Ok, there has been a lot of bad financial news lately, and it can be a real downer and a non-productive waste of time to worry about it. Instead, I would like to focus on some organizations who are using their power for AWESOME and who demonstrate that the power to do good is stronger than the power to do bad. (Keeping in mind that not all charities are good.)
When we focus on what is most important we can make a real difference, so to get us started, here is a little video to put things in perspective. For any of you who have not yet seen it, it starts sad and then makes you truly grateful for what you have by demonstrating the power we really do have over the world around us.
In response to the concepts outlined in this video, Google has put the entire Googleplex on notice to begin thinking differently and to use collaborative effort for the betterment of the most people possible. They have started a project known as 10 ^ 100, and what a great project it is. As they say:
“…new studies are reinforcing the simple wisdom that beyond a certain very basic level of material wealth, the only thing that increases individual happiness over time is helping other people.“
Their project is to find an idea that will help the most number of people in the world, and implement it. More of a think globally, help globally idea.
But Google is not the only one seeking answers. There are a lot of charitable organizations seeking to really make a difference in the world. And you can help! Just pick something that you are passionate about, and give of your time, energy or financial support. I’ve gathered a list of several to help get you started.
Gifting breeding animal pairs globally.
For over fifty years the Heifer Project has been providing families in developing countries (and parts of the US) with breeding pairs of animals: cows, goats, pigs, rabbits, water buffalo, ducks, and so on. Even in the world’s poorest regions the cost of a cow or goat can exceed a year’s income, preventing many families from acquiring animals. When a family receives a breeding pair they get meat, milk or eggs, but more importantly, they now have a source of income as the offspring are sold.
The deal with Heifer Project is that the recipient must agree to give one breeding pair of offspring away to another family, thus paying the gift forward. Therefore a small amount of money contributed now will multiply manyfold as families gain food, pride, a source of income, and the means to help someone else. It’s hard to imagine a better gift, or a more practical, proven lever in making a difference in communities of need.
Here is the full gift catalog. It is very affordable. And here is a video demonstrating the power of a project like Heifer:
Incidentally, are you tired of the fat cats getting fatter from your money? Well if you think globally then you ARE a fat cat. If you are able to read this post you have electricity, computer access and are probably able to drink a tasty beverage at the same time that you are reading this in the comfort of your electricity filled world. That is more than the majority of people on Earth.
So, here are several ways that you can invest in the betterment of others that need your help and will actually pay you back not only financially but also spiritually.
Donate to fund microlending.
Micro-financing is quite the rage in international circles for one very amazing fact. The payback rate on tiny loans to the workers in developing countries is greater than the payback rate for large loans to their home countries.
In other words, from an outright profit perspective, you are better off loaning money to a Bolivian peasant than to the Bolivian government. Furthermore, there is now no doubt that Bolivia itself, and any other country, is much better off if investment goes directly to their poorest citizens than to the government.
Several non-profits, starting with the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, have pioneered micro-credit loans on a large scale and for large investors. The easiest way for a helpful citizen to contribute funds to a wide variety of micro-loan programs in different parts of the world is through Opportunity International.
Here is the story of Alba from Honduras and how Opportunity International helped change her life:
Opportunity International has been providing micro loans for 30 years, even before the term microcredit was coined. They work through Trust Banks, groups of 20-30 (mostly women) borrowers who meet weekly for encouragement and to cross-guarantee the loans.
Donate to fund grants to start businesses and provide training.
Rather than dispense loans, Trickle Up issues outright grants, but with strings attached. They provide seed capital and training for micro-enterprise hopefuls. Maybe someone with ambitions for a food stall, or a repair shop. A typical deal is a $100 conditional grant. Unlike in a micro-loan program, grantees don’t have to pay the money back, but they do have to get trained.
Here is a video that demonstrates the power of this program:
Grantees must commit a minimum of 250 hours in the first 3 months to their venture, reinvest at least 20% back into it, and keep an account ledger, among other conditions. Last year 10,000 business started via Trickle Up donations, and 30,000 budding entrepreneurs benefited from this global program. There is huge emphasis on training for very basic business skills. And follow up expansion grants are offered, too. About 70% of grantees are women.
Inspried by the original Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Minimum contribution, $100.
One of the Grameen Bank projects is Village Phone – cell phones that women buy on loans and then can rent to others for income.
“The Village Phone program in Uganda, the first of GF’s efforts to replicate the pay phone program outside Bangladesh, continued exceeding expectations in 2005. More than 3,500 microfinance clients have bought and now operate a Village Phone as “Village Phone operators.”
Besides the boost to operators’ incomes, the program is creating a national telecommunications network. Of Uganda’s 56 districts, 53 now have at least one Village Phone operator. Often, Village Phone is the first local telephone that villagers have. Having a quick means to communicate has contributed to higher levels of productivity, savings, and safety for entire communities.
Grameen Bank and its founder were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts, so that tells you something signifigant about this group:
This is one of the most direct person-to-person micro-lending programs. When you give to Namaste Direct, you are informed of the person who receives your loan, how they used the money, and their progress.
ND can also arrange a visit to the lendee — this will turn your loan into a life-changing experience for you as well. But because of this directness the giving area is limited — currently to Mexico and Guatemala. No minimum contribution.
FINCA makes loans directly to the poorest villages. They aim their lending to 10-50 neighbors who come together to form a village banking group, and who in turn decide who should get what and how much.
FINCA specializes in small loan amounts ($50-$500) for the very poorest. The minimum contribution to their program is $50. While a few hundred dollars is powerful, with only $5,000 you can start a whole village bank for micro-loans, thereby compounding the power of micro-finance to an entire small community.
Here is Natalie Portman explaining her experience with FINCA.
Minimum contribution, $100.
Unitus, like Accion below, funds other local micro-finance programs, rather than direct loans to individuals.
“Unitus seeks to identify highest-potential emerging MFIs (Micro-Finance Institutions) and help them to achieve exponential growth.”
Accion provides technical assistant to local micro-lending institutions.
Minimum contribution, $50.
“ACCION is leading the effort to make micro-lending financially self-sustaining. Micro-lending programs have the potential to cover their own costs. The interest each borrower pays helps to finance the cost of lending to another. In most poverty alleviation efforts, every person helped brings the program closer to its financial limits.
Successful micro-lending programs, on the other hand, generate more resources with each individual they help. As a result, well-managed micro-lending programs generate more income than they spend. Once they become economically viable financial institutions, they have the ability to access a virtually unlimited source of lending capital – the billions of dollars invested in the world’s financial markets.
Several of ACCION’s partners have already made the transition from nonprofit, charity-dependent organizations to banks or other regulated financial institutions.”
ACCION has a series of informational videos here.
Grants small one-time cash gifts to those who require help to get them through a tough time.
A need, if honored, is granted within 72 hours, with no strings attached. Modest Needs does this with commendable efficiency via the web (it’s not hard to be broke and still get online), heart-warming sympathy (every request is read by a volunteer), and impressive reach (220 requests granted this year, or 7% of the million dollars sought for).
Modest Needs’ entire finances are completely transparent on their website. Since their inception they have spent $0 on fundraising and $0 on advertising. They are astoundingly thrifty (total annual cost to run this charitable operation: $24,000). The rest of the small change they collect goes to those to whom small change can make a big difference.
Here is their public service announcement:
This article was co-authored by Karen Rhodes and John Pozadzides. All comments are welcome and appreciated.