The Best Part of Philanthropy

Yesterday I talked about The Darker Side of Philanthropy, so today I thought I should discuss the good stuff. Fair’s fair.

As I wrote this post, a virtually endless stream of cyclists from Seattle’s annual Obliteride to obliterate cancer were rolling over my bridge in the rain. Many of them have committed to raise as much as $1000.00 to participate in this event, and as of my last viewing of the Obliteride website, they have raised 2.5 million dollars for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center so far. Good on them!

Obliteride
Obliteride, as seen from my drawbridge.

I happen to love the kind of philanthropy that stems from the larger community. I love microloan organizations such as Kiva.org. I love crowdfunding sites in general.

I also love supporting those organizations that promote the dignity of the people who will receive the assistance, such as Heifer International, which donates farm animals to people, teaches them how to raise and breed them, and encourages them to pass on these benefits to their neighbors.

I am particularly fond of those who may not have money to give, but who are generous with their time. Volunteers are awesome. People who donate blood or hair or kidneys or bone marrow are, too.

And I may be biased, but I’m crazy about people who build Little Free Libraries and keep them stocked for their community.

As a young adult, I once participated in a March of Dimes fundraiser in which I got people to pledge a penny for every mile I walked. I walked 12 miles for all those pennies, and couldn’t walk for days afterward. I admire that kind of effort a lot more than some rich person who throws a million dollars at a cause and doesn’t even feel its loss. The sacrifice and the commitment is the thing.

There really are a lot of people out there who want to do good. We are all in this together. That realization is why I haven’t lost all hope.

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On Having an Impact

On the day I wrote this, I was told by one friend that he learned about Kiva.org because of me, and that he and his daughter have been making microloans through them ever since. Another friend chimed in and said it was the same for her. This gave me a lump in my throat, because it means that I played a small part in improving the lives of people in other parts of the world without even realizing it. And some day those people whose lives have improved will go on to improve other people’s lives, and so on, and so on. In its own quiet way, it’s immortality. We are all so interconnected in ways we don’t even realize. It’s miraculous when you think about it. What a gift!

And then, less than an hour later, I was contacted by Mariah, one of my favorite readers, who told me that not only has she read my book, but she also printed out the blog post that I wrote about her several months back, and it hangs on her wall. Okay. Happy tears. Somewhere in South Carolina hangs one of my blog posts. Wow. Just… wow.

Learning that I’ve had an impact on people means so much to me. It’s more precious than gold. It tells me that my life is worth living, and that all the challenges and all the potholes in my path have been worthwhile. It’s validation. It’s uplifting.

If someone in your life has had a positive impact on you, dear reader, I strongly encourage you to tell them so. They may not realize it. And hearing it, I guarantee, will have a positive impact upon them.

See? It’s easier than you think.

impact

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The Giving Gift

A dear friend of mine gave me the best Christmas gift ever this year. It was a card. A simple card. But inside, it said, “In the spirit of the season, a night of housing, hot meals, and hope at the Sulzbacher Center were given, in your honor, to a homeless man, woman or child.”

I love the Sulzbacher Center. It’s a shelter in Jacksonville, Florida, the city I once lived in. They do amazing work. So I got to imagine that for one night, at least, someone was safe and warm and not hungry. Someone could sleep without fear. That gift was really for them, but thinking about it made me feel really good, in the way that getting something to wear or to be forced to dust for the rest of my life would not have. My dear friend knows me well.

If I had children, I would make it a tradition each Christmas to give them a “giving gift”. But I’d take it even one step further. I’d let them choose what charity to give to. I’d make a card that said something like, “You now get to spend x amount of dollars on a charity of your choice.” I’d help them research charities, if they liked. Or they could pick a problem, and then choose a charity that’s trying to help solve that problem, such as homelessness or abused animals or disease in third world countries, or natural disaster recovery.

The giving gift would be an annual lesson in compassion for others and problem solving, and it would demonstrate that happiness doesn’t come from getting stuff, it comes from doing good. There’s no better gift than that. And it doesn’t have to be restricted to just one holiday. It’s great for birthdays or Valentine’s day or any other gift giving occasion.

Feel free to start using this idea. It’s my gift to you. And to help get you started, here are links to two of my favorite organizations, Heifer International and Kiva.org.

Happy Holidays, dear readers! And thank you for making this blog such a delight for me! You are truly a gift.

gift

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My Cabinet Dream Team

It really amazes me that Donald Trump has somehow chosen the most destructive and incompetent person for every single position in his cabinet. I mean, that takes talent. Finding the worst possible human being for any job takes effort. You have to sift through a lot of scum to get to the most slimy of dregs.

The other day, while stuck in a traffic jam the likes of which can only happen in Seattle, I entertained myself by coming up with a cabinet dream team. Hey, if sports enthusiasts can do it, why can’t I? I admit this is official proof that I’m a geek. I’m okay with that.

So here’s my fantasy team. I know many of them are no longer living, but since this is a fantasy, why not?

  • Secretary of State— the Dalai Lama. He’s wise. He’s fair. He remains calm. He speaks quietly and people will listen. People respect him. If they don’t respect him, they look horrible.
  • Secretary of the Treasury—Colin Kaepernick. This is a man who recently donated 50K to Meals on Wheels. He also has raised millions to bring food and water to the people of Somalia. If anyone knows what’s truly financially important and how to make it happen, he does. So what if the NFL won’t draft him? They prefer wife-beaters. I wouldn’t hire the NFL.
  • Secretary of Defense—Mahatma Gandhi. It’s about time that we had someone who wasn’t a warmonger in this position, don’t you think?
  • Attorney General—Michelle Obama. She’s a lawyer who is intelligent and capable. She cares about people. She knows how to get her point across. She’s strong, and an excellent role model.
  • Secretary of the Interior—Theodore Roosevelt. Yeah, he liked to hunt, but he created the first national parks on the planet. On. The. Planet. That tells you all you need to know.
  • Secretary of Agriculture—Dan West, founder of Heifer International. This is my favorite charity because it is all about helping others to be able to maintain an agricultural life in a healthy, sustainable way. We need more of this if we’re going to survive.
  • Secretary of Commerce—Jessica Jackley, one of the founders of Kiva.org. This organization teaches us that through microfinance we can lift people up and allow them to help themselves by making it possible for them to have their own small businesses. This is a model we need to emulate.
  • Secretary of Labor—Bernie Sanders. Who else? This is one of the few politicians who actually has dedicated his entire career to giving a shit about people. With Bernie, the unions would be safe, we’d all have a reasonable minimum wage, and he’d work closely with the president to get a single payer health system. What a concept.
  • Secretary of Health and Human Services—Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood. A controversial choice, no doubt, but we need to protect Planned Parenthood. And if she were willing to speak out for women at a time when that just wasn’t done, I’m willing to bet she’d also support a single payer health system now.
  • Secretary of Housing and Urban Development—Martin Luther King Jr. Now, this is a man who would have been horrified at our increasing homelessness and the blight of the inner cities. He’d know how to reach people and speak the truth to them.
  • Secretary of Transportation—Neil deGrasse Tyson. I’d rather create a Secretary of Universal Exploration position for this amazing man, but barring that, this would be a good place for him. He’d look at Transportation in a scientific way. He’d encourage green options. He’d think outside the box. He’d support NASA and promote it as the transportation of our future. And we’d all probably have hovercraft in no time.
  • Secretary of Energy—Al Gore. Jeer if you want, republicans, but this man has been warning us about Global Warming since long before most of us knew what it was. And now that the vast majority of us are coming to our senses and seeing its devastation firsthand, it’s about time we let him get to work on it. We need green technology. We don’t need coal and pipelines.
  • Secretary of Education—Malala Yousafzai. Now, here’s a young woman who risked her life to go to school. She knows the value of education. And she’s another one who is so respected that anyone who opposed her would look like a jerk.
  • Secretary of Veterans Affairs—Al Franken would cut to the chase. He would come up with common sense solutions to support our veterans. He wouldn’t go for doublespeak or foolishness and he’s not easily intimidated.
  • Secretary of Homeland Security—Jon Stewart. Here’s a man that does not bullshit anyone. He has boundless common sense. He wouldn’t be swayed by fear mongers. He wouldn’t be focusing on a freakin’ wall and certainly wouldn’t be trying to tear already heavily vetted immigrant families apart.

So there you have it. My dream team. I would love to see what would happen in this country with these diverse, intelligent people at the helm! What a refreshing change it would be. Discuss below!

Cabinet

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How Microloans Change Lives

I just opened my drawbridge for the Boeing Corporate Yacht. That thing is probably worth 3 million dollars. And it will most likely be coming back through in less than an hour. Every time I do this, I can’t help but think that the money they are spending just on fuel for that one little jaunt could pay off my relocation debt and allow me to start saving for a used car that actually has a working heater. But no. That’s not how the world works.

But then I realize that for the vast majority of people on this planet, I must seem like the Boeing Corporate Yacht. What am I doing to help them? Quite a lot, actually, relatively speaking. I just gave my 58th microloan to a woman in my 48th developing country. Through Kiva.org you can make these microloans in increments of $25 each. And so far, I’ve always been paid back.

Twenty-five dollars may not seem like a huge amount to you or me, but for these people, it can mean the difference between being able to send their children to school or not. It can provide their family with nutrition that they wouldn’t otherwise receive, and allow them to build up businesses that can sustain them for many years.

Just recently I got an update from one of the loan disbursement organizations in Myanmar that I have supported. Here’s a little bit of what they said:

Before her loan, Daw Lei Lei’s family finances were in dire straits. Like her many neighbors who were gravely affected by Cyclone Nargis in 2008, Daw Lei Lei’s family lost a daughter and their seven-acre farm was demolished. Since then, the family has survived by farming ducks, but they have had to pay exorbitant rates on loans.

Rarely do microfinance organizations make it to these hard-to-reach rural areas, and when they do they rarely lend to non-crop farmers. According to a UNCDF research study, over 63% of the rural population has no access to regulated credit, and virtually no one has access to regulated savings or insurance.

Proximity’s loan has done wonders for Daw Lei Lei’s family. They have used the $200 micro-loan to purchase more ducks and quality duck feed. This modest injection of cash was enough to stabilize their income and generate profits from their duck and egg sales. With their newfound profits, Daw Lei Lei’s husband purchased a boat to start his own transportation business. His new business yields enough profit to cover their two children’s school fees. Now, instead of taking their children out of school early to work on the family business, a predicament that is extremely common in Myanmar’s rural areas, Daw Lei Lei and her husband are able to provide their children more educational opportunities than they were able to have.

I hope you’ll join me in making microloans through Kiva.org. The one percent may not be spreading the wealth to the rest of us, but that doesn’t mean we have to follow their horrible example. When we lift up others, we all rise.

[Image credit: kiva.org]
[Image credit: kiva.org]

Just Trying to Get By in Azerbaijan

I am a huge supporter of Kiva.org. Through the years I’ve made 54 microloans of 25 dollars each to women in 44 countries, and I’m thrilled to say they’ve always paid me back. While loan defaults have been known to happen, Kiva’s default rate is amazingly low. (I think I did lose about 10 cents once due to an exchange rate fluctuation between the time the loan was repaid and the time it was posted to my account, but 10 cents to change the lives of 54 families? That’s not too shabby.) I can’t think of any other example in which I could make such a huge difference without sacrificing anything at all, can you?

One of my most recent loans was to a lady named Sehrinaz in Fuzuli, Azerbaijan. She had started a sewing business and needed the loan to buy cloth and necessary supplies. I look at this woman, who is trying so hard to improve her lot in life, and I think that but for the dumb luck of being born in a different location, this could be me. It was my pleasure to give her a helping hand, and she has paid me back in full. I think of her sometimes, sewing away in a war zone. There but for the grace of God go I.

Kiva

Recently I got an e-mail from the lending organization in Azerbaijan, and with Kiva’s kind permission I will post it below, because it eloquently describes the lives that these people are forced to live and the difference you can make in them. So without further ado, here’s the Kiva Field Update from Azerbaijan:

Greetings from Azerbaijan. My name is Vince and I’m a Kiva fellow currently working in Azerbaijan. I’ve spent the last 3 months traveling with the Komak Credit Union and since you’ve made a loan to a Kiva borrower at Komak Credit Union I wanted to share some stories from the field.

Komak, which means ‘help’ in Azeri, was one of the first Credit Unions set up in the country. Credit Unions are non-profit organizations and owned entirely by their members who are also their borrowers.

Most of Komak’s members come from the Fuzuli area. This region is right on the border of the disputed area with Armenia and most of the borrowers are internally displaced persons (IDPs). In fact 80% of Komak’s members are IDPs. Life in this part of rural Azerbaijan is incredibly difficult without the added challenge and uncertainty of living next to an active frontline.

We meet Nirada, a 54 year old lady who is raising two calves bought with the help of a Kiva loan. Narida stays in a village just a few hundred yards from the conflict zone and tells me that most nights gunfire can be heard in the distance. She says this without emotion, it has just become an accepted part of life. A few weeks ago tensions escalated between the two armed forces and as a result, in an exchange of gunfire, a young soldier was killed. It is all very sad.

We also meet with Narida’s neighbor, Tovuz, who is also a Kiva borrower. She runs a small corner shop in the village which she is very proud of. Narida and Tovuz make me aware of the chronic unemployment issue that exists in the area. I have seen for myself that employment opportunies are very limited and that that manufacturing is almost non-existant. Job choices are mainly restricted to raising animals/crops, running a store, serving in a restaurant or driving a car for a living. Nearly every borrower we meet does a combination of these things in order to earn sufficient income for their family.

One of the things I like best about Azerbaijan is the real sense of community that exists. Neighbors look out for and help each other and the family bond is incredibly strong. It is not uncommon to see three generations of a family all working together in the field or in a store. As we drive from village to village with the Komak loan officer we occasionally stop to give people a lift. It does not matter if it takes us a little out of our way it is the accepted practice and the neighborly thing to do.

Komak has been working with Kiva for over 8 years.They are totally integrated into the communities they serve and provide great service with a smile. Microfinance is more than a job for the Komak staff, it is an opportunity to help people in their own community.

You can meet more of Komak’s clients on their lending page http://bitly.com/16lEI6L or check out the Komak website http://bit.ly/1EK5vZC or Facebook for more information.

Thank you for your continued support of Komak and Azerbaijan.

Best regards,

Vince Main

Kiva Fellow, KF25 | Roaming Azerbaijan

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Paris Hilton Needs (Another) Reality Check

Okay, I’m disgusted. Paris Hilton just spent $13,000.00 on what is supposedly the world’s smallest Pomeranian. This is wrong on so many levels.

First of all, do you have any idea how many dogs could be rescued with that amount of money? (Neither do I. But I guarantee you it’s a crap-load.) At a time when city budgets are being squeezed and therefore cause massive monetary cutbacks in shelters everywhere, this money would have made a huge difference. A lot of dogs could be spayed or neutered for that kind of money, thus reducing the amount of suffering strays.

Another thing is that now a lot of people are going to want micro-Pomeranians. Granted, the dog is cute. But breeding freaks of nature needs to be discouraged, not encouraged, because when you start overbreeding these dogs, health issues creep in and it’s the animal that ultimately suffers for its cuteness.

I also can’t help but think that she could have made 520 microloans on kiva.org with that money. That’s 520 lives that could have been changed, 520 families throughout the world who would have been given the ability to work their way out of crippling poverty and malnutrition. But Ms. Hilton found it more important to have a cute little dog.

I know $13,000.00 would change my life. Even less than half that would. I’ve been trying to raise 5,000.00 through my indiegogo campaign to get myself out of a financial nightmare due to a series of life setbacks, and I have only reached 39 percent of my goal. And yet here is Paris Hilton, who will never have a financial worry as long as she lives, through no effort of her own, and she pisses 13k away as if it were nothing.

Apparently she didn’t learn a single thing from her jail time. She must not have talked to her cellmates or even cared about learning the way that most people are forced to live their lives. Here’s a woman who could make a huge difference in the world, who could be a philanthropic hero, and instead she buys a Pomeranian. Sad, really.

Pomeranian