Five Great Things About Microfinance

1) It builds wealth in the poorest countries. Some problems are problems of wealth distribution. But in many developing nations, the problem is a lack of wealth, period.Looking around Kiva’s website, I see many nations where the average yearly salary is less than my monthly take-home pay … and I work in education, not medicine or law.

Microfinance can help both situations, because it helps people create and expand small businesses and farms. This means more genuine goods and services delivered where they are needed most.

And nations with strong middle classes are much more resistant to manipulation and exploitation by large corporations and corrupt government officials. These loans don’t help Exxon or Goldman-Sachs. They help families.

2) It helps women especially. In many male-dominated societies, microfinance is one of, if not the, only way for women to get the capital to start businesses. And having their own businesses, and their own money, helps put women on an even footing with men. This can have a powerful equalizing effect on society.

3) It helps children, too. Families with small businesses can often afford to send their kids to school, rather than keeping them out to work. Many of the loan requests I’ve read on Kiva mention that very thing. The more kids stay in school, the fewer end up as child brides, child soldiers, child prostitutes, or, more commonly, unskilled laborers living lives of poverty.

4) It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Because you’re making a tiny loan, and not giving a donation, the entrepreneur will repay it in time. Then you’ll be able to take that same money and lend it out to someone else. You can keep the same money in circulation or you can add more each month, creating a snowball effect.

5) It’s cheap. The cost of entry is only $25 on Kiva, the world’s leading microfinance operation. And once it’s repaid, you have the option of taking your money back. So you’ve got very little to lose. Why not head over to Kiva (or to WorldVision’s microfinance department) and check it out?

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I Didn’t Build This

During the campaign, the President made a lot of people mad by pointing out that every business owed its success to factors beyond its founders’ brains and hard work. He used the ill-worded (and frankly insulting) phrase, “You didn’t build this.”

Thanks to the wide availability of video-editing software, we got to hear that clip again and again and again. Well, once more won’t kill you.

Okay, now that you’ve watched it, let me ask a question. I promise it’s related.

We have so much. So why do we begrudge every tax dollar that goes to the poor? Why do we cling so tightly to the idea that we have earned all we have?

Maybe it reminds us that all we have comes from God, that we could just as easily have been born in Sri Lanka, in a village with no clean water, and helplessly watched our siblings, and later our children, die of cholera or dysentery.

We could have been born in Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia, and been caught in the genocide of their civil wars.

We could have been born in North Korea, and been crushed under the boot of a multi-generational dictatorship.

We could have been born to a fourteen year old single mother in an inner city, a girl who might read at a fourth grade level. To a mother that will never finish high school, will have no support from the father, and who may or may not have support from her family.

We could have been that young mother. A mother who will have to live on welfare and what little she can earn without a degree, and who will forever earn the scorn of respectable middle-class American Evangelicals as a “welfare queen.”

But we weren’t. We were born to families that didn’t have to worry about contaminated water, or genocide, or secret police, or grinding poverty and alienation. We were born in a country with the rule of law, modern infrastructure, and functioning social safety nets.

We didn’t choose to be born in the developed world, nor did we build it prior to our birth. And we didn’t build our parents, or choose them. Heh, maybe John Calvin isn’t 100% wrong, after all. We didn’t build these things in our home countries, but we can help build them in the developing world, through organizations like World Vision.

So, yeah, the President’s right (as much as I like to criticize him).

I didn’t build this. God did.

No matter how much hard work I put into, well, anything, I would have had no chance if I’d been born just one continent away. And the ugly truth is, neither would you.

Why Donate There, and not Here?

In response to my last post, I had a very legitimate question asked: Why donate to World Vision, presumably overseas, when there are so many people in America that are in need?

(My response ended up being longer than most of my posts, so I decided to make it its own post. I thought it would be easier to read that way. I’ll say right up front that Laura Tremaine has already said all this better than I can).

First, you can have it both ways. There are several World Vision operations within the United States. For example, this entire section deals with US-based needs: school supplies, food, general toiletries and necessities. And there’s no conflict between supporting local charities and international ones.

But I don’t want to dodge the question. The bottom line is, $500 is not a life-changing amount of money in the U.S. Not for anyone. But it is life-changing for people in Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone, or Uzbekistan, where it represents four months’ wages for the average worker … and the aid often goes to those who are not average, but in the greatest need.

Through an operation like World Vision, $500 can be the difference between clean water and contaminated water (Americans don’t have to worry about their children dying because they drank unsanitary water and contracted cholera), education and child labor (Americans don’t work full-time at age 8) or even child marriage or slavery. Here, $500 is nice. It’s a decent laptop, an iPad, or a couple of semester’s worth of college textbooks. There, it’s enough to change lives.

The magnitude of impact of a limited sum of money is so much greater where the need is greater, that it just makes sense. I don’t think, from a Christian perspective, that Americans have more intrinsic value than people in other nations.

And the need is so much greater there. We live in a fairly well-developed welfare state, one where emergency rooms have to treat anyone who comes in, regardless of ability to pay. One where WIC gives food to pregnant mothers and mothers with children. One where food stamps and unemployment insurance and social security and medicare and medicaid all provide a certain level of mandated support.

Yes, life is hard at that level, but there is clean water, free and mandatory public schooling for children, prohibitions on child labor, no significant threat of malaria or cholera, and food available. “Hunger,” as defined in the United States, is nothing like the life-and-death starvation that faces many of the poorest of the poor in developing nations. It’s a cliche, but it’s worth noticing: in America, the poor are disproportionately obese, not rail-thin.

The impact is greatest where the need is greatest. And that’s there, not here.

Matching Gifts (Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is)

Wordle: Double
Okay, here’s the deal. I recently came into a little money, and I feel called to give $500 of it to World Vision (in the form of one-time gifts like medicine, livestock, school supplies, etc.).

I’m not 100% sure what I should spend the money on, though. The last time I had some money to spend, I bought a donkey. I’m not as clear right now.

Then it came to me. I should let you decide. So I’m going to put my money where my (virtual) mouth is. I’m going to match the first $500 in gifts to World Vision that y’all give. Just comment or message me and tell me what you gave, and I’ll match it.

For example, if you go to “Gifts the Multiply” where big sponsors have already multiple-matched gifts (up to 12X), and  give $420 worth of medicine for $35, I will duplicate that, giving $35 to buy another $420 worth of medicine.

And yes, if you buy a donkey, I’ll buy a second donkey.

I’ve got $500 to do this with, so if you ‘go over the top’ (say, I’ve given $450 and have only $50 left, and someone buys a $225 donkey), I won’t be able to match your whole gift, but you’ll get to tell me what to do with the remaining money.

I Bought a Donkey!

A Curious Donkey by Kenneth Allen, Creative Commons

A Curious Donkey by Kenneth Allen, Creative Commons

For those of you who don’t know, I love donkeys. Specifically the short-legged, fat-bellied burros folks around here keep in their horse pens to scare the coyotes away. I have been teasing Katherine that we need to buy a burro (“I will call him ‘Burrito’”) for four or five years now.

Her responses have been, to date, negative. I guess one of us has to be the responsible adult.

Well, I’ve finally done it. I went behind her back and bought a donkey! I had a decent sum of mad money[1] put together, so I went online and bought one. It was only $225.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Tim, you live in the city! It isn’t even legal for you to keep a donkey on your property.  And besides, donkeys are not known to get along well with wild dogs, and your dogs are badly-trained enough to almost qualify.”

Donkey Eating

Photo by 4028mdk09, Creative Commons

True, true, but herein lies the genius of my plan! Not only did I finally get to buy my donkey, I don’t even have to take care of it!

I don’t have to corral the donkey, feed the donkey, or clean up after the donkey. This is a 100% responsibility-free donkey!

You see, I bought this donkey through World Vision. They will deliver the donkey to a family in a  lesser-developed nation who will feed the donkey, care for the donkey, cherish the donkey, and use the donkey for meaningful work. This donkey will help a family beat cycles of poverty. It will help the parents do the work so the children can go to school.

And Katherine? She was actually quite pleased that I bought the donkey. Go figure.

Donkey grazing

Photo by 4028mdk09, Creative Commons

1) Mad money has been a great key to our marriage. We each get a certain amount per month, which accumulates. We add to this sum any birthday or Christmas gift money we receive. We make unnecessary purchases from this fund: books, music, video games, leisure-type clothes, guns, DVD’s, etc.

This is perfect if one of the couple has a hobby that includes infrequent, relatively-expensive purchases (like video game systems, musical instruments, antiques, reproduction weapons, hunting guns, artwork, etc.).

This way, that partner never has to beg for permission to buy that new ____. If s/he has the mad money, s/he can buy whatever it is. If not, s/he keeps saving until s/he does.

Our Mad Money system has kept unnecessary spending under control, and kept either of us from feeling resentful about what is and isn’t being spent. I’m not sure where we got the idea for this.  I’m sure I’m not the first person to think of it.

We don’t usually do our charitable giving out of Mad Money, but I had $400, and I sort of got a ‘word’ from God that I wasn’t supposed to keep it. I looked around for a high-impact local opportunity, but I didn’t find one that felt right. World Vision did.

I guess $400 isn’t a life-changing amount of money here in America, with only my contact network. But in a developing nation, a dollar goes farther, and World Vision can really stretch those donations. I encourage you to check them out, if you haven’t.