In 2005, Jessica Jackley co-founded Kiva and not only changed the world of microfinance but also the conversation about how we can all play a role in fighting global poverty.

Today, through the donations of over 1.3 million users, Kiva has facilitated over $760 million in loans to entrepreneurs.

Jackley, who grew up in the north suburbs of Pittsburgh, also co-founded and led ProFounder, a pioneering crowdfunding platform for U.S. entrepreneurs. She is currently a consultant and investor in the Collaborative Fund, which invests in social enterprises and whose portfolio includes Reddit, Kickstarter and Code Academy.

On October 28th, Jackley returns to Pittsburgh as the featured speaker at Speak Freely, to promote her recently released book, Clay Water Brick: Finding Inspiration from Entrepreneurs Who Do the Most with the Least.

You co-founded Kiva a decade ago and changed microfinance from something that large NGOs do to something that anyone with $25 can do. What inspired you?

I wanted to help tell a new story about poverty and potential. I wanted to share stories of entrepreneurship, not just need, of people living in poverty. And I wanted to allow anyone who heard those stories to respond with a loan, not a donation, because to me that connection promotes a bond of equality, empowerment, confidence (and a donation doesn’t always do this).

What do you know now that you wish you knew in 2005?

Everything turns out OK. (Actually, much, much better than OK.)

Kiva was an audacious proposition that changed many rules—and definitely met with some resistance in the beginning. What is your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs who have game-changing ideas and are facing the same challenge? 

Don’t be afraid to hear criticism, because you can almost always find something helpful or something to learn in the process. But, don’t get discouraged by it too much, either. The best way to figure out if something is going to work or not is to just try it. So get started, test, experiment, iterate . . . and prove the naysayers wrong! (And if it ends up they weren’t wrong, don’t stress, just learn and try again. The only way you can fail is if you stop trying.)

Pittsburgh has been receiving a lot of recognition as a fast-growing city for innovation. What do you think is the single most important thing the city and our investment community can do to support promising startups and encourage innovation from the grassroots?

Yes! It’s been very exciting to see Pittsburgh start to get some of the recognition it deserves. And this is just the beginning, I hope.

I think there are some obvious things that folks in this community can do to continue supporting entrepreneurs, like continuing to provide capital and resources, but one of the more subtle things I always like to encourage is an acceptance—or, better yet, a celebration—of “failure.”

I put that word in quotes because I think very few circumstances in life actually deserve to be called failures; usually, especially in the story of a startup, a “failure” is just an opportunity to rethink things, to learn, maybe to innovate, and then figure out how to move forward. So I think it’s hugely important to create a culture that understands, and doesn’t flinch at, the reality of the entrepreneurial journey, the twists and turns and bumps along the way.

In Clay Water Brick, you also share how your father has helped shape how you approach the “different seasons” of your life—with a clear mission statement anchored by a strong sense of identity. What struck me about that is the understanding that life is cyclical and our mission statements can change depending on where we are in that cycle. Do you still have “car conversations” with your dad? 

I am still very close with my parents and still learn a great deal from them. I think the main difference now though is that the exchange goes both ways and we seek each others’ advice. Of course, I love talking to them about parenting strategies most of all—they have a lot of wisdom in that department!

Speaking of seasons . . . what’s next for you?

I’m launching something new in coming months but not at liberty to say more about it . . . yet.

Kiva has changed the lives of over 1.7 million entrepreneurs in over 80 countries. In Clay Water Brick, Jackley shares many of the inspiring stories of individuals and families whose lives have been changed. We asked Jackley to share a story that has inspired her in particular and she quoted an excerpt from her book about a brick maker in Uganda whom she met 10 years ago.