On Saturday night, Nicole Van Der Tuin ’07 threw the contents of her wallet onto the carpet of the Gund Gallery Community Foundation Theater. The Kenyon Unique lecture had just begun, and Tuin, in keeping with the style of her alma mater, began her talk with a metaphor.
“Everything here [in my wallet] is tied somehow to the fact that I live in a formal economy,” she said. “I am deeply embedded in this world of verifiable data and information about who I am and what I own and what I earn and what I have access to.”
This lecture came as part of Kenyon Unique, a collection of lectures and conversations that invites distinguished faculty members and alumni to speak at the annual event.
Van Der Tuin’s talk, titled “Storytelling and Startups: An Entrepreneur’s Journey to Tackle the 5 Trillion Dollar Global Credit Gap,” focused on her experiences with First Access — a startup she Tuin in 2011 — and her work to improve credit availability in developing economies and change the way we think about economic security.
“By pursuing and constructing narratives about the economic problems facing billions of people across the planet,” President Sean Decatur said while introducing the talk, “Nicole has helped the world see past overwhelming global problems and toward practical solutions.”
During the talk, Van Der Tuin balanced the complexities of developing economies with the understanding that not everyone in her audience was going to be an economics major.
“Since it’s 8 p.m. on Saturday, I hope everyone had plenty to drink at dinner,” she joked during her talk.
Van Der Tuin touched on her time at Kenyon, where she pursued a synoptic major in writing about culture, focusing her studies on cultural anthropology, economics and other social sciences.
“When I was a student here I was examining the concepts of culture through different interdisciplinary lenses,” she said. “But looking back I realized that I learned to understand how people make decisions and how to drive behavioral and systemic change.”
This blend of studies led to her involvement in the launching of Microworld, a French lending marketplace for Africa, Asia and Latin America in 2010, and eventually co-found and become the CEO of First Access.
“It’s been a wild ride,” Van Der Tuin said. “What I’ve learned is that changing really tough problems in the world does not happen by accident, and you rarely have the wind at your back.”
Van Der Tuin imparted her advice to the audience, encouraging people to make connections, seek advice from others and not be afraid of failure.
“Nobody knows what they’re doing when they start a company,” she said. “So I’ve asked people for help thousands of times now and bought many, many cups of coffee for people, and you just can’t be afraid.”
Van Der Tuin’s former classmate Ted Samuel ’05 said that he enjoyed the lecture and was proud to have gone to school with Van Der Tuin. “I knew that she was meant for greatness, even back then,” he said.