Friday, 6 March 2009

Doing my bit to make the world a better place

It's Friday, and a meeting I was due to have has just been canceled. So I use this opportunity to talk about something that makes you feel good, is fairly inexpensive, and for a change not directly related to learning, teaching, or academia.

While looking at stuff on the web (I forgot where I actually found it, somewhat of a common occurrence with all that material out there!) I came across Kiva. This is a micro-lending organisation, which distributes funds to local lending organisations who in turn give it to entrepreneurs who are asking for a loan. Basically, people sign up, give money (via paypal) to shopkeepers in Nicaragua who want to expand their shop, or carpenters in Lebanon who want to buy more tools. Each loan to an entrepreneur is made up of payments by a number of lenders, so the risk is fairly low, but the default rate overall is only about 2% anyway.

What you do: look at the website, where profiles of people wanting loans are shown. It tells you how much they want, what they want it for, a short description of their circumstances, and how much of their loan amount has already been raised by other people. If you like it, you can then chip in and make a payment. Once all the funds have been raised the loan is made, and a repayment schedule starts. The money being repaid goes back into your Kiva account, ready to be loaned to somebody else. You don't receive any interest.

What I like about it is that I can decide whom I want to help. I don't like giving money to the big charities who employ professional fundraisers, where you never really know what happens to your money. My first loan was to somebody in Cambodia who wanted new tools for his electronics repair business. I like it that electronics are repaired rather than thrown away, which was one reason for me. The other was that they're in my age group, and they have to look after their six children on about $7 a day.

I also like that it's not a present. The entrepreneurs get money to help them build something up, but they then repay the loan. I feel much happier with this, as it comes without any sentimental feelings. Sure, they are grateful to receive the money, but they don't have to feel too bad about it, as they will eventually pay it back. The relationship is more even, a business transaction rather than an one-sided act of giving. It's difficult to express what I mean, but I hope you get the overall idea.

One additional motivation comes from reading Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond (Wow, I never knew his middle name was Mason...): Basically the West dominates the world mainly due to very lucky circumstances of geography. That's why I'm in a position to contribute towards a loan to people in Nicaragua, Cambodia, and Lebanon, rather than me having to ask them for money.

Right, so much for making the world a better place. If you've got $25 spare, why not sign up to Kiva and fund somebody's dreams?

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