There is an old Chinese proverb that goes, "Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."
Personally, I like to add another line that goes, "But lend that man some cash to buy a boat and some nets and he'll probably end up way more successful and hooked up with one of the hottest chicks in his village, then you'll be feeding him for generations."
It doesn't roll of the tongue but thanks to Kiva.org I've been putting my theory to the test and watching it work.
Kiva is an online lending platform that allows anyone with a computer and a bit of spare cash to lend it to small business owners in the developing world. And we're not talking big money here - I started with $75 bucks worth of loans back in December 2008. It all got paid back, and I've been re-lending the same chunk of cash ever since.
Microfinance is a movement that's been around since the 1970s. Bangladeshi economist Muhammed Yunus developed the concept of lending small amounts of money at reasonable interest rates to people unable to get traditional bank loans and in 1983 he started the Grameen Bank , literally the "Village Bank," to make small loans to poor Bangladeshis. The idea worked amazingly well and microfinance has caught on all over the world. In 2006 Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Kiva founders Matt Flannery and Jessica Jackley were a couple of young San Francisco idealists who in 2003 started working on a way to incorporate Yunus' ideas of microcredit using regular people as the "bank" and the internet as their outlet. In April of 2005 they launched Kiva.org with just seven African entrepreneurs looking for loans and 300 people off their wedding invite list as potential lenders. All seven loans were funded in a weekend and paid back in less than six months. From there, things began to really pick up steam and currently Kiva - which is a Swahili word meaning "unity" or "agreement' - has 360,00 users who've loaned over $140 million to entrepreneurs in 199 countries. The site partners with 117 microfinance groups in various third world nations to get the money to the people who need it.
"People are central," Flannery writes in his 26-page online history of Kiva. "The first thing you notice are faces. Money and organizations are secondary, people are primary." And that is why it works so well. Users like me can log in, put money in our accounts with Paypal, and then peruse hundreds of profiles of real people with photos and back stories on their businesses explaining why they need the loans - from Nubia Ordonez, a Nicaraguan tailor, to Diarry Kane and her fruit stand in Senegal, to fishmongers in Cambodia, to bookstore owners in Peru and so on. Kiva brings the element of human connection to the forefront - find an entrepreneur you like and loan them as little as $25 towards their goal with just a single click.
Most Kiva entrepreneurs are looking for loans of only a few hundred dollars and any Kiva lender can track the progress of their recipients' loans and payment schedules. With a current repayment rate of 98.16 per cent, Kiva proves that the poor are extremely motivated if you give them a chance at a better life and that not everyone needs a handout. Through Kiva, working people in poor nations get a push towards making a better life for themselves while still retaining their dignity. Last November kiva.org passed the $100 million mark for loans issued. In many countries entrepreneurs are using their Kiva loans to establish proper credit rating and learn about savings and money management at the same time.
I don't want to sound like a preacher (although I am an ordained minister) but have you done anything to help anyone today? We've got it pretty good up here in Whistler and for the price of two shots of Jack Daniels at the bar (with a double Jack chaser) you can make a loan that will change someone's life.
So hit up kiva.org and put that old Chinese fish proverb to work for you. (Incidentally, the Chinese are among the worst nations on earth when it comes to commercial overfishing and then lying about their quotas. Many experts claim that at this rate we've got about 50 years, at best, before most of the large oceanic fish on this planet are extinct. But lets save that one for another column, can't solve all the world's problems in 700 words can we?)