Kiva Versus Gates: The Result

“Will the Gates Foundation or have a greater impact on poverty?” That was the question up for debate on our Facebook fansite in a competition for a signed advance copy of the new paperback.

Opinions were evenly divided. People like Kiva’s focus on supporting entrepreneurs through microfinance and the way it empowers ordinary donors, but they also worry about whether Kiva can really reach scale and question whether there really is a bottleneck in capital for microcredit. In contrast, the Gates Foundation was appreciated for the leverage it brings through its scale, even if it intervenes more indirectly than Kiva does. Yet there were serious concerns that such a huge organisation could get bureaucratic and fall into the same traps as government donors.

We were struck that the answers were not just tub-thumping for one side or the other. Many respondents pointed to the new challenges facing these organisations, such as how can Kiva start to lever the power of its social network beyond a simple donor-recipeint model into advocacy and more, or whether the Gates Foundation needs to move on from the traditional grant-making model. These are exactly the problems that the leaders of these organisations are grappling with at the moment.

In the end, the Gates Foundation carried the day by a single vote (although, as a number of people pointed out, our either/or question was a little bit “apples and oranges”). Deciding on a winner of our competition was just as close. In the end we chose Makenna Held, who made the point most eloquently that the greatest need is for sustainable solutions to poverty. “The idea of ‘patient capital’ and market-based solutions are best candidates to create large scale impact” she argued. We think that this is going to be one of the most exciting areas of growth in philanthrocapitalism in the coming years, as it is a necessity for development as government aid budgets are squeezed, and a necessity for capitalism, as it tries to rediscover its soul.

Congratulations to Makenna and thanks to all the entrants. The popular debate about Kiva, Gates, and the philanthrocapitalism revolution in general is too often cast in black and white terms. As our contest showed, the important discussion is about what works.