February 22, 2020

Find your passion. These words have bothered me for a long time. I see many of my peers both personally and professionally identify the one field, problem or hobby they’re passionate about and derive great satisfaction from working on. I’ve never been able to point to a single tangible thing and be able to say, “That’s my passion.” I’ve frequently felt flawed, or out of place, or like I missed some step in the development of my personal, career or life satisfaction. For a long time I felt like I was just flailing around while others marched toward their clearly defined goals.

I have many interests spanning the humanities, design, technology, engineering, music, art, and so on. I’ve never felt like any single one of these holds the key to my personal satisfaction, and I constantly feel pulled in different directions when I’d prefer to be able to focus on something tangible and singular. But recently I’ve begun to push back against those self-expectations. I feel as if I latched onto the concept of having a single passion that both provides my life with meaning and is also straightforward to explain to others. I think this reasoning isn’t one-size-fits-all, and I certainly don’t fit.

My next thought was to research fields and dilemmas that require different disciplines to be able to address correctly. Fields like cognitive science, human-computer interaction, technology policy and finance fit within this framework. But even then, every single one of those things interests me, so combination doesn’t feel like enough.

Efficiency, Progress, Stability

So then I got to thinking: What do I care about, independent of everything I’ve ever learned? What do I feel is important to me, and what abstract drive is a common thread throughout my life and my work? When I was younger, I cared a lot about efficiency, and in college I toyed with the notion that it may be my passion. But efficiency is the enhancement of existing processes, not the creation of new things. I think it’s critically important and very interesting, but it doesn’t feel fulfilling enough to meet my definition of passion.

I work at Kiva because I feel a drive to lift people out of poverty and provide them with financial stability. I’ve always felt a sense of duty to society, and I found recently that working for Kiva scratches that itch. And when I reason about what I care most deeply, I realize that I want to see things progress. Increasing efficiency is one way to progress, so I know I was on the right track for a while. But I like the idea of making progress in a way whose impact is measurable on a macro scale, all the way down to a single individual. I care about advancing the human condition.

When I think about how I want to contribute to progress, I always come back to the concept of stability. I believe that enduring progress cannot be made without investing in stable systems underpinning that progress. At Kiva, my focus is on increasing the amount of lender capital we’re able to deploy to our partner microfinance institutions, who in turn lend it to individual borrowers in nearly 90 countries. These loans help borrowers send their children to school, improve the sanitation and health of their families, expand their businesses, increase the resilience of their farms, leverage alternative forms of energy, and a myriad of other applications that increase the stability of their lives and the lives of their families and communities.

Environmental Refugees

When I consider next steps for myself and my career, I want to do even more to improve the stability of those less fortunate than I. I’ve been interested in environmentalism for a while, and during a research project in high school, I stumbled upon the concept of an environmental refugee. Environmental refugees are forced to flee their homes due to destruction or disruption of their local environments. People often find themselves environmental refugees due to causes such as desertification, changing weather patterns leading to floods, droughts and storms, and rising sea levels.

I believe that everything humankind has built or dreamt of relies on a stable environment. At a basic level, humans require shelter and food. Buildings only last if the Earth shakes and storms predictably. Food is only grown if farmers accurately predict the best time to plant and harvest. Fish is only harvested if ocean ecosystems are not depleted, acidified, and clogged with trash.

Once humans are sheltered and fed, they have the stability required to create more advanced systems—the myths Yuval Noah Harari describes in Sapiens—finance, rule of law and social support institutions. But when a climate disaster occurs, all at once like a devastating flood, or little-by-little like desertification, it disrupts food security, safe shelter and community support. Those affected become refugees, sometimes forced to start from scratch in a new land with a foreign culture.

I want to re-stabilize those thrust into existential instability as quickly as possible. I’ve considered switching careers entirely and helping to prevent climate disasters by encouraging corporations to decarbonize from the inside. This kind of role fights climate change, and perhaps will make the planet more habitable for future generations. But the world’s current generations are already suffering, and I find myself in a position now to develop the skills and connections required to help ease that suffering. I am passionate about empowering those who have the will but not the resources to build a new foundation.

© 2022 Duncan McIsaac