Jessica Jackley

Co-founder of Kiva.org

Inspiring a new generation of volunteers & philanthropists - Jessica Jackley of Alltruists

Sep 7, 2021
Jessica Jackley

Inspiring a new generation of volunteers & philanthropists

Kiva and Alltruists founder Jessica Jackley joins us today to talk about her journey as a social entrepreneur that started in 2005 and the lessons she had learned as a founder, an investor and a general partner of various companies since then.

As a graduate of philosophy and poetry, Jackley initially had no desire to venture into business. However, after having been exposed to the wonders of social entrepreneurship working a temporary job at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, she had realized how social enterprises could become a force for good. 

She would then go to Africa on an unpaid internship under Village Enterprise, a nonprofit organization, through which she saw firsthand the impact that donations had on the livelihood of different members of the community there. She and Kiva co-founder, Matt, then thought that while donations could be incredibly beneficial to the receiver, loans could also help members of the community take the next step forward in terms of their livelihood.

Building a social impact driven company in 2005 was not the norm, and shorthand terms such as “crowdfunding” had not existed then. This drove Kiva to work hard and strategize so as to inform people of the microloans they would be sponsoring, which is different from the usual donation strategy that nonprofit companies often adopted. At present, Kiva has issued more than $1.5 billion loans, with a repayment rate of 96%.

With the success of Kiva, Jackley also stressed the importance of actively exerting effort to maintain proper work-life balance. For her, this involved creating a spreadsheet that detailed her kids’ schedules, and how she would then divide her work hours accordingly to make sure she maximized her time with them. As determined as she was for the role she wanted to play in the lives of her children, she did not lose sight of the role she had at work, too. She notes even the importance of prioritizing which work emails to respond to right away, and how all of her strategies have helped her maintain the balance she needs to perform well both as a mother and the founder of Kiva.

Moving on to Alltruists, which is a subscription box for volunteer projects that delivers monthly mini projects to kids, inspiring them to have empathy for some of the world's biggest social and environmental issues. Jackley emphasized the importance of instilling empathy at an early age, which she said Alltruists achieves in three steps: learn, connect, and act. Finally, Jackley hopes that Alltruists can grow in the future to make volunteering more accessible and engaging for everyone.

Jackley’s  key lessons and quotes from this episode were:

  • “It's great to just want to be an entrepreneur, but you need to really quickly focus in on a particular theory of change or a problem that you want to solve or a segment of, you know, a persona or a group of people that you would like to help. You can't just stay in the general, "I want to be an entrepreneur," for too long. It's like saying you want to go to the Olympics, but you just haven't chosen a sport yet.” (4:10)
  • “I think it's very freeing to approach work as, what is the problem I want to go solve?  Who are the people that I want to go serve? And then you figure out the other pieces.” (9:13)
  • “I feel like quiet time to reflect and whether it's journaling, or just meditating or being thoughtful, I think everyone needs at least a little bit of that. And it's really hard to get, especially with a bunch of kids in the house, especially as you take on more work, etc.  But I think it's important because during those moments, when you can hone in on really what your priorities and your values are.” (20:10)
  • “Bring your own unique self to the table, and get that done in the way that you know how and the way that you can and your community, your team will implement it.” (46:56)
  • “Earn the right to keep going and you will get somewhere.” (47:42)

In this episode, we also talked about:

  • How Kiva was founded (2:12)
  • Differences of being a social entrepreneur in 2005 and at present (11:13)
  • Work-Life balance (20:10)
  • Alltruists and its Mission (25:33)
  • Nonprofit vs. For profit (41:19)
  • Advice for starting social entrepreneurs (46:18)
  • Envisioning a world with Alltruists’ success (48:30)

Maiko Schaffrath  00:06

You are listening to Impact Hustlers and I am your host, Maiko Schaffrath. I have made it my mission to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs to solve some of the world's biggest social and environmental problems. And for this reason, I am speaking to some of the best entrepreneurs out there who are solving problems such as food waste, climate change, poverty, and homelessness. My goal is that Impact Hustlers will inspire you, either by starting a tech business yourself, by joining the team of one or by taking a small step, whatever that may be, towards being part of the solution to the world's biggest problems. In today's episode, I speak to Jessica Jackley, the founder and CEO of Alltruists, a subscription box for volunteer projects that delivers monthly mini projects to kids, inspiring them to have empathy for some of the world's biggest social and environmental issues. It provides a fun activity related to those issues and includes a $5 donation budget in each box that kids can give to a charity solving the problem showcased in the box. Jessica is a seasoned social entrepreneur and is well known for starting kiva.org, a platform that has shaped microloans. Like few other organizations, Kiva allows people to lend small amounts to individuals across the world, funding their new businesses, education and healthcare. And Kiva has issued so far more than $1.5 billion in loans with quite an impressive repayment rate of 96% as well. She is also an investor, a general partner at Untapped Capital, a VC fund that primarily focuses on underestimated founders and founders that would usually struggle to raise venture capital. And I'm a really big fan of Jessica's work, I've been a user for of Kiva for a while. And, I'm really excited to have you on the show Jessica, thanks for joining me. 

Jessica Jackley  02:10

Thank you so much for having me.

Maiko Schaffrath  02:12

Thank you. So, within the first few years of your career after graduating, you actually started focusing on entrepreneurship quite quickly. And you actually got to work in East Africa promoting entrepreneurship as a solution to extreme poverty. Talk us a little bit about that time, and I think around that time was also the time that you actually co-founded Kiva. So, tell us about your journey into entrepreneurship and more specifically, social entrepreneurship.

Jessica Jackley  02:44

Thank you for that question. So, the truth is, I became an entrepreneur somewhat accidentally. I was a few years out of undergrad, I had studied philosophy and poetry. I actually, it's not even that I just had no real interest in business, I was skeptical of business and entrepreneurship, because I had this very black and white view of the world. I thought businesses were trying to sell something and take your money and trick you. They were by nature of the structure, very self centered, and I thought nonprofits were the good guys. And so, my desire was to go work for a nonprofit, I didn't know exactly where to find a role. And so, I took a temp job right after college at Stanford. I ended up being exposed to this idea at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, because my temp job was there actually, in the Center for Social Innovation. I just so happened to land in this amazing place where everyday people were thinking about applying business skills and entrepreneurial thinking to social problems. So, a light bulb sort of went on for me, and I realized, "Oh, these are just ways of moving resources and people around, and structuring sort of work that needs to get done with the group." It's about tactics. You know, these are tools that can be used for anything, good or bad. So, I became really interested in the idea of becoming a social entrepreneur. But as I've told many of my students in the past, it's great to just want to be an entrepreneur, but you need to really quickly focus in on a particular theory of change or a problem that you want to solve or a segment of, you know, a persona or a group of people that you would like to help. You can't just stay in the general, "I want to be an entrepreneur," for too long. It's like saying you want to go to the Olympics, but you just haven't chosen a sport yet. So, anyway, I started to look for my thing, to figure out what would be the way I would start that journey. I learned about microfinance, through a lecture that Dr. Muhammad Yunus gave at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. This was 2003, three years before he would win the Nobel Prize for his pioneering work in modern microfinance. Anyway, I heard him speak and thought, "That's it. That's my thing. I want to go learn about that." So, I sort of begged my way into an unpaid internship, found myself in East Africa for a few months. And my job there was to interview individuals who had the tiniest businesses. I mean, maybe a small kiosk where they sold tomatoes and onions. That was that maybe they had five goats, and they really wanted to have 10. Maybe they had some chickens that they raised, maybe they were a seamstress that just literally would kind of take projects as they would come but not have any inventory, just wait for repairs to kind of do. As opposed to, for example, later, when they would get $100 from this nonprofit I was working with, an amazing organization called Village Enterprise. When they would get that $100, they were able, for example, a seamstress or a tailor would be able to buy capital equipment like an actual sewing machine, and maybe a table, and maybe set up a small shelter to be able to work from. So, the changes that I saw happen in the lives of people that had received just $100, that was what Village Enterprise focused on. It was so inspiring to me. I heard a story about their lives, these specific individuals that I was meeting, I heard stories of triumph and hope, and overcoming obstacles and a lot of hard work, and a lot of intelligence and smarts despite perhaps the lack of schooling. I just was blown away, and I wanted to share those stories. I wanted to share a different way of getting involved in those stories. So, oftentimes, the defaults for a lot of NGOs and nonprofits, well-intentioned organizations is, "Hey, here's a story. We're going to try to have, you know, tell each other a case study or a poster child story of a representative of a problem or an issue to help educate a person on sort of what the face of the problem might look like." But unfortunately, usually the responses, you know, the story is designed to cause feelings of sort of panic, and maybe guilt or even shame. You need to figure out what to do quickly and swoop in and sort of be a savior to that person or that problem, and donate. Look, donations are incredibly crucial, incredibly important. But I often felt as a donor myself a very, you know, lower net worth donor for the majority of my life, I always felt like, one I wasn't making a huge difference. Two, I wasn't sure what happened to my money. Three, you know, the cycle kept going, like the reward for donating a little bit was I got to feel better about myself a minute, until the next sad story came along. I felt so stuck. I felt like there was this weird transaction happening, and it was more about my own peace of mind than solving something big in the world that I really could connect to. So, new stories of entrepreneurship and hope. I thought with my cofounder, Matt, "Wouldn't it be interesting if we provided a different way of connecting not just in air quotes for listeners, a donation? But what if we allowed people to lend?" Because a lot of those individuals wanted a loan as sort of the next step. Like why couldn't somebody contribute a loan, and then get that money back? Wouldn't that be - it was a very naive, what if kind of question, but we tried it and it worked, and the rest is Kiva history. So, that was the beginning for me. What if I'm very selfish about looking at that experience, what it gave me was this absolute conviction. I just galvanized confidence in my own heart, that I could go do things and build things in the world, I wanted to do a very specific thing. I wanted to solve a specific problem. I wanted to do this experiment with, you know, this very particular group of people that I had met in Kenya, in Uganda and Tanzania. In doing that one thing, this project, it became a giant organization. I realized after the fact that I had become an entrepreneur along the way.

Maiko Schaffrath  08:53

Wow, that's interesting. I'd hear that story again and again. It's kind of really looking at a problem from a certain angle and trying to solve that rather than just saying, "I want to be an entrepreneur, let's find a problem," right? That way around usually, or for most people that go on and build great things, from what I've heard.

Jessica Jackley  09:13

It's funny, I know that everyone's journey is different. And some people are motivated just by this love of building. I love to build, I just, I think when you have a focus, and you know the problem that you want to solve, you might change the way that you get there, you might change - look, you might find that to solve that problem best. You thought you were going to start a for profit but a nonprofit is the right vehicle. I've said before it's a tax code better religion, like, it's a way to organize yourself and your people, and the resources that you might have or that you hope to get. But it doesn't mean that all nonprofits are making the most possible social impact. It doesn't mean that all businesses are bad. In fact, there's just so much blending of mission and bottom line and strategic thinking. It's, I think, very freeing, at least this is how I look at the world. I think it's very freeing to approach work as, what is the problem I want to go solve? Who are the people that I want to go serve? And then, you figure out the other pieces. As opposed to your point, I want to start a business. Now, what am I going to do? 

Maiko Schaffrath  10:18

Yeah, yeah. And in 2005, I think you launched Kiva. I think the whole social impact, social entrepreneur ecosystem, no matter where in the world, whether US or Europe or the rest of the world anywhere, I think looks completely different too nowadays. I think I would say you're probably part of like one of the earlier waves of kind of, social impact driven companies or in the sense of Kiva, actually nonprofit, but in a very entrepreneurial approach. We'll get to your current venture in a second. But before I ask that, I'd love to understand how was it different building Kiva at the time versus now being an entrapreneur again with a new venture? What are some of the challenges in the early days? I can imagine a lot of the kind of social impact investors weren't around. So like, how did you even start?

Jessica Jackley  11:13

It's a really, I feel like it's a very insightful thing to ask, because it's always hard to appreciate how different things were in the past and in those moments. So, one funny anecdote is, no one was saying crowdfunding, it wasn't the thing. We had to describe it long form. Like, "Hey, okay, okay, so what if we'll have our new friends in Uganda post on this little website their loan needs, and then we'll just tell our friends and family, and maybe they'll just put in a little bit of money, but it'll add up. Wouldn't that be great?" We couldn't, we didn't have any shorthand to describe it, which actually was helpful. It was a great education, because we had to just re-articulate what we were doing every time to each new person. So, for example, if we were talking to a nonprofit leader, we might talk about how we started the idea of, it's like a donation or like sponsored child, but it's different in the following ways. If we were talking to a VC, we could say, it's investing as well. It's just a different, for different returns, social returns, and on and on. So, yeah, we had to really take the time to explain the idea which today, you can say in a sentence very easily with a lot of, you know, the groundwork has been laid, the world understands these concepts a lot better now. They're actual real things that have been proven out. So, one thing that was different to answer your question directly, one thing that was different was that it took a little while for even lenders to really understand what we were doing. Turned out to be a blessing in disguise, we'd be so focused, we couldn't even say the word donate or donation on the site any anywhere for a while, even though over time lenders also donating has been like an incredible source of support for the organization historically. But at the beginning, we could not say enough times, "This is a loan." The idea's you'll get your money back, like it was so hard for people to understand that's what was really happening here. I remember, a lot of folks, a lot of folks would reach out and say, "Oh, they can just keep it, it's fine." Really, "No, no, no, no, you don't get it. It's very nice of you. But that's not what we're doing here." Because of that, we had to focus so sharply, and I I'm grateful for that. Because I think you look at the success of a lot of crowdfunding platforms now looking back, and scope mattered so much. There were other, there still are, right, so many other organizations that do just the most broad, you know, you can donate to any cause at any level anywhere in the world, just come to our mega platform. Those are great, and they've had their success as well. But I think it really helped us to be super specific and strategic. Let me think for a second on how things were different. So, I'll say I know how I was different. I just didn't understand the long road that we were about to, you know, commit to walking on. And I'm so, I'm so glad I didn't because it is a slog. It is hard, it can be kind of crazy making, the entrepreneurial journey. But I was so naive in so many ways. It was great, it was great. I'm quite sobered. I'm quite aware of what I'm embarking on, you know, each other time since and certainly today, and I'm ready for it, I'm excited. But gosh, it was an advantage to just not know and to not know how technically legally, like out of the box. I mean, risky it was. So, I ended up going to business school a few years after back to Stanford to get my MBA, not just to be a staffer. Both great, different experiences. But I remember thinking, "Oh, I'm risk tolerant, that's what - okay, I get it." I mean, to us, it was this grand adventure and we would even pitch what Kiva was about to potential partners as, "Hey, this will be so fun. We're gonna do this big social experiment. Don't you want to do this with us? It'll be amazing." Not a deal, clearly articulating a value proposition clearly saying, we have free flexible, friendly debt capital that you can access through our platform. We're very much on like a person to person, kind of the camp counselors. Like, "This is going to be so great, guys, let's do it." As opposed to a strategic business pitch or process. So, I've matured a lot. I've polished, I feel like I now I'm thankful I have a lot of different ways of thinking about problem solving and making data driven decisions. Just being a little, having more tools in my tool belt at this point, and that's really great. And lastly, I'll wrap up my answer to this question, I'd like to think, I hope that I still have the right balance of despite the fact that I do know this can be a long slog, I really, truly am just as excited as ever to kick off a new venture, because I know, I see where it can go. I know that it can actually work. I am a believer, I'm an optimist about that. I think you have to have a healthy dose of aggressive optimism to survive and to stay alive and to keep, to stay committed to the thing that you said you wanted to go build in the world. So, I'm super excited to be at the beginning again.

Maiko Schaffrath  16:19

Amazing, I will speak about that now. I think for us to be able to cover everything, we got to skip a bunch of experience in your years after you left your active role at Kiva. You've been an educator, you've been an entrepreneur and residents, a board member at various organizations. I think we could fill a whole season of Impact Hustlers with your various activities, even currently, you're obviously still involved in a bunch of different things next to Alltruists. But I'd love to jump to Alltruists, and what you're doing with Alltruists. So ,give us a brief introduction on what Alltruists is, and how it came about, I think end of last year, when you kind of launched the company, and then kind of build it from there to then publicly launched a product earlier this year.

Jessica Jackley  17:15

Yes, thank you. Okay. And before I do talk about this thing, that's my favorite thing to talk about. I want to say one sentence on the last 10, 15 years of stuff. So, for anybody listening, that has an idea of the types of things that they want to do, and maybe feel like they're doing something close, but not quite. I just want to say, I've always been so happy having a portfolio of stuff that I'm working on. Some of its paid, some of it's totally not paid. Some of it is I'll do something, you know, once a month or once every other week, or on a weekend for an hour, you can chip away at things by being involved in it. Yes, like day to day, majority of your waking hours, what are you working on, but you can also have these extracurriculars for your whole life. So boards, and, and teaching, and writing and speaking and all this other fun stuff I've gotten to do, I've loved so much. It's possible to sort of have a broader mission, and then lots of lots of things that you're doing at any given time. I think it's easier to commit to the main thing when you know, you don't always have to let go of those other small pieces that are also facets of yourself and what you care about.

Maiko Schaffrath  18:22

Let me interrupt you quickly, because I love the point that you're bringing up. First of all, because I think my own personality type is a little bit like that. Obviously, I'm nowhere near your kind of experience and all the various organizations you've supported. But even just my default mode of happiness seems to be being involved in a lot of different things at the same time and contributing to a lot of different initiatives. 

Jessica Jackley  18:49

I support you and cheering you on. 

Maiko Schaffrath  18:51

I love it. I love it. You know, I've read the book The One Thing, and I was like, "I don't really like this whole thing. I want to do it differently."

Jessica Jackley  19:02

Yeah. And you can and you are. There's no right way. People, yeah.

Maiko Schaffrath  19:08

Let's focus a little bit on that. We'll postpone Alltruists slightly because we spoke a little bit about this already before, right? So, being an entrepreneur, starting a company from scratch, is like more than a full time job, right? I mean, there's some arguments to be made around, you know, like, how much should you burn yourself into the ground? How much do you have to burn yourself into the ground when you're launching a company. But still, it is like a proper, you know, it's not nothing that you can kind of do on the side, I think. But at the same time, obviously, you're still involved a lot of other things and you do have a family, you have other priorities in life outside of work. So, I'd love to talk a little bit about that, on the practicality of having this portfolio of activities, starting a company from scratch and also having a life. Tell us through that a little bit, how can kind of people listening to the podcast, maybe replicate or learn some lessons from you on that?

Jessica Jackley  20:10

I have so many thoughts in this, and I'm going to make myself be concise. I have benefited and found a lot of peace from in a moment of quiet reflection, I feel like quiet time to reflect and whether it's journaling, or just meditating or being thoughtful, I think everyone needs at least a little bit of that. It's really hard to get, especially with a bunch of kids in the house, especially as you take on more work, etc. But I think it's important because during those moments, when you can hone in on really what your priorities and your values are. Once you know those, knowing them is one thing, but then to sort of make decisions in advance as to how you will spend your time and how you will prioritize, and when there's a choice to be made, what you're going to do to navigate that, what you need in terms of support with family and running a home and all those other pieces. I think if you can be thoughtful and kind of have a little bit of a game plan, it brings a lot of peace. This might sound ridiculous, but so I have four kids, my oldest, oldest two are twins. When they were babies, and they were sleeping a lot during the day, they had their two naps, I made a spreadsheet to plan out what it would look like and what kind of presence did I want to have in their lives. I was running as my second startup. I decided, okay, well look, when I stepped back, there are 21 segments during which these babies are awake besides nighttime when they're awake anyway, but like they should be asleep. I knew I wanted to be there, at least for the majority of those segments. I basically was able to calmly tell myself, it's okay if I start working after they're down for their first nap until they wake up from their second nap, I miss about two and a half, three hours of them being awake in a 24-hour period. For me, it's feels hard always still to walk away and not just be like staring at my children all the time 24/7, because I'm obsessed with them. It was nice for me to say this is a reasonable normal, like, this is an okay amount of time for me when I look at how I want to show up and who I want to be as a parent, this feels okay to me. So, to kind of make that budget in advance and to plan, it's not an in the moment decision as to like, "Oh, my gosh, now what do I do? Now, what do I do?" I definitely had a plan going into the week that I could look at and the big picture, I felt really good about. I don't know if that's helpful, but to me knowing not just what's important, but like, how are you going to prioritize it and what decisions you're going to make when there's a conflict are really important.

Maiko Schaffrath  22:39

So valuable, I think, you know, any entrapreneur will not start a company without having proper objectives in place, using frameworks like OKRs, or like, whatever it may be, like some clear objectives that they want to reach. But people don't always apply that to their other priorities in life, which then means you're actually de-prioritizing it suddenly, because you're not measuring it, you're not setting yourself goals, you're not saying, Okay, I want to at least spend that amount of time." So, it's always going to be the kind of second priority to running your company or your startup, right? So, I love that advice of really taking that approach of, "Okay, what are my objectives in my private life with my family?" Or your other engagements as well, in terms of your board memberships and your advisory roles and all that.

Jessica Jackley  23:27

Yeah. And with family, you know, it's mostly about input. All you can do is show up and contribute, and give, and love and you know, do the things. Metrics are weird, right? What are you going to do to measure how are you doing as a parent, it's a whole other conversation, but it can get messed with your mind. So, you know, you show up and you say, I know that I want to look back at my time as a parent of a kindergartener, a second grader, a third grader, that you know, it goes very quickly. So, you think how do I want to be as a parent during this precious, one time only segment of time? And then, it definitely goes for work, too. I mean, I think I watch a lot of folks that have such good intentions, also spend a lot of time whether it's work or personal. But for work, especially, I can comment, right? Not everything is mission critical. So, there's a lot of, it's rough around the edges a lot, I think day to day for me. Like I'm not always the best at replying to every single email, because not every single email will actually move the needle for the company. And so I might take a little while to get back to somebody and I used to feel guilty about that. But I'm just I'm trying to do what's most important every day. And that means a lot of stuff doesn't get done. And I still at some point, stop work, and try to exercise and attend with my family, and that's that. So, I think I'm doing the things that are the most important. I think in the early days at least, when it's a very small team, what I really appreciate is you can kind of work at your own weird hours. I work a lot in weird early morning, late night hours. That helps me feel more balanced, because then I can be so much more present during the moments that count during the day that are only happening then. They're not, you know, I could do this email an hour or two in the morning, so.

Maiko Schaffrath  25:13

Great. So, let's move to Alltruists. It's actually very related to that topic in terms of family as well, I'm sure your own family and your own kids may have been some inspiration to it, I assume. So give us a quick introduction to Alltruists, how it came about and how you're solving the problem.

Jessica Jackley  25:33

So, to cut to the heart of, you know, the biggest possible vision that I have for this, what I want to do is redesign, reimagine and just repackage the volunteering experience. I want it to be possible for anybody that wants to help to be able to do that anytime, anywhere, period. What happens right now instead is that amazing like, world full of willing, eager people that want to help, they want to be useful. And what they have to do is go through a number of different steps, each of which is difficult in its own way. And sometimes, you know, there have been small solutions to try to address those, figure out what you want to work on and why. And you know, when I find an organization, I try to find volunteer opportunities through that, or through other organizations, or platforms, I know those exist as well. But if the schedule opportunities, if you get through all that, and you have like a thing scheduled for two Saturdays from now, if you get to that Saturday, and it's not raining, and you can still go plant the tree, or whatever you're going to do. Sometimes, kids aren't allowed. In fact, a lot of times kids aren't allowed. Now, as a parent, who very much wants to volunteer with my children, because it represents so much that I care about in the world, it represents compatible values that I hold most dear. I want them to come with me, I want to do this together. And it's really difficult to make that happen. You know, whether even if they are allowed, oftentimes, there's no context around it, you just kind of show up. And then you're in the middle of a soup kitchen, trying to explain why people are here, what hunger is about. And you're trying to actually also be useful, not just make it be about a great experience for you. And when you step back and look at the landscape, what I see is that nonprofits are doing their very best to do the thing itself that they exist to do, to serve beneficiaries of their products or services or whatever else, whatever interventions, whatever support they're creating, they're giving that value to the people that need it. And that's what they should do. It's quite a few steps removed to stop and think not only about how other people might chip in and help. Like often, nonprofits feel burdened by the idea of volunteers doing something. So that stops a lot of them, even if they do get around to being able to say no and be cool, we can engage people in the following ways. It's very rare to have anybody in those organizations who's like, absolutely, you know, trained or being able to focus and spend the time and energy that it takes to design the best possible experience for a volunteer within those parameters of what's helpful. So, I thought, "Well, maybe I can assemble a little team that can do that. Maybe I can think about, for example, what would be the best way to talk to a seven year old, right, about homelessness or hunger or clean water, or recycling or whatever the issue is at hand? And then what if I could not just help explain these big important issues that face our world and affect all of us? But what if we could create a way for that person, that little person to be helpful?" Again, knowing generally having so many years in the sector and around it, knowing what's helpful and what's not, knowing the ways that nonprofits can be burdened like use those boundaries, design something amazing that can be useful and package it in a way that is really just a joy, and a motivating fun experience for kids and for families? And that's what I wanted to build. And yes, absolutely. I mean, my kids inspire it every day, they test things, they're the reason it's so front of mind for me, and that I was able to see the need in the first place, because it's something that I was really experiencing, trying to make it happen with them.

Maiko Schaffrath  29:05

Got it. So, currently, parents can subscribe to the boxes. I think you will receive a box every other month if you subscribe to it for your children, especially kind of younger children, I think up to 11 years old, roughly like that?

Jessica Jackley  29:19


Maiko Schaffrath  29:20

Yeah. So, once the box arrives, what's in there? And what are the activities that you inspire kids to do?

Jessica Jackley  29:28

So, we believe that there are four crucial steps to a really great comprehensive experience. One, you got to learn, right? You have to learn a little bit about what you're talking about that day. So, we do sort of a primer, 1000-ish words, minibook that we write, we design with illustrations, and we sort of walk through the issue at hand. Fun facts, not so fun facts. We describe in as much detail as we can sort of what the causes are, what it's like for the majority world to experience and encounter this issue. So, we kind of, we kind of give as much quick information as we can so that the child and the family together can say, "Okay, we're on the same page here. We're talking about homelessness, and, and housing." There's also a section by the way with tough questions and answers to those questions. Because I've heard in my research and conversations with users, that one of the, my friend Leah said it so well, she said, "Jessica, I mean, I just wish my kids would ask me about something easy like sex. Like, at least I know the answers. But they keep wanting to talk about climate change." And these big issues that are like really tough to talk about sometimes. So, we try to give a guide, and an overview. So, that's part one, learn. Part two is connect. This is our attempts to design great empathy building activities for kids. I think it's one thing to say, this is an issue in the world. Wow, let's look at it from a distance. Now, let's do something to help. We really believe in providing that step where kids can connect as as much as possible with the perspective of somebody else that might encounter the issue at hand in a very different way. For example, clean water. My kids understand conceptually, that water cannot be clean, and then it can be clean, and that's more helpful. Like water might not be close by and I can tell them a story about somebody walking and carrying water, but we want them to see and appreciate is really what that experience is like for somebody else. So, connecting with another person. Third, so learn, connect, act is the volunteer project itself. And I'll come back to the best. And give. There's $5, as you mentioned, in every box, that can be directed to one of three of our nonprofit partners online at the end of the experience. You know, it's essential to us that we communicate to kids, the most valuable thing about you is you. Money is great. A lot of activities for kids end up being about fundraising, and money and get adults to give you money, and raise your own funds and collect change. That's lovely. There's so much more. I think the world would be a very different place if people knew and really were really honored for contributing time, creativity, their efforts, right? It's more than just do something else, get some money and put it in, put it in the mix. It's important, it's important stuff though, when you can add that. So, we wanted to make it substantial and meaningful. $5 is certainly can do a ton, but also not the focus of the whole thing, just like a nice capstone to it. Okay, the volunteer activities act, this is where the magic happens. Each activity is designed with our nonprofit partners. And it's designed like I said, in a way to be very helpful to them, hopefully to be meaningful, and in a really important moment in the story of the work that they do, but also engaging and allowing kids to feel so empowered, so important in this big, wide world that can be pretty intimidating and scary sometimes. So, for example, in our first box on housing homelessness, kids make a keychain with this beautiful cord and wooden beads, and the kitchen is mailed to our partner in Mexico, and then the partner in Mexico news story. They work elsewhere, but that's where it's going for this. They build houses for families and entire communities. And so, when the family is moving into the new house, their first house key is put on this key chain that kids from our Alltruists community have made, and there's the card they can send with it, etc. So, to tell a story and to show a child that they can do something to help, support, encourage, you know, be a part of that incredible moment in time when a family is moving into a brand new home for the first time. I think it feels really meaningful and special to them. Other activities include things like in our second box, kids create a pollinator hotel, you know, for solitary mason bees and other bees, and other bugs that are important pollinators. And they create it, it's part of the box, the box always becomes something which I find to be super fun. The box is important if you've ever watched a kid open anything in a box, the box is just as good as whatever is in that, right? The box is always reused and a part of it. Then the box after that is on hunger, we're designing little reusable, insulated lunch bags and and some water bottles that can be handed out to kids getting food at a food bank, and on and on. They're beautiful fun activities that truthfully like, aren't being done otherwise. We invent them, and we're the first to do them. So, they're they're proprietary, and they're fun, and we feel really, really proud of what we're able to provide.

Maiko Schaffrath  34:22

Wow. What struck me when I first read into Alltruists, and kind of learned a little bit more about it is that it doesn't just seem like a nice activity that maybe it's going to go into a corner, but it's something that's actually focusing on potentially changing something much more structural. First of all, it seems like you're really kind of basing it off actual learning science, because you're like, focusing on the empathy element. You're actually getting kids to take action on it as well, and kind of understand their own role, not just raising awareness and stopping there, which I think probably for most existing activities, that's actually where it is. If you get taught in school about these issues, it's probably raising awareness. Or maybe there's a little bit of like you refer to fundraisers and stuff like that as like, okay, you got to collect some money now for it, and that's it, and then move on with your life. But this seems like much more structural, almost kind of trying to solve a kind of structural societal issue of not building empathy early enough in life with people that are struggling, or with social and environmental issues. And then also not trying to understand what can our own impact be, that's kind of completely left to parents, and you're giving them a tool to do that, was that kind of very intentional in the early days? Or did that kind of come about naturally, or how did it go?

Jessica Jackley  35:53

You're hitting the nail on the head. It's, there's a lot of activities and a lot of information, educational tools and materials out there already. Where I see a disconnect, is that often there'll be a great lesson or a great insight, a huge sort of meaningful aha moment for kids. And then, that's where it stops and they're just like, primed, they're ready to go, they just learned about, for example, climate change. It comes up a lot, we have a lot of boxes in the future that will be you know, in some way or another focused on aspects of this. Kids are burdened, I think, with a lot of information. They have access to any anything now. And when it's presented to them, I just think it's absolutely so important to provide constructive, meaningful ways that they can participate in making things better. I always feel like it's not fair to just inform kids of all the problems in the world. All of us that are, have already been here for a while helped to create and to say, it'll be so great, you know, just go fix it. Generally, I think we need to give them real actual paths to start to get involved. And then, I have no doubt, if I've learned anything as a parent so far, kids exceed, they can exceed your expectations, right? So, you give just this little nudge, this little bit of direction, and then they'll do things that are just incredible. So, I'm excited to see not just kids engaged with the activities that we're providing. But to even have great other ideas that maybe we didn't even think about, to have this be a bridge experience. Maybe they start by building their one pollinator hotel, but then they get very passionate about this and do so much more. Our very first tester, family friends of ours for the first box, there's also a little door hanger where you can paint and like make a sort of for gratitude, or you can make kind of whatever you want out of it for your own home to be grateful for the home that you have as if reflecting on that, and the issue of homelessness. He decided he wanted to make it for the family receiving the keychain. So, he painted "welcome" in Spanish and put it in the envelope to send to them. He wanted to give even more than we were saying, "Here's your job." He went above and beyond the very first kit that ever did that, ever used the box. So, I'm excited to see what people do with it. I want to listen carefully and understand what kids and families are excited about and really design it for them. Again, it sounds, maybe it sounds a little strange and very too focused on the volunteer experience. I just don't know exactly perhaps besides some wonderful organizations, nonprofits out there that have been able to do it, because they have the capacity. I think it's just been an overlooked thing. We just assume that volunteers are going to be motivated to show up and do whatever they're tasked with, and then go back to their lives. I think if we can make these experiences just the best, what would happen to that activated person? Would they become, and volunteers are twice as likely to become donors. Volunteers have some really interesting qualities about them, and to tap into again, activating those, to be able to do that I think could be incredibly powerful. I'm so excited about it.

Maiko Schaffrath  39:01

Got it. From everything you talked about, I hear there's a vision even kind of broader than kind of activities for kids, right? I don't know how much you want to talk about that. But like, what's the kind of long run vision for this to inspire more people to volunteer?

Jessica Jackley  39:17

I mean, what if it was possible to have volunteer on demand? Anytime, anywhere from the comfort of your own home or office? What would that be like? It'd be amazing. Yes, you can do things on screens. There's a lot of online volunteering for all adults, I've not really seen a lot for kids at all. Yes, there's micro-volunteering, so you can maybe, you know, tag something or name something, whatever, while you're standing in line for your coffee. Those are fine. To have a tactile, physical thing that you can do. Whenever you're ready, whether you know, you're staying up late one night and you want to do something useful, or you're sitting in front of the television you want to do, whatever it is, I can imagine a world in which this is a thing that we can do in the future. My absolute focus for the first, for the time being is getting it right for families 100%. But families are made up of lots of different people, not just kids under 11. So, imagine in another year or two, designing for teens. We're super excited about that. They're so motivated and have so much that they want to contribute. Imagine designing for adults so that, for example, we've been contacted by businesses, churches, synagogues, we have a nursing home that reached out. They're like, "Can we just use the ones for the kids?" Imagine if we can design issue by issue, organization by organization, really great ways of engaging people. I'm just excited to get there. I'm excited to do that, too.

Maiko Schaffrath  40:36

Wow. Let's focus a little bit on the kind of entrepreneurial insight that some of the entrapreneurial journey now of Alltruists as well, before we close off. So, what I'd be keen to understand is, first of all, I think your business model behind it, I think the approach to building Alltruists is quite a bit different to Kiva. I'd love you to explain a little bit what approach have you taken, and why is it different? Why is it the right choice for Alltruists? Talk us through that business model.

Jessica Jackley  41:12

Yeah, you know, Kiva. Right. I think you're getting at the nonprofit, for profit choices, is that what..?

Maiko Schaffrath  41:18


Jessica Jackley  41:19

You know, the way I talk to my students, so I teach at, I didn't teach this last year. But most of the last decade, I've taught at USC, a course called Entrepreneurial Solutions to the Global Goals. One of the things I cover in class one or two is, okay, for profits have a closed loop where the buyer is the same as the recipient. Person needs a new pair of shoes, great, they pay for them, and they get the shoes, done. That's a for profit. That's a business, it's a market, it's very straightforward. With nonprofits, it's split open. So, you have recipients, people that need shoes that cannot buy them. And so, nonprofits have this amazing task of selling to donors, the story of how great it's going to be when someone else gets shoes. So, they get donations there to fund the shoes. So, that the buyer is the donor, the recipient is the recipient. It's a doubly difficult and I think super intellectually interesting task. I say that because if you can answer this question with a yes, I think the default is well, sure you should be a responsible, you know, B Corps, you should be a business, you can be a social benefit business. But that's the right structure for you, nonprofit is the option only when I think the markets are broken. There's no rules that say, you can't do everything possible to both be sustainable and do things well, and do well by people on planet, right? Be a force for good in the world, even if goodness, you're a for profit. So, for me, I thought, well, I'm starting with this box that I believe people can pay for, certain people. Not everybody. But that's okay, you never designed for everybody, you design for a particular segment, then you go from there. So, the segment that I want to design for, I believe, will be able to afford to buy this box, which includes the donation which you know, includes all these wonderful other pieces. And so, because of that I wanted to make it a for profit. I feel like that might have been a long way to get to the, to cut to the chase. But so those are very, yes, they're different. And yet, the concepts are so similar. There's so much overlap. I mean, in a nonprofit, we say sustainable, and a for profit, it's profitable. And a nonprofit, the money always goes back into the business or into the organization. It's not like you get to take it out, lines your pockets. But guess what, that's usually the right thing to do for a real long time in a for profit anyway, to grow the business. So, there's so much similarity, I see way more similarity than differences.

Maiko Schaffrath  43:47

And for early stage social entrepreneur, in the early days, they have identified a social issue they want to solve, but they're trying to make the decision. Should I be a nonprofit? Should I be social business? Should I be kind of, for profit with kind of a B Corp certification, things like that, right? What would your advice be on what they should look at? Or maybe the questions they should ask themselves to decide which way to go?

Jessica Jackley  44:14

I would say what do you want to get done? What will it take to get you there? How can you get those resources? How can you motivate and attract the people that you need to help you build it and help you get the thing done? And as you answer those questions, it might sound too general. But for example, with Kiva, looking back, I mean, the organization has been sustainable, never aka profitable in the past at times. The choice to be a 51 C-3 is 100%, in my mind was the right one, not just because at the time, you're right. Impact investing wasn't as well developed at all. There were a handful of funds that would have invested in a social enterprise like that, but it would have been such a long road to any kind of possible sustainability and you know, returns look, venture has certain expectations on returns. Kiva's one of the rare few kind of, you know, nonprofit unicorns that could have gotten there. It was the right thing to do at the time because of what we needed in that moment and in the medium and long term. We had, I mean, it's funny, we had a lot of very wonderful, generous and wealthy individuals support the organization at the beginning, who technically could have also invested, but it wouldn't have been the right way for them to engage. So, they donated, which sounds crazy that it was easier, we thought it would be easier to get donations than investments, but we did. So, I think if you have a market that can pay for what you're making, and not, and they can actually compensate for the value you're providing, go for it. Be a for profit, and think very carefully about your values and how you're going to be responsible in the world. If that's the first you know, gate, right? And if not, then consider other paths and figure out that you have to be extra creative to figure out a way not only how to create value in the world, but how to capture what you need, capture value right, from others, tell the story of the amazing, the beautiful value that you're creating in the lives of others, so that they will be able to create that market for you as with donor dollars.

Maiko Schaffrath  46:18

Amazing, I've got so many more questions for you. I think we could go on and on. But I'll make two very quick ones. One quick answer for the next one, maybe. I'd love to know from you what advice you would give your first time founder self quite a while ago, with all the experience you've got now with being a multi-time founder, being an investor, especially from a social entrepreneur perspective. Like, what's the kind of advice you would give to somebody starting out like yourself, when you first started out into the entrepreneurial journey?

Jessica Jackley  46:56

It would have been two things, one would have been some version of, "Oh my gosh, don't worry, no one's going to take your idea." I think first time founders get very, very excited sometimes about this beautiful, precious golden idea. There are times when that's definitely the case. They should be protective, and on and on. But a lot of times, even if your idea is super sparkly, and wonderful, and you're worried that a lot of people will do it, do it your way. Like, nobody will do it exactly the way that you're doing it. So, you can bring your own unique self to the table, and get that done in the way that you know how and the way that you can and your community, your team will implement it. So, that's one piece, the other piece is, I just, I totally underestimated how valuable I think, it's probably the most valuable thing, just stay alive, and you'll figure it out over time. If you really are committed, figure out a way to keep going, just keep going. Whether you iterate so much and pivot whether you you know, totally change tactics along the way, earn the right to stay alive, earn the right to keep going and you will get somewhere, you will get somewhere. I mean, it seems so silly and almost dumb to say that, but uh, it's kind of the most important thing, just don't stop doing the thing, and you'll figure out something valuable to do, hopefully, sooner than later.

Maiko Schaffrath  48:17

One last question. What does the world look like in 10 years, if Alltruists succeeds, and connects to your vision you already talked about? But how does the world look like if your mission actually succeeds?

Jessica Jackley  48:30

That's beautiful. 90% of people say they want to volunteer more. Right now, about a third do. Actually moms, some volunteer at 47%. I mean, it's amazing, these stats. I would say, in 10 years, we've tripled the amount of volunteers that are active. We are the go to standard for really great, really fun, exciting ways of doing good in the world.We're on demand volunteering, where anyone can participate anywhere, anytime through us.

Maiko Schaffrath  49:03

Love it, Jessica. Thank you so much for joining me, it's been really great to learn about your various ways of kind of unleashing potential and unlocking opportunities, which sounds very broad. But I think you know, both of Kiva, but also now of Alltruists, you're really kind of unlocking something that can have a much higher impact than even just the direct actions of your business and your value proposition. I think it can really trickle down to a lot of impact. So I was really excited to talk to you today, and thanks so much for joining. 

Jessica Jackley  49:35

Thank you so much. You're just wonderful to have a conversation with, I'm grateful.

Maiko Schaffrath  49:39

Thank you.