People love the information that's contained in the loan. When you start getting repayments, that lets you know something's working on the ground. Conversely, when you don't get repaid, that's also a tangible feedback loop and the explanation of why -- maybe the person got malaria or the cow died -- and I think that feedback loop is so often missing in philanthropy.
I would say this is not Facebook versus baby boomer. Our users -- over half of them are over 40. I think it's more a universal need to get closer to what's happening, and get some kind of feedback, and more and more philanthropy is moving in this direction.
What has surprised you most about Kiva?
It's the idea of being co-owned and co-created by a community of people.
When I quit my job at PayPal, no one was coming to this website. It was like crickets and tumbleweeds. It wasn't until the end of the first year that things really started to get going. [Now] we're seeing things like people creating their own Kiva Japan site. Someone just got a Kiva tattoo. I saw a photo of a Kiva license plate in Virginia.
Here's the difference between classic organization thinking and Kiva: Many organizations can be kind of command and control: "We license our brand, here's all the rules, stay on message, blah blah blah." We let people mash it up. There's no brand police around. It's "go and create things around the common purpose of making an impact." This is our moment, a chance to do some really amazing things.
Does this mean you're putting the more traditional, bricks-and-mortar philanthropies out of business?
Oh no. In fact, I think we're helping them to be more efficient. Probably one of the best things they could do is [use] the Internet to reach people, [to] explain the stories not [in] a once-a-year annual report but on an everyday basis. I see them using platforms like Kiva, like Facebook, like YouTube to get their great work out there and help them fundraise.
A one-person, $25 loan can't achieve massive change, as did some American CEOs who, in one act, preserved 2 million acres in South America.
Let me talk about what you might see in the next 10 years: [A] website that takes photos of plots of land that need protection and sells the deeds to the Internet community. In $25 chunks, I can help protect the rain forest. Through Google Earth and GPS technologies, you could actually [see and] own one square foot of land in the Brazilian rain forest. Someone will do this.
We think of ourselves as a donor nation, not a needy one, yet people in the U.S. are soliciting loans through Kiva.
Our 47th country was the United States. The reason is that 2008-2009 was an incredibly difficult time. If you were a small business and you didn't have swell credit scores, banks wouldn't lend to you. We know that small businesses are the backbone of the economy, and there are about 30 million small-business owners who are unbanked or under-banked in the U.S. We said, why not let the Internet community bank on people here in the U.S.?
We found that many first-time users who made a loan to a U.S. business tended to add loans to other people around the world. I think people want to help locally, and, when they're engaged, they'll help people around the world.
Why do more women get Kiva loans than men?
Women are oftentimes the people to whom banks would never lend. Yet studies have shown that when you help a woman, you really help a family; that when loans are made to women, the nutritional outcomes, the incidences of children going to school, tend to be higher than when you lend to men, so the social impact of lending to women, it appears, is higher.
And then the repayment rates [from] women tended to be higher. We have a 98% repayment rate, and it's because, I believe, a majority of loans go to women. I don't want to speak badly of men, but oftentimes there are problems; they can spend money on a lot of different vices. Women tend to feel much more responsible for the well-being of the household.
This interview was edited and excerpted from a longer taped transcript. Interview archive: latimes.com/pattasks.