Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the month “January, 2011”

Two Books on Micro-finance

Yesterday, I returned to a topic I have touched on before, that of micro-financing. Two books have been recommended to me on the topic.

The first is A Billion Bootstraps: Microcredit, Barefoot, and The Business Solution for Ending Poverty by Philip Smith and Eric Thurman. I am in the middle of reading this as I write the blog post and might add more as I make my way through the book.  The first interesting point is that this is a book by two business men who bring their background, values and analysis to the table. A Billion Bootstraps came out of years of frustration witnessing huge amounts of financial aid pouring into countries without any significant differences transpiring and certainly without any suggestion of sustainable solutions.

It seems to be a great introduction to the field without getting bogged down in statistics and models. If the goal of this book is to promote an understanding and passion for micro-financing, I believe from the first few chapters and the complimentary reviews, that it is doing its job.

A second book, The Economics of Microfinance, (2nd Edition) by Beatriz Armendáriz and Jonathan Morduch, has been recommended to me by two friends who are both academics and I believe is a more theoretical and empirical treatise. I have not read it, but while reading reviews, I felt it deserved a reference if only because of the great quote below.

“Microfinance is the most visible anti-poverty intervention of the last 25 years. It has been extremely successful in effectively delivering financial services to the poor, reaching more than 150 million clients (mostly women), often in countries where very little else works. This remarkable achievement has led many to believe that microfinance could be what everyone has been looking for: a transformative solution to the problem of poverty itself. And, not surprisingly, it has attracted its share of criticism, some even arguing that microfinance is no better than a new form of usury. It is high time that some serious analysis and solid evidence be brought to bear on this important and passionate debate. This is what Beatrice Armendáriz and Jonathan Morduch do masterfully in this book, drawing on very recent research and their own extensive experience. This should be required reading for microfinance friends and foes alike, or anyone wishing to understand what the issues really are.”
Esther Duflo, Department of Economics, MIT

Whichever book serves your needs, it is an empowering first step to educate ourselves in this exciting field, to understand its potential and help spread the word. Do you know of other sources that we can share?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

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Amy Chua’s Supporters Rally

I don’t feel too motivated to get involved in the Amy Chua debate any further than I have already here or here. Whether I agree or not (and I don’t think I do), I am appalled that she has received death threats for her view – here in America, a couple of weeks after Tuscon.

Chinese characters for mother and daughter

I want to give a platform to responses regarding one aspect in particular: the high suicide rate among children of Chinese parents. Lloyd Lofthouse, an author of two historical Chinese novels, and a colleague here in the Bay Area that I have grown to respect  has posted a response to the suicide rate.

Be warned, it is a powerful article with a haunting personal anecdote. Here is Lloyd’s post:

Amy Chua’s Suicide Critics


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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com


Micro Loans Revisited

Last month I posted about Kiva,  a micro loan bank that helps poor people around the world embark on what would hopefully be creating a sustainable economic family for their families. I also showed Roshaneh Zafar’s amazing efforts to help Pakistani women through micro lending through the Kashf Foundation.

I want to spend some time focusing on micro lending as I do not believe that it receives the necessary airtime and therefore people do not know how much of a sustainable difference they can make in people’s lives for just $25.

This video is my opening salvo. I will post more on this topic in the next month.

If you know of other such agencies, or materials that promote micro loans, please leave a note in the comments box and I will follow up.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

Amazing Amazon Announcement Kindles Interest

Amazon.com has just announced today that Kindle books have overtaken paperback books as the most popular format of Amazon.com customers.

When I posted the day after Christmas last year that Amazon’s e-book sales outsold their tree-books, I was promptly told that this was due to Kindles being received as gifts and people anxious to begin using them. I was also told by a number of people that we are years away from such a time.

I have to admit that, though a proud Kindle owner, the last 6-8 books that I have read were all once trees. I even shlapped two books on my trip last week to the Gulf Coast.

Have we reached the age of e-book dominance yet? Your opinions are most welcome…

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

The Debate Continues

Last month I posted about an author making a living  from selling his fiction through e-books. A friend of mine sent me an update about J. A. Konrath from Henry Baum’s excellent blog about self-publishing.

“Amazon Encore is going to release Konrath’s next novel digitally and in print. AmazonEncore is “a new program whereby Amazon will use information such as customer reviews on Amazon.com to identify exceptional, overlooked books and authors with more potential than their sales may indicate.”

While there is much discussion around the self-publishing route, I think the reality is in the effectiveness of marketing and promotion. For the traditionally published author, there is still a lot of work to do to sell your book and see royalties, even more so perhaps than a self-publisher as you see far less money per book sold. Since publishers only really market their A-list authors, any struggling author regardless of how published needs to have a marketing strategy.

Promoting your platform and books can, for the self-published author be more than just royalties. It can also be about creating enough noise to be picked up by a bigger publisher. This is what happened with Konrath and, the fact that it is Amazon picking up the author adds a whole new dimension.

Some shameless promotion – a friend of mine from the California Writer’s Club is Francine Thomas Howard. She is also a recipient of the Amazon Encore with her novel Page From a Tennessee Journal. It is a historical novel dealing with racial tension in the south. Hearing Francine read makes it very memorable.  And I’ve just heard that Amazon Encore have signed Francine’s next novel, Paris Noire.

The only thing for certain in this business, is that nothing is certain, and nothing is going to stay the same.
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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

A Better Chance Than The Lottery

True, you can become a millionaire from winning the lottery. Also true that there are lottery winners every week. But for the aspiring author, winning the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) is akin to that precious and elusive lottery ticket.

In today’s economic climate, it is a brave publisher who invests in an unknown author. Yes there are the J.K. Rowlings’ out there, but they are as rare as, well, a winning lottery ticket. Assuming you are not a celebrity or know someone in the industry, it is almost impossible to pick up an agent. Then that agent needs to stay in the business and find a publisher, and then the publisher needs to stay in the business and … well you get the gist.

But once a year, optimism gets the better of us writers. ABNA is the mother of all writing competitions. They accept only 10,000 entries (better odds than the lottery) which then go through a series of rounds until two talented individuals stand alone. Or rather stand with the publishing folks at Penguin Group (USA), Amazon.com, and CreateSpace.

It is an exciting process. At midnight on January 24th, we all sat poised by our computers, all necessary documents ready to upload. In a month’s time we will all anxiously await the first cut. We look first for our own names and then those of our friends who have also entered.

Last year. I reached the last 250 entries. Like any good lottery player, I was already dreaming of my shining literary future. Alas, I went no further and my dreams were put aside in favor of seeking an agent and publisher. I did succeed – I have nothing to complain about. But that didn’t stop me this year watching the clock tick away to midnight and begin the dream all over again.

I will keep you posted – to the bitter end – but until then, allow me to dream.
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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

Are Starbucks Free Trade?

Starbucks work hard to be a huge successful business and maintain the ideological tenants that guided them in the early years. They heard their customers call for Free Trade coffee and answered the call.

Or did they? Others say they merely made a symbolic gesture to fool us that their coffee is Fair Trade.

Now independent coffee shop owners such as Joe Cesa, who owns Joe Coffee Bar in Philadelphia, is hardly going to be objective, given that his little cafe is probably surrounded by several Starbucks.

 

But I do wonder what the truth is? If you know any more, please let us know in the comments below.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

More Coffee Issues – Fair Trade

I guess that once you ground out the basic issues of what to do with the end product of the coffee journey, then you really need to look at the other end of the production line. I think coffee is actually one of the few food products where we are succeeding to make social progress.

About six months ago I saw a great hour-long documentary about the coffee industry. It was done really well and unabashedly showed both sides of the argument. If you know the name of the documentary, please leave me a message in the comments.


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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

Coffee Grounds 2

Now I might be getting a bit carried away here, but I do love coffee. Drinking it, I mean. I also love coffee shops, coffee shop culture, growing mushrooms in coffee grounds and, well gardening with coffee grounds (note the common theme?).

So settle down and enjoy your first steaming cup of the morning and indulge me for another post.

Here is an explanation of what to do. The reason I chose this one is the recognition of this natural resource by a big coffee company (who shall remain nameless) and their adoption of this as national policy for their customers.

Maybe we can create hope for a better world from the bottom of our coffee cups. Best of all, we really don’t need to do much to achieve it. Now that’s a great way to begin the day.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

Grounds for Saving the World

When I grow up, I want a coffee machine that makes that first cup of the day automatically and perfectly. I want to come downstairs and be greeted by the rich aroma of caffeinated creativity. Then, with steaming cup in hand, I am ready to go save the planet.

Now it is heartening to discover that all this is possible. The coffee machine you can research for yourself, but I recently received a comment in response to a post in which I wrote about an initiative by two young Cal entrepreneurs who grow mushrooms in coffee grounds.


Now meet Shane Genziuk and friends, who run an initiative called Coffee Grounds to Grounds. They organize groups to collect their coffee grounds and recycle them in the garden. The nutritional worth of these grounds for the earth, plants and wildlife is impressive. The work that these young women do is as well. What is also encouraging is that we can all do our bit here – coffee drinkers to save the planet.

Now excuse me while I go pour myself a cup of Fogbuster coffee. By the way – Fogbuster is made by a great local coffee company called Jeremiah’s Pick.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

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