Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day 2008 - Poverty

Many posts today are about causes of poverty, anecdotal evidence of abject poverty, maybe even grandiose ideas of how government or non-governmental agencies should be required to end poverty before building bombs. Frankly, they'd all be right, and I completely support the causes behind the posts. I, however, will be looking at possible solutions with much more granularity. How can we affect change to the world if we can't affect change in one person's life?

Growing up, my father was the executive director of an emergency food shelf and clothing closet. Through the United Way they also ran a meals on wheels service to seniors and the housebound. In his 15 years at that organization, he took them from a place to go when people had no other place to go to a place where the abject and working poor were able to work toward self-sufficiency. They met with case-workers, received assistance to obtain vehicles, shelter, holiday gifts, back to school clothing as well as assistance writing resumes, taking ESL classes and prepping for interviews and learning work skills. This was a strange concept in the Minneapolis metro area at the time. Most places wanted to get people in the door, feed them, clothe them and send them on their way. Dad wanted to help these people so they could pay it forward. He learned that concept from his father, as I did from him. So, how can I pass this on to others?

Hubert H. Humphrey once said "compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism" and "it was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped." What kind of Minnesotan would I be if I didn't echo the thoughts of the great statesman?

As government fails to figure out how to stop its own bleeding pocketbook, how can we expect it to support those who need help? It's time to turn to the people of affluence. Now, you may not consider yourself affluent, but compared to billions across the planet, you are, based upon the simple notion that you are able to read this post, hell, that you know how to read! You can affect change, not necessarily on a wide-scale, but individually, you can touch the lives of people who need your help. I'm not talking about those in need of emergency assistance, but rather those who wish to strive toward self-sufficiency, but need a little push or a little hand-holding along the way. Do you want to be the change in the world? Try microlending. Here are a few examples of ways to donate using microlending. For those who aren't exactly certain what microlending entails, here's a bit about it.

Microcredit is the extension of very small loans (microloans) to the unemployed, to poor entrepreneurs and to others living in poverty who are not considered bankable. These individuals lack collateral, steady employment and a verifiable credit history and therefore cannot meet even the most minimal qualifications to gain access to traditional credit. Microcredit is a part of microfinance, which is the provision of a wider range of financial services to the very poor.

Microcredit is a financial innovation which originated in Bangladesh where it has successfully enabled extremely impoverished people to engage in self-employment projects that allow them to generate an income and, in many cases, begin to build wealth and exit poverty. Due to the success of microcredit, many in the traditional banking industry have begun to realize that these microcredit borrowers should more correctly be categorized as pre-bankable; thus, microcredit is increasingly gaining credibility in the mainstream finance industry and many traditional large finance organizations are contemplating microcredit projects as a source of future growth. Although almost everyone in larger development organizations discounted the likelihood of success of microcredit when it was begun. The United Nations declared 2005 the International Year of Microcredit.
Some of the many purveyors of microcredit are:
  1. Kiva
  2. Make Poverty History
  3. Poverty Fighters
  4. Microplace
  5. FINCA International
The vast majority of the clients of microlending are women in developing countries. However, some microlending agencies (like Microplace) actually allow you to specify the level of poverty you would like to help, your financial return, terms of repayments and location. So you can actually help a family in the delta build a fence, whether it's the Mekong Delta or the Mississippi Delta is completely up to you. Hopefully some day that person can pay it forward to help the next generation. As Hubert H. Humphrey (yes, again) said, "the impersonal hand of government can never replace the helping hand of a neighbor."


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