Change a Stranger’s Life

There are plenty of emotions that arise during all the documentaries we’ve watched recently, the most common ones I’ve had are amazement and anger. Constant amazement at how clever people are, and anger at corporations and (less often) governments for reducing that cleverness to greed for money. This is why a concept that my sister told me about is so brilliant – it avoids the greed of corporations and powerful people.

KIVA is a microfinance organisation that connects (relatively speaking) rich people in the developed world with poor people needing small amounts of money to do basic things, like grow food or become educated or start a business. How clever is that. Dr. Mohammad Yunus is credited with bringing microfinance to life in the late seventies, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his work. His central idea is that where normal banks see poor people at risk of default, he recognized the inherent goodness in people and their desire to repay the good faith someone shows them. I didn’t spend too much time looking, but I found one stat that said 7% of prime American loans (i.e the ones considered low risk) are in default – KIVA stats suggest that almost 99% of their loans get repaid.

But to me, this repayment doesn’t matter. The amount they suggest as a loan is US$25, and they group my money with that of a few other people, so that the loan to the recipient is significant enough to start or continue their own business. It’s helping them to help themselves. In my eyes, if that $25 doesn’t get repaid then I’ve donated it to someone who needed it way more than me.

Also, they satisfy another criteria of mine when donating – avoid denominational organisations. Religion is a large multi-national organisation greedy for members and capital in exactly the same way as corporations and governments. Yes, their charities (much more often than not) do good work, but I see no need in them also promoting their own agenda at the same time, it is possible to help people and not simultaneously indoctrinate them. In that regard, with KIVA one can choose what project they would like to support, align it with their own interests so to speak.

So now I have contributed to Anais Veronica in Peru, who has a business selling sugar cane and needs funds to buy more stock and a bike to make deliveries more efficient. My amazement continues: from people’s lives in Peru – which are so different to ours; to the people who thought to connect us; to the fact that with today’s technology it happens in an instant.

Small Habit, Big Change – Help a poor person out of poverty with KIVA

The Power Of One’s Money

This is one of the ideas that I adhere to most closely, the one that I not only vote once every 3 years in an election, but every day – when I buy things. Every single item I buy has influence, because the transaction talks the only truly international language – money. Let’s consider just one item, a tin of tomatoes, and dissect what we might be voting for when we part with our $1.20.

–       Large supermarket vs small grocer, or somewhere in between

–       Global vegetable supplier vs independent producer

–       Local vs overseas grown and processed

–       Shipped vs trucked vs flown

–       Organic vs pesticides

–       Additives vs none

–       Fair workers rights vs poor working conditions

I’m sure there are more factors one might be voting on in this circumstance, I welcome any additions via the comments section! Of course, you can also vote to not have packaging because after all, a tin of chopped tomatoes is just that – chopped tomatoes, which is not that hard to do.

Some votes are simple choices to make, ie I would suggest that if the supply chain were transparent then most shoppers would favour humanely slaughtered meat over non-humane. Others can be more difficult – I spent a good deal of time recently trying to choose between an organic coffee vs fair trade coffee, the deadlock in my head being broken by my dad who was keen to leave the supermarket (thankfully because I might have gone a bit loopy).

So, it is virtually impossible to be in control of every aspect above, and often one needs to choose between one area and another. Being a vote, everyone can make their own choice too, ie I might choose organic overseas products over chemical local ones, but others would sit on the other side of the fence. The point is, just this single item in your basket influences many people, animals and places in many other parts of the world – and this voting occurs with every item of every transaction.

Every purchase can also have unintended consequences, if one buys entirely from a big chain supermarket one should not be surprised to see the walking-distance fruit store close down, or if one favours cheaper overseas products there should not be complaints when local jobs are lost.

What I try to do is picture the perfect world I would like to live in, and vote for the products that best follow that path.

Small Habit, Big Change – be conscious of the signal your money is sending everytime you shop. Try thinking about it when you’re travelling to work instead of at the shop shelves.