March 24, 2020
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Watch the Kenyon Unique livestream here starting at 8 p.m. and available as a recording following the live event.
Entrepreneur Nicole Van Der Tuin ’07 will share her experience as a financial technology pioneer in this year’s Kenyon Unique lecture Saturday, Feb. 23, at 8 p.m. Her lecture, titled “Storytelling and Startups: An Entrepreneur’s Journey to Tackle the $5 Trillion Global Credit Gap,” will be held in the Gund Gallery’s Community Foundation Theater.
Van Der Tuin is the co-founder and CEO of First Access, an award-winning financial technology company that helps people — especially those in emerging economies and underserved areas around the world — gain access to financial services. It pioneers software programs that help local financial institutions collect, generate and use data more effectively to reach customers with no credit history. Lenders have used First Access to save their customers over 300 years of “wait time” for loans. Over 45,000 of the small business owners whose loans have been originated through First Access had no credit history. In 2016, First Access was ranked among Entrepreneur's “100 Brilliant Companies,” and Van Der Tuin was named one of Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People in Business.”
During the lecture, Van Der Tuin will discuss her work with First Access as well as the “tools for change” she brings from a liberal arts background to entrepreneurship. She also will address “what it means for 2 billion people to live in cash-based economies with very little economic security, and how the cost of capital is a fundamental driver of economic development.”
“Learning how to build a company has been a fascinating, humbling and occasionally terrifying experience,” Van Der Tuin said. “I’ve had to figure out how to manage enormous amounts of pressure, raise capital from investors and help people see our vision for the future. I’ve learned a lot about what it really means to innovate, how hard it is to make systemic change, and that the widely lauded concept of ‘disruption’ is not always a good thing. Much of this comes down to storytelling and understanding how people make decisions, which is essentially what I majored in at Kenyon.”
At Kenyon, Van Der Tuin pursued a synoptic major in writing about culture, focusing on cultural anthropology, economics and other social sciences to learn about what drives human behavior. Her honors thesis examined the storytelling tradition of a community of artisan fishermen in Brazil; conducting research for this project, she noted, was when she first began to understand how much stories define individual and communal identity.
“My Kenyon experience is fundamental to my life and work,” she said. “Storytelling, whether through writing or speaking, or even graphics, is my most important skill. I regularly draw on core lessons I learned at Kenyon about human behavior, decision-making, communities, markets, policymaking and inspiration, which are all important to improve the world.”
“Change is never made alone,” she added. “ It requires building support and attracting resources, whether that's donations or investment or time, and that in turn requires learning to inspire people with stories.”
After Kenyon, Van Der Tuin helped launch MicroWorld, a French lending marketplace for Africa, Asia and Latin America that has since been acquired by Babyloan. She earned a graduate degree in development economics from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and worked at the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs.
The Kenyon Unique lecture series features conversations with distinguished faculty members and Kenyon alumni that highlight their work across all fields of study. The lectures are streamed live and recorded for a digital archive. A reception will follow Van Der Tuin’s address.
—Betül Aydin ’21