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IT innovations help Kiva expand microfinance mission

IT innovations help Kiva expand microfinance mission

Doing much more with much less is business as usual for Kiva, its entrepreneurs and its IT team.

In fact, Kiva's success has occasionally gotten the best of it. There have been times when the volume of contributions temporarily outpaced the rate at which new loan requests could be posted, requiring would-be funders to wait.

In the future, Kiva will be less likely to encounter such delays, since MFIs in the field will be able to post new loans more quickly, thanks to the improvements Kiva's IT staff has been making.

Kiva's internal IT group can't take all the credit for its successes, though. The organization's leaders freely acknowledge that they use commercial technology for the sake of cost and functionality.

For example, Frazao says he switched in mid-2007 from maintaining Kiva's own server to using Amazon.com's Simple Storage Service (S3). There's no immediate cost savings, but because S3 is infinitely scalable, Kiva will never run out of space, and it will be able to create future capacity without a big capital outlay. Moreover, by outsourcing this function, the in-house staff can focus on delivering technologies that support Kiva's core mission.

An individual donor gave Kiva 40 Flip video cameras from Pure Digital Technologies, and Kiva is encouraging partners to take videos, which it's uploading on its Web site using YouTube APIs. "We want video all over the site," Flannery says. "It might help us overcome some of the language barriers. If you can't write, maybe you can make a video that connects people."

Frazao says building on YouTube's interfaces required no money and just a week's worth of work from a four-person Kiva team. "We're thrilled that YouTube has done all the work for us," he explains. "To do this without YouTube would be a massive undertaking."

In fact, Frazao says, that's typical of the approach that keeps Kiva lean yet still on the leading edge of technology. "We're asking what's the fastest, easiest way to get something done. And it [often] happens to be something that a lot of people are working on," he says.

Despite Kiva's impressive growth, Flannery admits that he has accomplished only about 5 percent of what he'd like to do. "We're not growing like a VC-backed company that gets US$10 million all upfront, so there are so many things we want to do that we haven't been able to do yet. We have to prioritize," he says.

But the good news, Flannery says, is that such organic growth creates a lean operation, because there's no room for extra expenses that don't produce results.

That's an approach pretty much everyone can appreciate today.


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