Meet the Entrepreneur and Mom Teaching Kids About Volunteering Through Family Projects

Jessica Jackley is an entrepreneur, investor, professor, and speaker whose career has focused on social justice. After co-founding Kiva, she launched Alltruists, which curates kid-friendly volunteer projects for families to stay at home, delivered in eco-friendly boxes. She sat down with Jessica Abo to talk about how she’s helping parents teach their kids about homelessness, bees, clean water, hunger, foster animals and mental health.

Jessica Abo: Jessica, before we get to Alltruists, take us back to Kiva, a nonprofit organization that expands capital for entrepreneurs. What can you tell about this trip?

Jessica Jackley:

I was introduced to microfinance in a lecture at the Stanford Graduate School of Business as a staff member. I actually worked there as a temporary worker right after graduating from high school, by the way, not with a business degree. I had never taken an entrepreneurship course before. I hated the business. I thought it was about getting people to spend money on things they don’t need. I thought it was about revenue and greed, and I thought nonprofits were good. So I had no interest in business or entrepreneurship, and yet I found myself in my first job at this amazing institution, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and I happened to be in this incredible department called the Center for Social Innovation. It was a place where every day people walked through the doors trying to solve social problems, the same kinds of problems that many of the nonprofits I so admired were trying to solve, but they did it in a different way , utilizing commercial skills and entrepreneurial thinking. It was overwhelming for me.

I quit my job at Stanford and begged for an unpaid internship where I could learn about microfinance and microcredit in particular. It was a three and a half month project in East Africa. The experience I had there during this internship, meeting entrepreneurs who were only given $100 to start or grow their small businesses, absolutely changed everything for me. It changed the way I saw what’s possible. It changed my perception of the role of helpful for-profit or non-profit organizations.

It gave me the opportunity to hear firsthand stories from people whose only story I felt was one of utter sadness, suffering and helplessness, quite frankly. I met entrepreneurs. I’ve met people who booted themselves and their families out of poverty with just access to that tiny bit of money. It was so inspirational that it led to all those what-if questions that eventually led to the creation of Kiva, a platform where anyone with a credit card or PayPal account and an internet connection can give an entrepreneur somewhere $25 or can borrow more on the planet that needs a tiny loan. Sometimes it’s just a few hundred dollars, sometimes more. Today, Kiva has facilitated just over $1.6 billion in loans of $25 each from generous individuals around the world. Being a part of those early days was truly one of the greatest gifts of my life and it really set me on my own path of entrepreneurship.

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Then you had children. Tell us how that transformed your work and led you to found Alltruists.

I had four children and our last child was born just before the world went crazy over COVID. Even though our existence usually slowed down and became smaller and more at home after the birth of our other babies, this time was different because for a long time our world remained very limited and closed off, as was the case for everyone. Volunteering has always been very important to us and finding and planning opportunities has been very difficult, let alone bringing children. Often they are not even allowed. But the few things we could do were no longer possible. I really wanted to be able to give something back to my kids that wasn’t just, “Hey guys, look at Mommy putting in her credit card info and donating to this organization.” I wanted to do something tangible with them. I wanted them to receive the message that more than anything, their head, their hands, their heart, their time and their talents are the most valuable thing they have to offer the world, even if they are little.

Alltruists was born out of this desire to create new ways for children and families to serve together, even in the comfort of their own homes. The broadest possible way to express this vision is that we exist to reinvent and redistribute volunteer opportunities so anyone can give back, anytime, anywhere.

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How does it work?

Jackley:

Alltruists works with leading nonprofits to create new ways for children and families to learn from home, connecting with empathy-building stories, often the stories of individuals who worked with the nonprofit as beneficiaries of its products or services have to do something meaningful and effective through a volunteer or service project. Sometimes that project is something that kids make, make, or collect at home and then send to another human being or organization that can use it to impact the planet or animals, but often it’s also the case that we do projects Make home where you can be more responsible at home, let’s say with your water use, or maybe build a bird feeder for migratory birds and put up window film, something like that.

There is a wide variety of projects and we really focus on the needs, perspective and theory of change of the nonprofits we work with. There is also a donation box and a bridge to other activities. Our dream is that this will inspire people to get much more involved in the short and long term after taking those first steps and having the experience we are designing for them.

So many families say they want to volunteer, but what do you think is stopping them?

Jackley:

It’s true. Ninety percent of people say they would like to volunteer more, but only about a quarter of us do, and that’s understandable. It’s not that easy to find the right thing, to find organizations where your values ​​really align and you’re really passionate about what that organization does. The actual activities often available to volunteers do not always match what is easy or appropriate for children to get involved, which is a shame but reality. Often non-profit organizations have to deal with very sensitive issues and very sensitive population groups. It’s not always like kids can come in and be really, really helpful in that moment. But it’s not impossible, and that’s why we exist naturally. We know that there is always something that everyone, every human being, at any stage of their life, can do to help, be it a small cause or a much bigger cause.

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There are platforms where families can find opportunities and sign up and actually get out the door and do those activities, but we really see a future and a world where there are other options where you have a subscription box on a Sunday afternoon that you could get and do a craft project, why not make something that is a craft or an activity and it really has a purpose that really matters to someone else outside of your own home? We think the best of so many worlds comes together.

What is your advice to families who want to raise loving and caring children?

Jackley:

My best advice for what I’ve seen in my own family is to just walk the path. Be authentic. Be vulnerable and open with your children. It’s one thing to talk about the things you believe in and how you wish the world was different and the kinds of things that are important to you, the values ​​that you have as a family, but it is a whole other thing, actually getting out there and acting together. I guess I would say take a deep breath and don’t stress yourself too much about all the clutter because the world is a mess.

It’s really difficult to grapple with the tough issues around climate, hunger and so many things, but if you take your child’s hand and start walking that walk together, and if you’re not afraid to say, ‘I know Not . Let’s find out, you and me together.” I think kids feel really empowered. You really feel like they matter, which they are, and you’re showing them, you’re modeling them, that the most important thing you can do is show up and try, make an effort, get involved and help in the best and most humble way you can.