The last time I wrote I hopefully made the case for doing business with small, local banks as a way of protecting yourself from the larger, indifferent, often predatory financial institutions that monopolize the banking industry. Banking smaller helps these banks connect to the community and reminds them that people, not money, are what matters.
I’d like to talk about another kind of banking for those of you, like me, who often feel paralyzed by the poverty of this world. There are many who argue that in an economic powerhouse such as America, no one should live in poverty. Sadly that’s not the case. The Right argues for trickle-down theories, while the Left argues against our culture of income inequality, and very few understand the ramifications of either on either. Both Democrats and Republicans orchestrated aspects of the collapse of the economy, and both houses of Congress seem paralyzed to do anything to prevent it from happening again. In the meantime, while very little is getting done, what are we to do about poverty in America or elsewhere?
It can be argued that charity begins at home, but I’d like to believe that charity is a universal, global desire. Some people bristle at charity and invoke a Darwinian approach to success and wealth. But human beings are a very complex species, and as a species, it’s true, some are stronger than others. But the true humanity in a person is his or her capacity to imagine a better world for everybody, rejecting selfishness as an anomaly that makes any success and all power meaningless.
There is a kind of banking in the world that is the perfect charity, as it rewards those in need and teaches them the long view of generosity; and for those who are generous, it instructs them that, given the chance, most people will rise to the challenge and honor the promise of generosity with success.
For those of you who believe that the world would be better off if poverty could be eradicated, that it is possible for people to lift themselves out of poverty, and that it is also possible for you to participate in a smaller kind of banking to make all this possible, I’d like to introduce you to KIVA (http://www.kiva.org/about).
Kiva is a non-profit micro-financing organization. What is micro-financing?
Microfinance is a general term to describe financial services to low-income individuals or to those who do not have access to typical banking services. Microfinance is also the idea that low-income individuals are capable of lifting themselves out of poverty if given access to financial services. While some studies indicate that microfinance can play a role in the battle against poverty, it is also recognized that is not always the appropriate method, and that it should never be seen as the only tool for ending poverty.
What are the origins of modern micro-financing:
Credit unions and lending cooperatives have been around hundreds of years. However, the pioneering of modern microfinance is often credited to Dr. Mohammad Yunus, who began experimenting with lending to poor women in the village of Jobra, Bangladesh during his tenure as a professor of economics at Chittagong University in the 1970s. He would go on to found Grameen Bank in 1983 and win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. (Source: http://globalenvision.org)
In Kiva’s own words:
We are a non-profit organization with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. Leveraging the Internet and a worldwide network of microfinance institutions, Kiva lets individuals lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world.
Learn more about how it works.
Several years ago my very forward thinking nephew and his wife gave me a Kiva gift certificate and I immediately invested in helping a young man in Vietnam raise money to buy a bicycle so he could get to school. I also helped three young women in El Salvador buy supplies for their farm so they could continue to harvest produce for their village, make a living, and invest the profits in their own form of micro-financing.
About a month later, I was paid back in full and invested small amounts in other individuals whose cases appealed to me. I also tripled the amount of my account so I could make more loans. The money is still mine; I just help others with it. Kiva collects no interest and their volunteers and partners all over the world guarantee that 100% of your loan gets to the people you’ve designated as recipients.
It is an amazing organization and an excellent anti-poverty model for America.