Jessica Jackley’s 3 essential questions

KIVA founder’s tips for social entrepreneurs

When Jessica Jackley addresses the participants of the International Business Symposium Nov. 15, she will speak with the authority and optimism of a founder of the successful microlending enterprise, KIVA, which has facilitated more than $1 billion in person-to-person loans for small-business owners in the world’s poorest economies. By combining a passion for disrupting inequitable systems and for serving the underserved—along with asking deep, revealing questions of themselves—the next generation of social entrepreneurs can give life to their own greater-good ventures.

Jackley’s three essential questions for socially conscious entrepreneurs:  

1. What really, genuinely motivates me?

“We are all motivated by different currencies. It’s good to be aware of what those are for you. For me, money isn’t at the top; flexibility, autonomy, working on projects I believe in, working with people I adore, having influence on issues that matter—those are important to me,” she said.

2.  What has changed?

As an enterprise takes shape, matures and grows, she said, it’s crucial to ask and re-ask if its focus needs to shift.

“Even if your solution was a perfect fit yesterday, something may have changed that requires adjusting your solution today. The organizations that stay relevant over time are ones that continually examine their assumptions and their landscape. They are able to learn constantly and incorporate new insights into what they offer the world.”

This is especially true when faced with failures, which Jackley reframes as “unexpected outcomes.”

“When I face a setback, I ask myself, ‘What did I—or my customers or my team—do differently than I expected or wanted?’ Rewinding a bit and looking closely at what I thought was true, but turned out not to be, helps me learn and plan better for the future.”

3. Where did we start?                                                                                           

Jackley often works with established all-profit companies who want to increase their social impact. She recommends they start at the beginning, with their story of origin, to rediscover that animating force of initial motivation.

“Founding stories, and more important the values that drove the ideas that launched the venture, can be an inspiring place to rediscover what an organization stands for. Once those values are brought again to the surface, and hopefully recommitted to, there are often really clear options for action.”

For established companies seeking to add social justice, sustainability, education, healthcare or economic empowerment to their corporate culture and reach, this might mean adjusting how business is done internally. Or, Jackley said, the established company might ask itself if the better option is partnering with external organizations to champion the values they rediscover in their founding stories.

Jackley’s questions are timely for Lynn students and symposium participants. Millennials, more than any generation before them, either are involved in social entrepreneurship or dream of starting up a socially conscious enterprise of their own. According to a study in Entrepreneur magazine, more than 70 percent of young professionals want to do work that makes a direct social impact.

What makes a new venture “social entrepreneurship”? It’s a loose definition. Some are nonprofits. Some are for-profit companies for whom giving back is essential to their business plans, and some are hybrids. Many, like KIVA, rely on internet networking and crowdsourcing, allowing entrepreneurs to reach those in need even thousands of miles away.

Jackley’s symposium presentation “Doing the Most with the Least: Inspiration and Wisdom from the World’s Unexpected Entrepreneurs” will draw on her 2015 book, Clay Water Brick. In it, she shares dozens of stories of hope, purpose and resourcefulness from the brick makers, goatherds and seamstresses whose small businesses were funded by KIVA.

Jackley appears as keynote speaker, part of the Dively Frontiers in Globalization Lecture Series, funded in part by the R.A. Ritter Foundation.

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