Start with One. Micro-loans connecting women all over the world. My Connecting with a Hero. #YCvillage #recyclemoney
Just another sunny day in Los Angeles, in 1987. I remember it like it was yesterday.
I was reading the paper (yes, we used to do that in the 80s) and an article caught my eye. An upper class banker in Bangladesh had run an experiment, making small personal loans to women trying to start tiny businesses in the poorest section of his town.
His experiment was so much bolder than it seems at first glance. Bangladeshi society is very rigid, upper class men rarely acknowledge lower class women, let alone engage with them, let alone loan them money! No banks loaned money to poor people, loan sharks were the only source of capital.
I was fascinated. I wanted to hop on a plane the next day, but of course I did not. It seemed impossible; in those days my imagination in regards to a horizon of possibility was very limited.
The banker's name is Muhammad Yunus. He has haunted me, in a good way, up to this day.
Although I did not hop on a plane that day, I did end up moving back to Austin, Texas a few years later. I continued to follow Prof. Yunus, and when I discovered that he was coming to talk to a class at the LBJ School for Public Affairs, I went into full-on stalking mode. I crashed the class meeting.
And I couldn't believe my luck - I met him the next morning at a low-key, little publicized breakfast meeting hosted by a small community lender. I was a volunteer with that organization. I remember getting there early because I was sure parking and seats would be scarce. I was wrong. There were maybe 15 people at the breakfast.
Prof. Yunus and I shared a brief one-on-one conversation, I still have his business card and a copy of a short email follow up conversation. I was looking for a way to engage with his organization. Not surprisingly, there was no obvious way for me to add value from Austin, Texas. Once again, I should have hopped on a plane. Later, Prof. Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize for pioneering micro-finance and the concept of social business.
Fast forward a few years later. I was in Austin yet again. It's another sunny day, albeit hotter, and again, I remember it like it was yesterday.
I waited in a line with hundreds of people outside a bookstore to get Prof. Yunus' signature at a book signing.
I wanted the book and the signature, but the real goal was I wanted my kids to meet him. When it was our turn, I introduced them to him and said, "Professor Yunus has helped thousands of women all over the world start businesses and help their families and communities."
He looked at my kids (not me) and said, "Yes, but the most important thing is to help at least one person. Start with one."
That advice has been in my Book of Life since that time. When I feel my efforts are too small, too slow, too lacking, I remember his words and his conviction.
He tells his story best and I highly recommend his books: Banker to the Poor and Creating a World Without Poverty.
What I wanted to draw out for this post is that in his initial loans with women, he was astonished at two things: the high repayment rates, and the ripple effect his loans had in the womens' community.
When empowered with tiny bits of capital, women not only invested in their businesses but also turned around and improved their families and communities.
This concept of micro-loans for the poor has taken hold and grown worldwide. One organization that I like is called KIVA. They coordinate with micro-lending organizations in host countries to feature individual entrepreneurs on their KIVA.org portal. You can learn about individual entrepreneurs all over the world, including the US.
This is how it works in general:
When you loan money through KIVA, it is, well, a loan. It is not a donation. When the entrepreneur pays back the loan, you get your money back to either re-invest with another entrepreneur or withdraw from your KIVA account.
Think about it as a second bucket to recycle money you might otherwise donate.
Kiva also has a cool option for lenders to create teams to pool their goodness and make a bigger collective impact.
We are working on creating a KIVA team for YinCaravana. We'll be updating you soon on that. If you have any questions or feedback, please let me know!
In closing, thank you Professor Yunus for your lifelong inspiration to me and countless other people. And you know what, I may just hop on that plane next year after all. Who's with me?
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