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 tag “microloans”

Microloans – Uniting The Religious Right and the Community-focused Left

As the Presidential debate heats up, we are faced with either depressing mudslinging or polarization. This is not the season to seek genuine debate or even compromising solutions. We must take sides, man the barricades and ensure our side wins.

It really is so depressing. Perhaps if anyone dared to suggest something original or engage in genuine dialogue that might facilitate a path to lift this ailing country, I might get excited. My sports-DNA will probably allow it to kick in sometime in October, but for now, as the fog swirls outside my office in “sunny” San Francisco, I feel only that we are indulging ourselves so that we can forget what is happening in reality. To do this at a Giants game, at the 49-ers or Warriors for an evening is fine. We all need a break.

But this electoral juggernaut, that is serving only the media and bumper sticker producers, is insulting to those who are suffering from the very incompetence of those who were paid, are paid, to ensure our welfare and civil society. And though the faces might change, the same ties and dress suits will be back.

There are no one silver-bullet solutions. I know this. But we should be seeking solutions that will kick-start our economy. A weak USA is not good for its people, for the free world, or for those who live in oppressed regimes. We have to get our house in order so that we can help others.

I read and failed to bookmark an article about why the creation of small businesses is a pre-requisite for an economy to grow. It was full of statistics and I failed to understand much of its content. But I want to accept that the premise is correct. Small businesses are an asset for the middle class who often serves as the entrepreneurs, the working class who bear the brunt of unemployment and the rich who can seek investment opportunities.

It sounds like a win:win, a no-brainer. In fact, we have models that allow small businesses to open in the poorest countries in the world.

I have written in the past about KIVA, a non-profit microfinance bank that raises money through small gifts to help people invest in family or community enterprises. These are essentially loans, though the donors often reinvest the money back into Kiva. Here is a quick overview of how it works. For example, investing just $25 can help a father of four in Tanzania set up a coffee shop, or a woman in India establish a juice bar. It is truly inspiring.

Why can we not use this model widely in the US? I met a business in New Orleans that had been financed in part by microloans and is now a flourishing restaurant. Why can we not create a wider framework wherein people can invest micro sums that will be repaid as the businesses establish themselves.

Wouldn’t this attract the left, who love grassroots community action – Occupy Microloans anyone? The religious right can gain a few spiritual points above by heeding to the words of our teachers. In my own faith, a learned Jewish medieval scholar, Maimonides, created a pyramid of different levels of giving. Providing someone with a skill and a means to support themselves and their family is considered the highest form of giving in Judaism.

The banks have failed us. It is difficult today to buy a house or attract capital for a business unless you are already a millionaire. Perhaps it is time for the people to turn off our campaign-driven TV’s and take matters into our own hands. Perhaps if we believe in each other enough to invest in each other, we will also stop believing in the meaningless promises of those seeking political office.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist 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/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Happy Birthday Kiva!

 Dealing with global issues can sometimes seem so overbearing because of the sheer size of the problems -world hunger, AIDS, population explosions, natural disasters…the list is endless, and it involves billions of dollars needed for billions of people. It can be daunting and lead to paralysis.

The solution is really on two levels. We need to lobby our governments to take on such issues. The United Nations, probably best suited for such a task, is in desperate need of an overhaul, but that isn’t going to happen soon.

On the personal level, we can get involved, in a proportion that we can identify with. I have written a number of times about microfinancing, where for just $25, you can help a father of four in Tanzania set up a coffee shop, or a woman in India establish a juice bar. It is truly inspiring.

This brings me to KIVA, a non-profit microfinance bank that raises money through small gifts to help people invest in family or community enterprises. KIVA has just celebrated its 6th birthday and is growing in both scope (different countries) and size. 

You peruse the list of individuals who have been approved and invest by donating small increments of money. These are essentially loans, and you will receive notice as the money is being repaid. When it does, your ‘account’ with KIVA is credited and you could take the money back, though donors often reinvest the money back into helping another person through KIVA. For more on microfinance, click here.

The Jewish teacher, Maimonides, taught of eight levels of giving. The highest level is to offer someone the opportunity to become financially independent. For the last six years, KIVA have been doing just that. With six very successful years behind them, I hope we can go on saving the world together, one person at a time.

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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/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Microloans in Israel

I have to say it is too tempting to pass up an article that involves Kiva, a micro loan agency that I have long admired and a window of hope  between Israel and its Arab population. I have written a number of posts about microloans and what they are, so I won’t go into it here.
Desmond Bradley first picked up on this partnership between the Koret Israel Economic Development Fund (KIEDF) and the San Francisco-based non-profit organization Kiva Microfunds. You can read his article here.

This is Kiva’s first venture into Israel, it works in over 50 countries with local microloan agencies, where you can donating as little as $25 via their website. What I love about their system is the way that you can track the progress of the person/business you are helping. But enough about Kiva. As I mentioned, you can read about the organization here.
Israel has struggled since its independence with regard to its Arab and Bedouin population. As in the US, there is also a growing gap between the rich and low-income populations. This program will target Arab, Bedouin and low income Israelis.
The Koret Israel Economic Development Fund (KIEDF) has already loaned more than $177 million to 464,000 entrepreneurs over the past six years. Since 1994, KIEDF has facilitated close to $206 million in financing to almost 8,000 small and micro businesses in Israel, creating more than 40,000 jobs in the process.
Kiva needed to be convinced that Israel was a suitable candidate as it is perceived as a developed economy.
KIEDF managing director Carl Kaplan said  “It took us a couple of years to convince them that not all of Israel is like that. We persuaded them that some sections of Israeli society – notably Arab and Bedouin women – are actually Third World. It’s not a political issue.”
Bedouin woman


“We’ve already facilitated 1,800 loans to Negev businesses, mainly run by women,” says Kaplan, This initiative is sponsored in teh US by California based American Friends of Koret Israel Economic Development Funds,  and in the UK by The Portland Trust, a foundation that promotes peace and stability between Palestinians and Israelis through economic development.

Desmond Bradley sums up micro-financing superbly as “a widely used tool for fighting poverty and empowering women worldwide. Small, family-owned businesses have proven critical to the economic viability of women with limited employment opportunities.”

All  this week we have heard how the US economy is stalled, how there is no growth, how unemployment is rising. Is there a lesson to be learned here? Is anyone in ‘DC thinking outside the box?

Please Vote Today. Click Here

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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/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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