Matt Flannery

Ashoka Fellow
San Francisco, United States
Fellow Since 2008
My work: Building a movement of micro-lenders that loan money to small-scale entrepreneurs through an online platform.


This profile was prepared when Matt Flannery was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
For lenders of average means who wish to lend to small-scale entrepreneurs in developing economies, Matt and his co-founders saw two primary hurdles: one, the prevailing investment structure for microfinance institutions did not offer an entry point for lenders who wanted to loan small sums; and two, no existing platform enabled a spirit of person-to-person partnership and inspired personal connections and accountability.
Starting with the online lending platform he initially coded in 2005, Matt and his team are now creating a new way for lenders of average means – primarily those living in more developed economies – to loan to poor, small-scale entrepreneurs living in less well-developed parts of the world. The online experience feels real and direct: it establishes a connection through the stories of real people and through continuously updated information on recent transactions – new lenders joining, loans getting repaid, loan requests getting funded, and so forth. Through the site, lenders feel a collaborative spirit both with the entrepreneur and with other lenders who pay into a loan amount. The lending experience offers a first exposure to microfinance for many who visit the site, deepening awareness of global economic inequity, and of the shared opportunity to build an enabling environment for entrepreneurship.
Beyond transforming the lender experience, Matt and his team introduce new opportunities for the microfinance industry. First, they provide a new source of “patient,” affordable, risk-tolerant capital to those microfinance institutions (MFIs) that are solid and principled, but often too small to attract or absorb commercial-scale investment. Second, they introduce new standards of transparency that are enabling and not punitive, and that aim to reduce fraud and strengthen a culture among MFIs of transparency in accounting. And third, they have the potential to build an online credit history that can aid their borrowers in securing the trust of investors for future endeavors. This vote of credit-worthiness, and the reputational collateral it bestows, may offer a useful tool for people who are not formally “banked,” allowing the emergence of an online credit bureau for the world’s poor.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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