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Out of Crisis, a Commitment to Opportunity

Karissa Nanetta (McIntire ’11) works to bring economic empowerment to thousands of Kenyans.
May 2015

We’re all familiar with the notion that a crisis can hold the seeds of opportunity. But for Indonesian-born Karissa “Nanette” Nanetta (McIntire ’11), that notion holds a particularly potent significance. As a young girl living with her family in Jakarta, Nanette witnessed the terrifying riots that swept through the city during the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis. “I remember one night when we slept with our shoes on,” she says. “My mother prepared our luggage so we could grab our things and run.”

The experience left Nanette shaken—but with a firm conviction about the human motivations that lay behind the unrest. “When I looked back on the riots, I realized that they were the result of enormous economic frustration,” she says. “People felt that there were no opportunities to earn money—that they couldn’t even feed their children.” More, she explains, “I came to believe that if you could provide people with opportunities to alleviate their poverty, you could prevent a lot of these kinds of explosive situations.”

Taking Action

Now serving as one of five Kiva Zip Fellow volunteers in Nairobi, Kenya, Nanette—having taken a four-month leave of absence from her job as a Management Consultant with Ernst & Young—is turning that belief into action.

Founded in 2005, global microfinance leader Kiva partners with financial organizations around the world to provide small-scale, no-interest loans to impoverished would-be entrepreneurs who lack access to traditional banking systems—say, a Rwandan farmer looking to purchase a heifer, or an Armenian carpenter keen to invest in new tools. To date, Kiva has made some 1.7 million loans at an average size of about $416; the rate of repayment hovers just under 99 percent. Kiva Zip, the nonprofit organization’s newest initiative, offers individual lenders the opportunity to make small loans directly to borrowers in the United States and Kenya via the Internet. “Kiva really appealed to me because of its very tangible, results-driven orientation,” Nanette says. “I like to see real impacts. If I put together a PowerPoint presentation, I want to see it actually affect real people in the street.”

Kiva has given Nanette the chance to do exactly that—on a massive scale. Hoping to make the most of her world-class business skills and experience, the organization has tasked her with streamlining its first-ever Kiva Zip partnership in Kenya. “Until now, Kiva Zip has gotten all of its new borrowers simply through word of mouth,” Nanette explains. “This new partnership, with an amazing organization of Kenyan women entrepreneurs called Joyful Women, brings in thousands of new borrowers.”

Nanette’s job is to get the new partnership running as smoothly as possible. “I’ve been challenged with making sure we have the appropriate channels of communication in place, that our joint operations are really coordinated, that we establish effective mechanisms for dealing with any issues that might arise, and that our repayment rates stay high,” she says. More, she explains, Kiva hopes to use her work as a blueprint for future such partnerships, as a means to help achieve sustainable growth. “It’s a huge responsibility,” Nanette says. “It’s also a huge opportunity to transform a lot of people’s lives.”

Lots to Learn

Now three months into the fellowship, Nanette says her Kenya experience is proving transformative to her own life. “I’ve learned an incredible amount about business in the short time I’ve been here,” she says. “It’s everything from the critical role of flawless technology, to starting a new venture, to operations, management, entrepreneurship, and, of course, finance.”

More than that, though, Nanette says she takes inspiration and hope from Kiva’s Kenyan borrowers, who continue to make the most of their Kiva-granted opportunities despite heightened security concerns and the rumblings of a political crisis. “I love going out into the field and meeting the people I’m actually helping,” she says. “They’re so optimistic, and so hard-working—you can see how much they want to improve their families’ and their children’s lives.”

For her part, Nanette says she’s “incredibly grateful” to UVA, McIntire, and Ernst & Young for providing her with the superb business education and skills that have afforded her the opportunity to pursue a longstanding dream. But as she’s learned from her admirably determined Kenyan clientele, opportunity is only the beginning. “You won’t achieve your goals by sitting down and pondering the future,” Nanette says. “You have to be willing to go out there, try something new, and work really hard.”