Thursday, April 10, 2008

$25 to a Man With a Can

Where it all started...

I'm a big fan of a hand up rather than a hand-out because even broke folks have pride. Between that and the fear of finding out that I'd been patronizing a large organization that kept half my contribution for their costs, I resisted the whole charity thing for most of my adult life.

And then I heard about Kiva. I realize most people have heard of this one by now thanks to Bill Clinton's book and The Oprah Winfrey Show, but for those of you who haven't, this is a very personalized form of microlending. You pick a struggling, ambitious entrepreneur in a developing country based on their business or picture or name or whatever-criteria-you-like and lend them $25. A bunch of other people like you kick in $25 chunks until the total loan request is met. A big selling point for me is that I can claw back my money whenever a loan is repaid - being self-employed in a teetering economy, it's nice to have this option. Oh, and the cleverest part of all this is how Kiva funds itself. Sure, it accepts direct contributions to its expenses, but get this: it doesn't reimburse us lenders until the loan is repaid in full, which allows them to benefit from the interest on the partially repaid balances of thousands of loans.

My first loan was to a couple that runs a fuel store in Azerbaijan - how could I resist this HappyHelpfulHusband photo? And now my portfolio reads like a United Nations of gutsy, industrious women: a Nicaraguan cheesemaker, an Ecuadorian seamstress, a Peruvian food retailer, an Indonesian green bean chef-on-a-moped, a 4-pack of Vietnamese chicken farmers, and pharmacists in Tanzania
and Cambodia. What can I say, as someone who never envisioned working for herself, this concept and these people speak to me.

Then I began to wonder, what else speaks to me ...

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