There’s an age-old saying in the business world that “people buy from people”. The implication is that at the end of the day it’s the real human connection between two individuals that motivates a transaction.

As it turns out, the same is true in the world of microcredit. When Kiva.org first went live in March of 2005, it was an experiment to see if people in the developed world would be willing to loan money to low-income entrepreneurs clear across the globe – individuals they would never speak to or meet. We strove to build what human connection we could through profile pictures, background stories, and progress updates from the borrowers.

The experiment worked, and it worked in ways Matt and Jessica Flannery, Kiva’s founders, could never have imagined. Today Kiva has facilitated over $25M in loans in over 40 countries – and this success is in large part due to the relationships that are established between the lenders and borrowers. Microcredit is not charity; it’s empowerment and it’s a partnership, and there’s something incredibly tangible about living in Iowa and lending to a farmer in Afganistan through Kiva.org. As it turns out, “people loan to people”.

In Kiva’s early days (and even now, to a degree), it was as much about connecting borrowers and lenders as it was about figuring out how to keep the lights on and the servers serving. Kiva wasn’t (and isn’t) taking a penny from the loans and so needed a source of revenue. Then it struck us – maybe we could build a relationship between Kiva’s lenders and the Kiva.org team? Maybe “people donate to people”?

We took a team picture at the office, uploaded it to the site, and then began asking lenders if in addition to their loan to the borrower would they want to donate money to us – Kiva.org the non-profit – to help us keep going; again, it worked. To be fair much of Kiva’s financial support today comes from institutional donations, but it’s safe to say that without support from Kiva’s lenders the organization would not be where it is today. Further, I have not heard of any other non-profit asking for online donations in this very offline way: with a smile.

It’s finally worth noting that Kiva’s “personality” is derived not only from our lenders and borrowers, our staff, and our broader team, but also from the thousands of supporters who evangelize Kiva at their offices, in their communities, and through their social networks. Whether it’s Bill Clinton championing Kiva in an interview or it’s a student emailing her classmates about us, we’ve empowered our fans to get others involved so that lending on Kiva.org becomes a thing people do together and feel a part of together; it’s people helping people fight poverty, one loan at a time.