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Four Favorites On: Haiti

To visit Haiti is to forever fall into its thrall. Once called “The Pearl of the Antilles” for its lush forests and natural beauty, this Caribbean island nation long ago lost most of its forests in pursuit of farmland and charcoal. While the country continues to struggle with poverty and environmental degradation, Haiti’s brawny history, colorful folklore and enigmatic politics make it a fascinating place to study and visit.

Can I get real with you for a minute? I’m intimidated by the success of others. Don’t get me wrong, I like to hear stories about people working to change the world for the better, but I get uncomfortable when people I don’t know start to list their achievements. As a person who considers it an accomplishment to get to work on time, listening to a stranger humble-brag about how she did the coolest thing ever can be a little demoralizing. When I started reading Jessica Jackley’s book Clay Water Brick I was nervous that it would be just that–a tally of really impressive achievements that would (unintentionally) make me feel kind of bad about myself.

The thing is, if anyone did have an excuse to brag, it would be Jessica Jackley. She is most well known as the co-founder of Kiva, an organization that harnesses the power of lending to fight poverty. Kiva allows people (lenders) to give small loans to low income or rural entrepreneurs (borrowers) who don’t have access to traditional banking. These loans allow borrowers to create opportunities for themselves without falling victim to predatory lending. To date, Kiva has provided loans to over 1,700,000 people in 83 countries ( Jackley’s other ventures have included earning an M.B.A from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and co-founding ProFounder, a first-of-its-kind crowdfunding platform. She has even had a successful audience with “The Queen” (also known as Oprah).

Though Clay Water Brick is autobiographical, its aim is really to highlight entrepreneurs. Jackley’s definition of the word was a new one for me. As she defines them, entrepreneurs are people who refuse to be held back by what they do not have. Instead of giving up when faced with challenges, entrepreneurs make a series of choices to move forward “regardless of what they lack or must fight against.” She shares her own experience as an entrepreneur with complete transparency. Refreshingly, Jackley didn’t emerge from college groomed to co-found a successful start up. She emerged, like most recent grads, passionate but unsure of what to do to make her goals happen. She is brutally honest about the struggles and mistakes that she experienced in the process of founding and operating Kiva and Profounder as well as the lessons she learned along the way. I genuinely appreciated her candor.

Alongside the stories from her own life, Jackley also shares the stories of some of the rural entrepreneurs that she has met around the world, including Patrick the brick maker in Uganda, Blessing the Shopkeeper in Tanzania and Constance the banana farmer in Kenya, to name a few. Jackley deftly uses these stories to point out the parallels between these entrepreneurs, herself and her readers. She has a talent for finding universal lessons in situations that seem radically different from one another. How are Patrick the brick maker and I similar? We both have to start where we are if we want to succeed in whatever goals we have.  I loved that Jackley communicated that, regardless of how different our situations are, we as people have something in common and are all learning similar lessons.  We’re all working toward something.

Despite my initial (slightly dramatic) misgivings, I recommend this book. I finished it feeling refreshed and not belittled or talked down to. I was surprised by it.  I think you’ll be surprised by it, too. It’s full of encouraging, applicable advice from a fresh perspective that will leave you feeling empowered and ready to take on a dream project of your own. At the very least, Clay Water Brick can offer you a chance to sit back and allow yourself to be impressed by the tenacity of Jessica Jackley and her fellow entrepreneurs. They’re worthy of admiration!


Bethany Ivie

Bethany Ivie has been with Heifer International's Little Rock staff since March 2014.