Where KIVA founder Jessica Jackley works and finds balance with her family

Produced with Vox Media

Whether self-employed or working remotely, the home office is an increasingly popular option. For Jessica Jackley, a microfinance pioneer and entrepreneur, working out of her home in Hollywood — surrounded by her family — fueled a passion for each part of her life. In partnership with Cadillac, The Pursuit takes a look at Jackley’s sun-filled home workspace, exploring how she achieves balance and finds inspiration.

Jessica Jackley, the founder of the microfinance lending site KIVA, is a compulsive storyteller. Tales of the people she’s met, of her own unlikely journey, and more recently, of her children, form an ongoing narrative that boils down to one word, a mouthful she manages to say gracefully and often: “entrepreneurially.”

“When you’re living entrepreneurially you’re looking for opportunities,” Jackley explained. “You’re trying to solve problems in a proactive way without being asked or told to. You’re creating a path forward in whatever you’re doing.”

In June these stories will find a wider audience, when she publishes her first book. Titled Clay Water Brick, it tells of people who have made profitable businesses out of nothing. “Entrepreneurship isn’t just for a privileged few but it’s a way that everybody can live,” she said. “I hope the book can be a reminder that it’s something accessible to everybody, and that lack of resources is not a barrier.”

She told me, “I see a lot of people as entrepreneurs who wouldn’t use that word to identify themselves.” For most of her life, that was the case for Jackley. A philosophy and poetry major in undergrad, she happened to be working at Stanford Graduate School of Business when Muhammed Yunus gave a lecture on microfinance. “It seemed like magic,” Jackley said, “that a tiny amount of capital could fast forward the businesses of people living in extreme poverty, through the work they were already doing.” For her, this was a striking new narrative about the poor, different than the stories of shame and desperation she was used to hearing.

Moved, she traveled to east Africa, where she met people who had found success with small loans. One was a fishmonger who saved just enough money to take taxi outside her village in order to cut out her middleman and go directly to the source. That one risk tripled her profits. Years later in New York Jackley bought a painting from a street vendor, a portrait of a fishmonger. She still keeps by her desk. “That random piece of art reminds me of that woman and those early days when I was having this great adventure and the idea for KIVA was born.”

To start KIVA, Jackley returned to Stanford Business School, but this time as a student, and enrolled in Swahili courses. “I didn’t have the quote-on-quote ‘right experience’ to do a tech start up, certainly not one that would work in almost a hundred countries, but I started it anyway.” Unflagging in her vision, according to Jackley, “The goal was to share these stories of strength and hope, empowerment and entrepreneurship.” As of today, KIVA has facilitated over $690 million of loans and maintains a 99% repayment rate.

 

Jackley has become an expert in crowdfunding and was an early investor in sites like Kickstarter. She still keeps the reward from one of the first campaigns she supported on the site: postcards of philosophy terms.

These days, she says she’s found an ideal balance between professional and personal life, but but she doesn’t weigh the two by dividing them. The values of her business inform those of her family, and the curiosity of her children lends wisdom to her work. Her home office, which she shares with her novelist husband in Hollywood, is bright and colorful, and not just because of the California sun streaming in. On every wall and surface her sons have left their mark with paper and paint.

“I’ve never thrown any of their art away,” said Jackley. “I know that’s a little bit ridiculous, because they’re only three and I have piles and piles, but it makes them proud to feel like our home is their home. It’s a place for all of us.”

 

Recently she’s recovered her old vocabulary flashcards to brush up on her Swahili, as she’ll be traveling to Kenya this summer, this time bringing the whole family. She told me one last story, of when her son asked her what “opportunity” meant. Pausing to translate to a toddler, she told him, “It’s like when you’re at the playground with your brother and you both want to do something, so you take turns. Opportunity is like getting a turn to do something awesome.”

Reflecting on her success she said, “When my work allows me to give people more turns to reach their potential, then I feel really proud of how I’m spending my time.”

 

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