Web-Based World Change

Web-Based World Change

Micro-lending website Kiva.org recently hit a major milestone. Since launching four years ago, the organization has facilitated $100 million in microloan transactions between individual lenders and low income entrepreneurs all around the world. Lots of charities target the poor, you may ask, so what makes this organization unique? It’s the approach.

In order to achieve its mission of connecting people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty, Kiva employs a strategy of inclusion. It turns what was once an opaque process in both lending and charitable giving on its head, creating greater levels of personal involvement and future commitment.

A few weeks ago Kiva founder Premal Shah described this process to an audience of thousands at the 2009 Women’s Conference, saying: “When you give to big organizations, you don’t know where your money is going. Here you do. There are short feedback loops and direct transparency. When you browse entrepreneurs’ profiles on Kiva, choose someone to lend to, and then make a loan, you know exactly where your money is going. You can see that you are helping a real person make great strides towards economic independence. Because of the technology we enable, you get an e-mail from that person and establish a connection. That makes it personal.”

What Shah describes also encourages the experience of web-based world change to go viral. People excited about a new process tend to spread the word, and Shah says Kiva has benefited tremendously from this natural momentum: “We don’t even have a marketing person at Kiva, it all just spreads from word of mouth. For every dollar we spend at Kiva, we raise $10 online.”

Other firms are benefiting from technology-enabled connections, too. Ashton Kutcher’s company Katalyst, which is widely known among the Gen Y and Hollywood set for creating savvy social media campaigns, is now convincing large corporations that it’s time to go about communicating social issues and engaging stakeholders in totally new ways. Earlier this year the company joined forces with Kellogg company in order to confront hunger.

The result of the Katalyst-Kellogg collaboration was a web video featuring a cross section of user generated content, submitted by people moved to help end the growing hunger epidemic in the United States. The aim of the video was to encourage consumers to donate to Feeding America, the nation’s leading hunger relief organization. The video, accessible on on the KelloggCares Facebook Page www.facebook.com/kelloggcares and numerous other channels, was directed by Demi Moore.

“The web is by far the quickest and most efficient way for companies to activate and organize people,” explains Kutcher. “We don’t just use the web to evangelize a cause, we use it to mobilize.”

The core idea behind what both Kutcher and Shah stand for, in addition to transparency and openness, is effective engagement. Both feel an urge to harness the power of technology in order to elicit a greater level of participation from the public on key issues that affect our world. They strongly encourage more companies to do the same.

“Let people be the ambassadors of your cause,” Kutcher says. “There are now dozens of ways to do this. The biggest thing I advocate for is don’t go out and build a website. There are so many social media tools that already exist: Facebook, Twitter, iPhone applications...These are all tools that can be used to create social good. All you have to do is connect them. Just link these tools. Create a loop of technology to get your message out and create a world of good.”

Shah heartily agrees that linking technology applications creates superior social opportunities for companies, and points to how even the simplest advances – from e-mail to cell phones and mobile cash – have upped the ante for Kiva and helped his stakeholders tremendously. As for what the future holds, Shah seems optimistic: “What we are going to see in the next decade is going to be mind-blowing.”

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