IT innovations help Kiva expand microfinance mission

Doing much more with much less is business as usual for Kiva, its entrepreneurs and its IT team.

Aaron Yu wants to share his enthusiasm for Kiva, a nonprofit microfinancing organization. He sees Facebook as a prime way to do that.

But instead of posting his own notes or linking to Kiva's Web site, Yu is tinkering with Kiva's latest tech tool -- its API -- to find the best way to bring Kiva's message to Facebook's social networking site.

"It opens up another channel for evangelism, or advertising, so you're able to get more people involved. It leverages the community," he says.

Kiva released its API, or application programming interface, on February 3 after five months of work. Kiva's IT team says the release allows tech-savvy supporters to develop more ways to interact with the organization online that will help it expand its reach. "If we can empower other developers who are passionate about what we're doing, that would be very powerful. It would help us reach more people than what we can do with the in-house staff," says Skylar Woodward, director of Kiva's developer program.

Although it's not a tech company in the traditional sense, Kiva exists solely because of technology and is expanding thanks to IT innovations. Moreover, it's doing all this without pouring millions of dollars into its IT operations. From the start, innovation and efficiency have defined how Kiva would achieve its mission, making it a model for doing more with less amid today's economic challenges.

"We would not be able to be Kiva without technology," says Jeremy Frazao, director of technology. "But at the beginning, we had nothing, and we had to figure out how to make Kiva happen. That scarcity mentality has been the driving force. So by necessity, we're at the forefront. We're looking at the people doing the coolest things and asking, 'How can we do that, too?' "

Beginnings

Here's how Kiva works: Entrepreneurs in developing countries work with microfinancing institutions (MFI) to put photos and information about their business plans and financing needs onto Kiva's Web site. Investors, most of whom come from the U.S., can review that information at Kiva.org and lend to the specific individuals they want to support. The entrepreneurs then repay the loan, and Kiva returns the money to the investors. Kiva officials say most investors choose to reinvest repayments.

Inspired by his wife's work with businesses in East Africa, Matt Flannery started Kiva in 2004.

As a child, he and his family had sponsored impoverished children through various charities, and he found that receiving information about the youngsters "really opened my mind up to the fact that I could connect with them and converse with them and relate to them."

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