(May 11, 2010)

Contact: Rick DelaHaya, Centenary News Services, 318.869.5073

Commencement Speaker Tells Graduates, "Write your own story, believe in your potential"

Watch the Jackley's address and view other videos and photographs in the
Graduation 2010 Retrospective.

SHREVEPORT, La. (Centenary News Service) — Find your passion, believe in your potential and those around you, and live your dream was the message given by Jessica Jackley during her address to Centenary's graduating class of 2010 during the annual commencement exercise held May 8.

"As you go out into the world, the only limiting factor is how much you believe in your own potential," said Jackley. "Hold strong to that belief because it is that belief that changes the world."

Jessica Jackley

Co-founder of Kiva.org, the world's first online micro-lending platform, Jackley spoke to the nearly 200 graduates about her personal experiences 10 years ago when she was preparing for her own graduation and had the opportunity to deliver her own commencement address at Bucknell University.

"I thought this was a great opportunity to think back on how I was feeling, how I felt about myself and what I thought about my education," she said. "But more importantly, I thought about what my friends would say had they been given the same opportunity. It was then I realized that the theme of my address was about the voices around me and the stories people told to me and what they were going through."

Flash forward 10 years and Jackley is still listening to people, still listening to their stories and now challenges herself to become a better person and help change the lives of others. That was the premise that helped her launch Kiva.org.

"I believe the best thing we can do is help one another and stories help us reach out to each other," Jackley said.

Jackley did not so much give a history lesson on the micro-lending site that do date has facilitated more than $100 million in loans to people across the globe to help alleviate poverty, but how her desire to help was based on the "stories" she heard growing up and later during her adult years.

She remembered two separate events that helped shape what she would eventually define as what she wanted to accomplish with her life. Alleviating poverty and empowering people was the path on which her life would lead her.

Growing up in a loving, middle-class family that did not have a lot of money, she first remembered a story from Sunday school about poor people who needed food, clothing and shelter. She was terrified that this problem was not going to go away, yet excited and inspired that she could somehow help. At a very young age the only thing she could do, she said, was to donate money. God, she said, needed her help so she felt very empowered. But over time she started feeling guilty about her own relative wealth and the money she was donating was only making her feel "less guilty."

"I wasn't listening to the stories anymore," she said. "I was tuning out the stories. I thought to myself, 'let me just get this over with so I can make myself feel better.'"

Jessica Jackley

Jackley later attended Bucknell University and after graduation, had no real plans and moved to California. "I didn't have a car, didn't have a job...I didn't even have a bike," she recalls. She landed on the grounds on Stanford University and with suitcase in hand, passed out resumes and got a job working as a temporary assistant in the graduate school of business. It was there she found herself in the middle of what she calls an amazing institution, The Center of Social Innovation.

"Suddenly I was surrounded by people who were using business skills and principals to solve social problems," Jackley said. "I had never been interested in business, never taken a business class and thought they were completely irrelevant to the things I wanted to do in the world."

Her job turned into a full-time position and while at Stanford, she had the opportunity to meet Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr. Muhammad Yunus, who is a pioneer in modern financial principals. "He told me of how to interact with the poor and it sounded like he was solving a problem. He explained how listening to their stories could lead to some really exciting change. And I thought, 'how can I do something in this world that is measurable and help solve the problem of poverty.'"

Jackley said he wasn't talking about the sadness of poverty, but that of smart entrepreneurs who just didn't have access to resources. She was so inspired at what she heard that she quit her job and moved to Africa three weeks later.

She started listening to the stories again and spent three month hearing the stories from goat herders, seamstresses, farmers and people with small restaurants. "I felt I was listening again for a reason, that the stories were cliff hangers that needed the next chapter to be written. I wanted to contribute to that next chapter."

Thus Kiva.org was launched in 2005. "It has been an amazing and wild five years of my life."

It all came full circle for Jackley, going back to listening to the stories that defined what she needed to do with her life. For her, it was not about the numbers or the money, but about change that could be accomplished with it. She also brought her address to the graduates back full circle, telling them they have the power to change things in the world. Find your passion, listen to your heart, believe in yourself and what you can accomplish, she told them.

"There are probably a million things wrong in this world that you know how to fix," she said. "But I think there are two things wrong with us or that is broken inside of us and why aren't we fixing them? We have forgotten about our potential to stand up and start changing things and we have stopped believing in someone else's potential."

"So if there is one thing as you are sitting here ready to go out in the world, remember you are writing your own story, you have a voice that is unique, and that your story matters."