10. Premal Shah: The Tale of the Courageous Follower

Photo courtesy of Kiva.

Photo courtesy of Kiva.

The premise of the video is simple. There’s a man dancing to the beat of his own drum while a crowd of onlookers sit and watch, baffled. They laugh. The snicker. They look on with confusion. Another man joins him, dancing beside him. Little by little, others trickle in and join them, to the point where people are running to join the dance, which originated with that one man. The video is narrated by entrepreneur and writer Steven Sivers.

“The first follower is actually an underestimated form of leadership in itself. It takes guts to stand out like that. The first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader,” Sivers says in his February 2010 TED talk to a chorus of laughs.

I was first introduced to this video and social entrepreneurship just weeks later by a man named Premal Shah, the President and Co-Founder of Kiva.org, which fights poverty by providing loans to those in need. It was March 2010 at Harvard University’s Social Enterprise Conference and, thanks to Shah, I went from a 17 year old with little understanding of the concept of “social enterprise” to a 17 year old who believed he could be the change he wants to see in the world.

See, at the age of 17, my idea of entrepreneurship was, honestly, older caucasian men in suits. Shah was pretty far from that. He was young. He was a minority. Frankly, he was cool - confident and cool enough to introduce the Harvard University elite (and me) to this video.

In essence, the premise of Shah’s company, Kiva, is that of the courageous follower. 2.2 million borrowers have put projects on Kiva.org to gain support. The true story of the website, though, is that of the courageous follower - the 1.6 million lenders who have pitched in their support. 1.6 million people have said “yes” to those looking for micro-loans to get their venture off the ground. In a way, those supporters are choosing to dance along with the leader, as seen in the video above.

Sure, Shah’s talk at Harvard was relevant, referencing a video that, today, has nearly 6 million views on the TED website. With that said, he’s long been an advocate for sharing the ownership, giving other people the feeling that they are co-creating a movement with you.

In a 2008 interview with Global X, in reference to creating an advisory board, Shah says, “It’s little, subtle things like that that allow you to actually build people from passively interested to an official supporter."

The Kiva co-founder is impacting the world, not just through his life-changing platform, but through the insights he’s sharing to encourage others to get on board. At the end of the day, it all ties in with an idea that Shah has shared in multiple talks, including one at Google.

Shah states, “What the world needs most are people who come alive."

Whether it’s the pioneers who seed ideas or those who help to nurture them, it’s readily apparent that the world needs passionate people who take joy in working together to move us all forward. Shah has taught me and many others that lesson. If one thing is for sure, it’s that he is living proof of that philosophy. By truly coming to life, he’s changed countless lives and continues to have an impact that reverberates far beyond the thousands who have heard his talks or the millions who have found loans through Kiva.

Matthew Scott