How Kiva creates opportunity with data
Nov 21, 2017
When you think of “startups”, you probably don’t imagine a homemade baked goods shop in Paraguay or a goat farm operating inside a refugee camp in Jericho. However, these small entrepreneurial pursuits are only a portion of the businesses that Kiva’s platform helps fund around the world.
To date, Kiva, a non-profit microfinance organization that connects lenders with low-income entrepreneurs and students all over the world, has lent more than 1 Billion dollars through their platform.
By challenging assumptions about what exactly it means to be an entrepreneur, Kiva is changing the way the tech and financial industries think about microfinance lending.
We recently took a road trip up to Kiva’s San Francisco headquarters to speak with people on the Data Analytics and Development teams, who shared the inventive ways that they use data to create real change in communities around the globe.
Building a base
Before Looker, the Kiva team had to rely on siloed, disparate data stores that made analytics time-consuming for analysts and nearly impossible for non-technical users.
The analytics department, which had one full-time member (manager Rob Schoenbeck), brought in Looker to speed up reporting for the entire company.
“Instead of having to reinvent the wheel every time somebody wants to see a specific data point in a particular place, I can just define it once in model and put it in a whole bunch of reports,” Rob explained. “It can be repurposed over and over again with very little effort on my part, which really helps with data quality and data management.”
Soon after adopting Looker, Kiva then turned to Snowflake, a cloud-based MPP data warehouse, for storing their vast supply of data.
“We found Snowflake to be pretty attractive because it’s compatible with Looker and doesn’t require a lot of overhead maintenance or management,” continued Rob. “Being able to use Looker and Snowflake together lifted a huge burden off the data team and allowed us to look at the data in a clearer, more complete, and more statistically sound way than ever before.”
Rob began teaching analysts and business users in different departments how to create dashboards and reports using their new data system. “Now that they're on Looker, they can just create a dashboard or a scheduled report and they no longer have to go through this super manual process just to take the pulse of what's going on in their business processes.”
The data team now supports Looker for over 50 technical and business users at Kiva and hopes to further expand the number of data users throughout the entire company.
For the team at Kiva, insight into their data doesn’t mean increased revenue and profits; it means impacting individuals throughout the world in realistic and meaningful ways. With self-service, reliable access to data, Kiva can better meet the needs of the communities they serve.
Bennett Grassano, Kiva’s VP of Strategic Development, told us about a new initiative called Kiva Labs that turns Kiva team member’s insights into powerful forces of change.
Kiva Labs provides crowd-sourced, risk-tolerant capital to accelerate new ideas around the world. “Kiva Labs is all about using crowdfunding to drive innovation in microfinance,” explains Bennett, “to do this, Kiva Labs uses a lot of data.”
One project founded as a part of Kiva Labs is the World Refugee fund, which focuses on helping refugees in countries like Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey who are often denied loans by typical micro-finance institutions because they’re considered “high-risk” due to limited or inaccessible credit history, few fixed assets for collateral and higher flight risk.
While the classification of Refugees as “high risk” is not unfounded, Kiva found that there are a large number of individuals and foundations who wanted to help them, and the people at Kiva set out to challenge assumptions and bring these groups together to aid refugees in a meaningful and sustainable way.
So they set up the World Refugee fund, which raises money to match the loans made by lenders on Kiva’s platform and sets the groundwork for a revolving fund worth over $9 million.
“With Looker, we were able to slice data in different ways and pull together the data relevant to our work with refugees and identify how they’ve been successful,” explains Bennett. “We were then able to serve that up to both practitioners who are looking for better ways to serve refugees, as well as foundations, corporations, individuals who are looking for a way to support them.”
Only by leveraging key data on the financial needs and potential of refugees was Kiva able to launch this dynamic fund. In addition to meeting the immediate needs of refugees as they restructure their lives, the fund helps refugees build credit and establish solid financial records that will support them for years to come.
“We learned that we could lean into creating a platform for innovation while giving our users something that they’re already looking for, and that was really powerful,” Bennett explained.
“When you can harness the curiosity of the people closest to the work, focus on innovation, manage risk, and also create a great user experience, that’s how we’ll maximize the impact we can have on the world.”
To read the full story of how Kiva is changing lives with data, check out their full story.