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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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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Jessica Jackley: The Most Amazing Woman You’ve Never Met

I was looking around for amazing people to include in a future blog entry, and I thought to myself, “I wonder who founded Kiva.org?

For those of you who have never heard of this wonderful organization, Kiva provides microloans to people all over the world and in turn gets those funds from people all over the world in twenty-five dollar increments.

A hundred dollars may not seem that much to you or me, but it can make all the difference in the world to a single mother in a third world country who wants to expand her tortilla business so that she can afford to buy school uniforms for her children.

And what I like most about this organization is that these are loans, not gifts, which means that rather than just throwing money at a situation and walking away, you’re allowing people to have their dignity and be in charge of the decision-making process. They determine how to use those funds to enhance their business and they determine how the resulting bounty will enhance their lives, and they pay you back. You’re not saying, “Oh, here, pathetic poor person. Take some money and go away. That’s the best I can do for you. You’re not capable or worthy of much more.” You’re saying, “Here, let me give you a lift up to the next level. I have faith you’ll make the most of it, and when you do, you will pay me back so I can help another person.”

This really appeals to me because I’ve been poor my whole life, and I know what it’s like to think that if I could just get one tiny boost from someone, anyone, I could get out of this. But it’s never happened for me. At least now, through Kiva, I can make it happen for someone else.

It’s an amazing organization. I strongly encourage you to check it out here. I’ve just done my 47th loan, using the same funds I started off with 6 years ago, because no one, not one single person, has defaulted on a loan. They always pay me back. Every time. It hasn’t cost me a dime, and yet I’ve impacted the lives of 47 people in 37 countries. How amazing is that?

Which brings me to Jessica Jackley. She founded this organization along with Matt Flannery. They saw a man discuss microfinance at Stanford Business School, and Ms. Jackley was so impressed by this that three weeks later she quit her job and moved to Africa to learn more about it. That, to me, is what is so fascinating about her. She was moved by a philosophy, and she moved herself. Just like that. She got to see, first hand, what microloans mean to people.

When she came home, she founded Kiva with Matt Flannery. The first year they provided $3,500.00 in loans. And the concept caught on. In 2010, Kiva participants like you and me had provided 150 million in loans.

Jessica Jackley set out to make a difference, and she did so in an unbelievably impactful way. I encourage you to listen to her TED Talk here. One of the most impressive things she says is,

“The best way for people to change their lives is for them to have control and to do that in the way that they believe is best for them.”

This is a 36 year old woman who started Kiva when she was 28. If I accomplish 1/10th of what she already has in my entire life, I will be one proud woman indeed.

Jessica Jackley

Jessica Jackley