, to create value.

"That's a really redemptive, exciting life-giving way to view your life.

"I hope I have an entrepreneurial marriage, I hope I'm an entrepreneurial mum, always trying to not take at face value what I see but think of new ways to do things, find ways to accomplish the things, do the things and create the things I want to create for love."

- NZ Herald

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