March Madness: Vittana-Driven Student Loans

Kushal Chakrabarti, the founder of Seattle-based Vittana, is my kind of freak. He trains seeing eye dogs. He competes in triathlons. He talks way too fast, and writes dazzling emails in the middle of the night. And even though he was a superstar at Amazon who could have had every venture capitalist in town drooling to invest in one of his ideas, he started a non-profit that lets little people like you and me loan money to students around the world so they can pursue a better life. It’s like Kiva, but for education.

Here at Redfin, we think it’s a great idea. Anyone who uses technology to make the world a better place is a friend of ours. So we agreed to promote the Vittana cause on our blog. For the month of March, we’re asking our readers to make a college loan to some poor kid on the other side of the planet.Kushal

Before it launched this week, the Vittana beta site raised $100,000 in loans, for nearly 200 students. Already, it has been voted by 1.7 million HuffPo readers to be the philanthropic startup most likely to change the world, and it got a glowing write-up in The New York Times too.

Beyond the media accolades, I know from personal experience that the money Vittana raises can make a big difference. One of my last trips abroad was to Honduras; my wife and I ended up watching “Independence Day” in Spanish at a Best Western located in what The Lonely Planet called “The Rape Capital” of Central America.  I learned that the Hondurans have a much higher pain tolerance than we do; that Dole built all the roads to run to its ports on the coast, not from one town to the other (Honduras is a narrow country but you can’t drive across it); that both candidates vying to be president in the upcoming elections hadn’t been educated beyond high school.

This last fact was the most  depressing. We can give all sorts of aid to people but it won’t make a lasting difference if we don’t invest inpeople’s education. So we’re asking the folks in the Redfin community to loan money to the students in the Vittana network. And we’re participating in a March Madness challenge to see if we can drive more loan money than all the other Seattle startups supporting Vittana. Nothing would make us prouder than to be the leading source of loans on Vittana’s site.

Remember, one of Redfin’s values is to care about causes larger than yourself. So if you’re part of the extended Redfin community — I don’t actually feel comfy exhorting employees to give or invest money because it’s an abuse of power, so if you’re an employee, you’re off the hook — loan until it hurts. Based on Vittana’s repayment rate so far, there’s a 97% chance you’ll get the money back. To get started, go here.

(Photo credit: Oso on Flickr)

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