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The Impact of Storytelling on International Development

3p Contributor | Friday November 13th, 2009 | 1 Comment

story-tellingBy Mary Solecki

The entrepreneurs of international development work will have a special place in history. These are entrepreneurial spirits that have risked their careers and livelihoods, not to make exorbitant profits or seek the thrill of the IPO, but instead to make life better for their fellow countrymen. These men and women are rarely recorded in history books, but have devoted all their time and talents toward the thankless job of making the world a better place.

Last summer I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to intern with a non-profit organization in Nicaragua. During my experience, I lived in rural Nicaragua, and spent a lot of time not only watching the hard efforts of a social entrepreneur, but trying to wrap my mind around the differences between my origins and the Nicaraguans. The whole summer, and most days since, I have tried to envision how not only my life, but I might be different if I was born there. After all, I did nothing to earn the opportunities I have in my life. Just as Nicaraguans were simply born there, I was simply born in the United States. A simple act of fate and geographical convenience that permanently alters the paths a life might take. It is the realization of my blind luck that drives me to appreciate and create these opportunities for others.

I’m certainly not alone in this realization, since this underlying motive has made Kiva an overnight non-profit sensation. Kiva’s micro-finance model allows one person to loan money to another through Kiva’s loan partners, and the investor will receive the money back with interest. People from around the world can put their stories and ideas on Kiva, and then wait patiently for funding to arrive, opening the door to that opportunity they needed. Kiva’s funders can feel comforted that their investment dollars are not going towards a multi-million dollar CEO bonus, but instead towards a more modest return on a pig farmer in the Philippines or a dressmaker in Ghana.

I attended Kiva’s fourth birthday party this week in Berkeley, and was overwhelmed at the popularity of not only Kiva, but also of its birthday party. The event swelled beyond Kiva’s best guesses of 500 attendees, with ticketless attendees being politely turned away due to fire code. Thousands of worthy non-profits exist around the world. Why has a relatively new non-profit enjoyed the booms normally associated with tech companies or dotcom start-ups? Other non-profits have been creating opportunities for worthy individuals in developing countries for years. So, what is the Kiva difference? I believe it is individual connection through storytelling. This is reminiscent of using the emotional pulls of letters from a sponsored student, with a savvy tech twist. This is not a shocking revelation about our human need to connect with others. Many people, myself included, argue that using mass numbers to communicate the gravity of a situation is actually ineffective. As tragic though it may be, there is little connection to be made in the words ‘3,000 die of starvation.’ Time and time again, people have supported causes that need smaller amounts for a spotlighted person or well-told story, rather than the arguably needier causes that are combating large issues on a grander scale.

Regardless of our funding biases, the men and women of the social entrepreneurial world will continue their tireless work. However, maybe they will have access to new resources that were once reserved for only large organizations. Through the popularity of Kiva’s powerful connections and storytelling, perhaps we will see a new era of connectedness to these causes and entrepreneurs. After all, what better way to appreciate the opportunities you have than to give the same to another person a world away?

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Mary Solecki is an MBA candidate at Presidio Graduate School. She has a sales and marketing background, but is currently involved in international development and renewable energy issues. Originally from the Midwest, Mary is currently located in San Francisco. She also blogs at www.passionateperspectives.com.


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  • http://www.se-alliance.org Social Enterprise Alliance

    I enjoyed the perspective you shared about how people’s opportunities are related to happenstance and what kind of environment we’re each born into. And I agree that storytelling and connecting with the reality of people’s diverse lives is what moves us to action. Kiva and other social enterprises will be featured at the Social Enterprise Summit 2010+World Forum where we’ll have sessions on storytelling and communicating causes, as well as making the best use of the internet for driving awareness and support to social ventures. All of the 40+ sessions at the conference will be posted soon at http://www.se-alliance.org/summit.cfm. This is an international event, so attendees can look forward to hearing the stories of social enterprise leaders from around the globe and connecting with the courageous and determined entrepreneurs who are driving social innovation. Thanks for your insightful post!

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