Running Rich

Working in the environment that I do–surrounded by a lot of corporate individual greed, it’s easy to get caught up. And it’s hard to remember a time, if it even existed, when money wasn’t the main goal in life. Isn’t it the end result, though? We only hear about how during The Enlightenment this wasn’t so, but it’s not as if we could even relate.

America is a capitalist society. The land of opportunity. Because if you’re not using the system, it’s a waste. You’re doing a disservice to yourself and supposedly, you are lazy. And in the name of “stability,” isn’t what everyone wants simply the ability to earn his way up the ladder?  

I could get on a soapbox and preach politics and go into a diatribe about how we really need to change things. Or that I’m sick of the materialism in Los Angeles–the luxury cars and SUVs everyone drives, the designer clothes everyone wears around here. But I’m telling you right now that this is for me. This is for my own sanity. Who am I kidding? I work at an investments firm in Beverly Hills.  I have to work against the mindset if I am to not let it overtake me.

Data 

Because when will it ever be enough?  I came across a statistic that said people on average would be “satisfied” if they made 20% more than they did now.  Is that really true, though?  Aren’t we just fooling ourselves?  Interestingly enough, my small group is reading Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from affluence to generosity by Ron Sider. The book was written over 30 years ago but has been revised and re-edited 5 times since then. We’re only in the second chapter, but I’ve already learned a lot. You can say it’s done its fair share of thought provoking.

You may already have a good idea what it’s about, and it’s definitely not about being anti-gay-marriage or anti-abortion. No, it’s actually challenging and it’s about loving–not being against something. But the main point I want to drive here is whether we’re Christian or not, if we don’t think we’re rich–it’s only because we’re comparing ourselves to a certain set of people. That is, our fellow Americans who also live in the wealthiest country in the world. Agreed?

  • Half the world — nearly three billion people — live on less than two [U.S.] dollars a day.
  • Some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation.
  • According to UNICEF, 30,000 children die each day due to poverty

source

 

Awareness and Action

There’s something to be said about the recognition of geo-political wealth dichotomies at large and the willing distribution of wealth by the “rich” to the destitute who otherwise don’t even have a chance at opportunity. First comes comprehension of what the statistics really mean (if you’re reading this, you are a part of the richest 5% of the global population–you have internet, for cryin’ out loud). So, you are in a position to do something; the question is are you willing to or will you continue to spout off excuses that have been refuted before you can even formulate them in your head? Will you again lean on the convenience of your own ignorance or try to make a difference? Do you buy yet another luxury for yourself or invest in others’ means of subsistence for a change?

Do you own your money or does your money own you?

On the other hand–it’s easy to just stand there, paralyzed by the bombardment of a hundred statistics about The Third World. The reality is that yes, it is overwhelming–and if it’s not, then that’s cause to worry.

Professor Muhammad Yunus, however, has brought us past the concept of simple charity–and enabled the conscientious to invest in the economic self-empowerment of the impoverished. In fact, he and Grameen Bank are the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Winners for their work in Microfinance.

Despite microloans having existed since the 70s, I have heard about them only as a result of my recent readings. Essentially, people in underdeveloped countries provide a business plan as to how their loan funds will be utilized and how it will be paid back in payments. They enlist training, including for basic literacy, when enrolled in a program once their business plan is approved. They meet with a loan director regularly to keep accountable with their business plan. Loans start as little as below $100 to over $3,000 or even $4,000 if they have successfully paid off their prior microloans.

 

Profit and Red Tape

Corporations have started to fund microloans, but with a return-on-investment objective. It has drawn criticism, of course. The New Yorker has covered it: Millions for the Millions

Part of the criticism, as with many relief efforts in The Third world, stems from the red tape, bureaucracy and politics that is buried within the intervention of each impoverished community.  Yunus, himself, is a critic.  It is hard not to be when you consider that interest rates charged range from 30-100%–they are simply profiteering off the poor.

 

Direct Link

Kiva.org, though, allows real people to loan directly to these start-up businesses–and by-pass the middle man and most of the red tape. While there is no collateral for us lenders, who feel that the return of empowering someone who otherwise wouldn’t have such an opportunity is enough, there are monitoring programs to help these people keep up their payments. A success story excerpted from The New Yorker article linked above provides an example:

…A warm, self-possessed woman of fifty-four, Chávez was wearing a navy baseball cap and a blue work shirt over a pink-and-blue plaid apron. She has eight children and twenty-five grandchildren. Eight years ago, she said, she and her husband were extremely poor, and they saw no way to improve their situation…

…Chávez said that she was worried about the one-week training program (“I learned how to read and write making tortillas—I don’t know much”), but she decided to join…

…With the help of instructors, Chávez developed a business plan. She realized that the hot-tamale vender outside a nearby school came only in the afternoons; she could be there in the mornings…

…She started with a four-month loan amounting to about two hundred dollars. Each week, she met with the other members of her group—about twenty women—to make her payments, and take part in sessions dedicated to financial decision-making, health topics, domestic violence. With the initial loan, she was able to rent her workroom. With her second loan, of about three hundred and fifty dollars, she bought the bicycle and rebuilt it. She now has a loan of five hundred and fifty dollars, and next time she will ask for six hundred and fifty. She has added empanadas to her repertoire. On a good week, she makes as much as two hundred dollars. Her workroom contained a microwave, a television, and a DVD player. She explained that she had bought these on an installment plan, and that she organizes her week according to her debt obligations…

You can read the journals of other business ventures here.  It’s pretty amazing what these loans enable people to do once they are given the chance. PBS did an article on Kiva’s impact: Microloan in Uganda

Anyway, I just wanted to put the Kiva.org website out there.  I think this is just one instance in which we can all help if we just take responsibility of the opportunity we have been given to make a living for ourselves.  The irony of it all is that even though there is no collateral, Kiva has experienced a 100% pay-back rate.  Not that lenders are exactly waiting around to get the money back.  Once the loan is paid back, you have the option of cashing out or loaning to another entrepreneur. 

So this is a testament to a call to action I’ve experienced, recently.  It’s a different type of investment that I’ve personally committed to give a go on a regular basis.  The return on investment seems priceless–when you help one business, you are undoubtedly helping entire generations across the globe.  Donations on Kiva are as low as $25–everyone can do something.

Love,
*e

Further Reading:

Global Issues.org
– statistics about developing countries

Grameen Foundation
– website of Grameen Bank, who together with Muhammad Yunus, won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for work in microfinance loans

Microcredit on Wikipedia
 – read up on the concept

Kiva.org
– microloans over the internet

“You, Too, Can Be A Banker For The Poor”
– Kiva in the New York Times

“Uganda: A Little Goes a Long Way”
 - PBS reports on microloans in Uganda

GlobalGiving.com
– donations over the internet