Rethinking… Charity

January 7, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Posted in Kiva, Microfinance, Philosophy | 4 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

January last year, I sat down in Tom Shadyac´s class at Pepperdine after my friends couldn´t stop raving about the film producer / philosopher who showed up year after year to impart some wisdom to us college kids.  The first class he told us a story (excuse my paraphasing) about a pair of glasses.  This was a special pair of glasses, because you could read 10x as fast.

Imagine! How much knowledge you would gain, how much smarter and better off the world would be because of it.  As the product got more popular, more and more people started using the glasses, and a few people ended up dying, but think about it! You could read 10x faster and there was only a .001% chance of getting injured by the glases.  The wider the glasses spread, more people were killed, but the sacrifice seemed worth the knowledge gained through the glasses. At the end of the story, he said… seems a little ridiculous right? But, I just told  you the story of the car. The trade off millions of lives for an increase in speed.

He went on to say that the class would be about rethinking things (this particular class was by far my favorite of college) … about putting a new perspective on things that seem “good” and “normal”.

So, right now I´m rethinking charity. I imagining the parable of the Good Samaritan and remembering the 10 people in destitute poverty begging for coins on my route to work.  And how I am of those that merely pass by.  And I find most Christians saying the same, “They will just spend it on booze and drugs” as an excuse not to give or help?

I wonder, are we called to give discriminately? And should I be giving to those in need because they need it? That´s is why I was in love with microfinance at first, it seemed like the solution to this. I KNEW that the money was enabling the poor to have a better life and I knew that the money wasn´t creating a downward cycle of expectations.  (Based on the assumption that the more people in poverty receive without doing anything, the more they rely on “aid” instead of their own efforts).

But I´m no longer sure that microfinance, alone, is the solution (I still fully believe in how Kiva connects individuals to individuals through lending). I think escaping poverty takes time. I think microfinance can play a role. BUT I know that it is microfinance coupled with EDUCATION and PERSONAL ATTENTION that will make the difference. (The negatives of pushing loan products without either of these is apparent in India as a wave of suicides broke out from microloan overindebtedness).

This doesn´t mean that all microfinance and charity is bad.  Yes, it needs to be regulated and monitored. Yes, it needs to be administered with care for the individual and coupled with education. I perpetually encourage and support people who are “doing their part” however small because of my own belief that changing at least one person´s life is better than changing none at all.  Rethinking microfinance means rethinking how we give.  So maybe we should help those that we encounter every day… knowing full well who our money is helping.

What do you guys think is the solution? What should charity be… and how should we give?

Getting in the Christmas Spirit (Read This)

December 1, 2010 at 6:00 am | Posted in Culture, Cuzco, Kiva, Microfinance, Peru, Philosophy, Travel, United States | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Merry Christmas! This post is a MUST READ and is partially a carry over post from my minimalism post on Black Friday, and partially its own entity about making the holidays worthwhile.

First of all, I love Christmas. The tree, Christmas lights (you can ask my parents about what I did to our house when I was a little kid), hot cider, going over to Grandma´s house on Christmas Eve, eating tamales (everyone has their own Christmas traditions), the stockings, Eggs Benedict Christmas morning, watching my Beagle open up his gifts.  The feeling of being around those who you love and those who love you.  I love all of it.

As I search for meaning over the Holidays, I reflect on what I would change about all of it if I could.  And (I know I am not original saying this) I think that we mistake all the great feelings that culminate in Christmas for what we give and what we receive instead of the traditions and the people that really matter.  More than that, I–and I´m sure I´m not alone in this–find myself buying gifts that people don´t want just for the sake of giving them something.

My advice: if you run across that person that has everything this holiday season, instead of buying them another thing that they don´t want or need, get creative.  Buy> my shameless plug goes here: buy Kiva gift cards (you are giving something and helping entrepreneurs around the world!) Or buy gifts from social responsible and cause related not-for-profits like Ten Thousand Villages or Nightlight International *great handmade jewelry! Or give the gift of time: I remember one of my favorite gifts as a kid was a book from my Dad full of outings to the beach, ice dream, hiking, Disneyland, etc. It becomes more than a gift, but an excuse to spend time with your loved ones.

 

The Cusco Christmas Market

My final thought for the 1st of December concerns my own holiday plans.  With some of the people in the office, we are pooling our money to buy food, toys, and small gifts for the poor that come to sell handicrafts at the Cusco Christmas market on the 24th.  I am putting forward $50 with another $100 or so from my co-workers.  I have never been one to ask for money; however, if this is something you are interested in giving money to, feel free to donate (right hand side of the page) and (like Kiva) 100% of the money given will get to the families that need it most on Christmas Eve.  And you can count on me taking pictures and blogging about the project after its through!

Merry Christmas from Down South

Living with Less

November 26, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Posted in Cuzco, Peru, Philosophy, Travel, United States | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I remember coming back from college the summer after freshman year, looking at a room full of stuff that I hadn´t used and wondering how I got it all.  Then, I just started giving it away.  I didn´t even realize that it was a part of my lifestyle until when at my college graduation party, my mom mentioned this habit as something she admired.  Now, I am spending July to March traveling and working in South America, out of a backpack, and I continue to wonder, what do we really need?

The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less” – Socrates

So, here are some of my random thoughts on minimalism, “Living with Less”.  It seems that as Americans, when we are bored, we consume.  We buy new DVDs or invest money in new hobbies.  (I do all this).  Then we look at a blank shelf and wonder what we could put there and we head to Pottery Barn or an Antique Shop for that perfect “thing” to fit that hole on the shelf. (Guilty).  Consider even, the stimulus package: it was given for the purpose of consumption under the pretense that buying more would be good for the economy.

And at the end of the day, we end up with rooms, houses, garages, and storage units full of stuff that we have used once or twice and left by the wayside.  And I wonder if this consumption inspired by boredom is what we must really do to be happy? And I wonder that if everything I own was stolen, would I be less content?  I think back to the robbery in Guatemala, and sad as I was that all my stuff was gone, I realized that it wasn´t the end of the world, and that I could survive without all the stuff that I had lost.  Packing as I did for Peru, I realized that all I am taking in my 55l Osprey is all I will really need for the next few months.  More than that, I realize that I would be satisfied with what I brought for longer than a few months.

My revelation lies not in the desire to give up everything we own, but the evaluation that the things I own don´t make me who I am.  It lies in the realization that the most spectacular parts, the best memories in your life will never be created by the things you bought, but by people you were with.  So, endeavour, as I do, to make your life less about what you buy and more about those with whom you can share your life with.

Closing Thoughts

November 4, 2010 at 8:48 pm | Posted in Culture, Guatemala, Guatemala City, Kiva, Microfinance, Peru, Travel, United States | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , ,

This is my last blog. At least in Guatemala. Today is my last day.  Tomorrow, I jump on one of those planes that I hear fly every night over the house to take me back to the good ´ole US of A. So, I offer you some closing thoughts.

The experience has been amazing.  Besides learning about microfinance, I have learned about myself: who I am, how I confront challenges, and how to live alone in a country that isn´t my own.  And, I have gotten really good at speaking Spanish.

The pictures are from FAPE, the microfinance institution where I have spent the last few months working as a Kiva Fellow.  From working on repayment reporting and strengthening the Kiva connection between borrowers, lenders, the MFI, and Kiva to implementing lengthy social performance evaluation managment surveys and doing a lot of training on the Kiva process in Spanish, I can say that I have been blessed to have been assigned to such an awesome field partner.

Unrelated, I have begun to discover a few things about microfinance.  It isn´t the “silver” bullet that will eliminate poverty by itself.  It will take people from around the world contributing their skills, talents and resources, and it will take big picture policy changes on the parts of governments throughout the world.  However, I (personally) agree with Muhummad Yunus when he said that “Access to credit is a fundamental human right”.  The access to financial services will allow the poor to smooth their income streams, preserve capital for future disasters, and obtain capital for their businesses (in that order).

Access and provision of financial services to the poor will introduce competition to the market and as the laws of supply and demand dictate, the relevant price of financial products to the poor will fall.  There has been a lot of negative press in microfinance lately, concerning the apparent suicides in India and a recent conference in New York.  But both beg the question if microfinance does more harm than good.  To which I (and most of the microfinance community) would respond no.

All of the clients that I have met have expressed their deep gratitude for the loans and services provided by FAPE, and the key to all of this as I mentioned earlier is access.  Microfinance provides something that was almost inaccessible for most people in poverty (or at the very least unaffortable): financial services. And through these financial services (as their progress and impact is closely monitored and controled) and policy changes, I believe that we may begin to see people escape from poverty.

Figured I´d end my last Guatemala post with the Guatemalan ruins of Iximché that I visited last week.  All the Best!

The American and The Fisherman

September 30, 2010 at 2:54 pm | Posted in Culture, Guatemala City, Microfinance, Philosophy | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , ,

Second deep blog post this week. I was talking to the Executive Director about the idea that in America, we generally “postpone” happyness for that magical day when we retire, for that day when our 401k hits the millions and we can spend our waking hours (after the age of 65) golfing and traveling.  All not bad things, but what do we sacrifice when we are young to get there?

Then, he told me a story. A young Guatemalan was standing knee-deep in the water of one of Guatemala´s pristine lakes (I am going to imagine it was Lake Atitlan) and fishing.  Hour after hour sitting in the shade, standing in the cool water, occasionally taking a dip in the lake.

Later, an American guy saw him on the side of the lake, and asked him why he was wasting his time.  The young Guatemalan was smart, business savvy, and if he invested his time and money wisely in his bakery, he could go far in the world.  Instead of fishing, the American explained, he should be working, and the American began to describe what could be this young man´s five and ten year plan: working hard, opening two, maybe three bakeries in the surrounding towns, hiring additional workers, and making a bunch of money.

“To what end?” The young man replied. The American began to explain to him the concept of retirement and of savings so that he would no longer have to work in his old age. So that the young man could be happy and then fish all he wanted when he got older.

The young, Guatemalan man replied, “Why? I am very happy and as you can see, I am already fishing”.

So, my question is: what is holding us as Americans back from doing what we love, what we want to do now? Why aren´t we too fishing on the shores of Lake Atitlan?

Three articles worth reading about microfinance:

Kiva Criticisms

The Reply by Kiva Founder Matt Flannery

In regards to SKS and Yunus

Blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.