There is always a bit of a wink and a nod when philanthropists, foundation staff, or foundation board members tell other people what they do - "We give money away" or "We put capital into making society better." Often the other person will wink and nod and say, "I'll take some" or "Gee, tough job" or something to that end. And then the philanthropist falls back on the old canard (credited to John D. Rockefeller), about it being easier to make money than to give it away, or, as was recently noted in the gossip column of the San Francisco Chronicle:
"I was doing all this philanthropic stuff, and then I just thought, f- it, it's just a lot easier to make money."
Man chatting with woman, overheard at Fillmore and Sacramento
But sometimes, as in the case of Kiva.org as reported in today's New York Times, the level of interest in giving money away actually does become a problem. Rob Walker's Consumed column in the Times Magazine is titled, "Extra Helping" and it looks at what happens when the "supply" of people that want to loan funds to entrepreneurs through Kiva overwhelms the "demand" side - the number of vetted entrepreneurs and their projects/enterprises.
Walker looks at the media attention that Kiva has received and seems to focus on the growth in supply as a result of a great system, good PR, and terrific media attention. He also touches on the fact that Kiva issued more than $2 million in gift vouchers over the holidays, and needs to make sure they have viable investment opportunities available when donors come looking to cash those in.
Walker hints at, but leaves us hanging, on a couple of other key parts of this equation, so here are my questions after reading the piece. They fall into two categories, demand and supply (for and of capital, that is).
- It is hard to find and vet "safe" investable entrepreneurial projects around the world - the due diligence is time consuming, has many layers of reporting, and involves real humans, not just "inventory" - are there more efficient ways to share information on these opportunities (in both Kiva's sweet spot - social enterprise - and the rest of the social good industry - meaning public benefit companies, nonprofits, NGOs, and in some cases public sector options - see donorschoose, for example)
- How can the system move to a next tier of funding for these enterprises - from initial angel funding such as Kiva provides to early stage social venture capital for SMEs, for example?
- Kiva's temporary solution - get more investors by capping the size of individual investments - is an interesting twist. Is it good for the enterprises in the long term or not? What does it mean for Kiva in longer term to have to package many more small gifts into investments? Greater diversity and reach of support, but much more work on each deal.....?
- Why are donors so interested in this model? Is there something sustainable in their interest and, if so, how can it be expanded to other sectors?
- Does the interest rest on the global nature of the enterprises, or could domestic emerging markets be served by a Kiva-esque system?
- What do we know - and what do we need to know - about the capital suppliers who use Kiva that will help us better understand 21st century philanthropy and social enterprise ?