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 “poverty”

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).

Jewish Heart for Africa

Jewish Heart for Africa is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that brings sustainable Israeli technologies to rural African villages. Since its founding in 2008, Jewish Heart for Africa has completed more than 35 solar powered projects, bringing light to schools to improve education, pumping clean water in regions of drought and providing refrigeration for lifesaving medicines and vaccines.

To date, they have brought solar energy to over 150,000 African people, and 12,000 children have been vaccinated with vaccines stored in their solar powered refrigerators.

Here is a 6-minute introduction to their work.

This week, Jewish Heart for Africa is holding it’s main fundraising event of the year. Most of us won’t be attending the event in New York, but we can still help to provide sustainable solutions to provide the poorest people on our planet receive the basics we take for granted: clean water, electricity, medicine, clean energy, relevant food production methods.

It is surprising what a difference $18 or $36 gifts can make. Even if you can’t make the gala, please consider a small gift. And please pass this post on to friends and colleagues. We can defeat poverty. We have the technology and the capability. What’s stopping us? What’s stopping you?

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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).

Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon, Yemen,

I have spent a while trying to decide what I want to write about these major upheavals. It would be easy to say that they are far away from our Left Coast by the Pacific and ignore what is happening. This never stopped me commenting on the Nobel Prize debacle and other political prisoners in December. But something is gnawing away inside and I am feeling threatened by what I see as a rise in extremist ideology.

Let me begin by stating that I value my freedom and my democracy very highly. I have never lived in a country where this has been seriously challenged (though I did campaign against the rise of the British National Party – a fascist movement – back in the 70’s), but I would like to think that I would be out there on the streets, shouting, demonstrating and, well, blogging.

I have campaigned to free Jews from the Soviet Union, to bring down apartheid in South Africa, and to free Tibet from Chinese oppression.

But I feel equally threatened by extremists, whether from the left, the right, or from religious fundamentalists. If I value my freedom of choice and expression, I should be trying to stop the advance of such political movements.

But what happens when a nation supports an extremist ideology? What right do I have to prop up an equally or more oppressive regime? Do I even have a right to try to impose my democratic doctrines on another country?

The problem is that no country is an island, no ideology limited to a single country. When the Internet defined itself as a world-wide web, they meant world-wide. It doesn’t take much for an ideology to spread across continents.

What is missing from public debate is what is the best environment to avoid extremism and violent change? When such symptoms as low education and poverty are prolific, there is an easy framework to influence or stir people to fight for vague hopes or instant solutions.

When revolution was spreading through Europe in the early 1800’s, journalist William Cobbett said: “I defy you to stir a man on a full stomach.”

I would add to that. Give a person an education, a meaningful job, and respect, and s/he will seek a middle path. We badly need more middle paths today and no one is discussing how to really create such an environment through education, health, professional skills, and sustainable infrastructures.

People shouldn’t need to take to the streets to seek their own dignity, and to provide for their families. And they shouldn’t need to break their country’s laws when expressing their desire for freedom.

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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

 

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

Berkeley Bashing

Once again, the world is frustrated with Berkeley. I love the city, often agreeing with the political vibe that runs through certain parts of our population. I also reserve the right to take issue when I disagree. However, the difference between me and say those who publicly went on record with the following quotes, is that I am content to live in an arena where public debate and civil discourse can be debated at any of our fine coffee establishments or in any one of many creative ways.

“I have had it with Berkeley, California, that anti-American bastion of disloyalty to the values and existence of the United States of America,” Dr. Laura, the syndicated pop psychologist wrote on her website. “I am calling for Berkeley to secede from California and the United States and go form their own pathetic country.”

Fox Nation was blunter: “Berkeley Gives America the Middle Finger,” read the headline of one article.

And David Gewirtz, the executive director of the U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute who not only went to Cal, but who teaches at UC Berkeley Extension, wrote that

“The Berkeley City Council, as a body, is nuts. Always has been. Probably always will be. I can say this both because I used to go to grad school and work in Berkeley, and because their actions support the label.

“The City of Berkeley thinks it’s a sovereign nation. It’s not, of course, but that’s never stopped Berkeley.”

So what is it that makes people so upset with Berkeley? Admittedly some of us are snobs, bigots, and/or hopeless dreamers, but they exist in the rest of the US as well. I often hear the phrase: “Well this is Berkeley, not America.” We even celebrate this with a How Berkeley Can You Be street festival.

I recently met two elder gentlemen and discovered how one of them was apparently the guy in the 60’s who had made and sold a passport for People’s Republic of Berkeley. I’m not convinced to this day whether they had been serious, given their rueful thoughts on the matter forty years later.

However, while I will man (or person) the barricades of free speech on Telegraph Avenue, I do understand one comment made by someone critical of the latest council motions.

Berkeley suffers from pockets of poverty, areas of high crime including homicide, and West Berkeley is an environmental mess. Perhaps we might serve the world better by being an example of solving these not exactly unique problems with sustainable, caring solutions.

However, just to show that I have no pretense at cultural equality, Jon Stewart is allowed to have his fun at our expense.


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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 Woman Changing the World

Roshaneh Zafar is helping to fight extremism and create a sustainable model that will discourage recruitment to terrorist organizations by giving people hope that they can live a prosperous and stable way of life.

This American-educated banker is focusing her efforts on micro-financing. She has found a way to empower some of Pakistan’s poorest women by giving them the tools and educational opportunities to create businesses and income for themselves and their families.

“Charity is limited, but capitalism isn’t,” Roshaneh told Nicholas D. Kristof in an interview for the New York Times. “If you want to change the world, you need market-based solutions.”

Micro-financing, as I discussed in a post on Kiva.org/, lends a small amount of money to impoverished people that will enable them to set up a business.

Ms. Zafar grew up in Lahore and took the opportunity to study business at the Wharton School and economics at Yale. She worked for a while at the World Bank before returning to Pakistan in 1996 to start the Kashf Foundation.

Below is an interview with Ms. Zafar. Make yourself a cup of coffee, then sit down and spend 7 minutes with this inspiring woman.

Despite many setbacks, Kashf can now boast 152 branches throughout Pakistan and has loaned over  $200 million to more than 300,000 families. Ever thinking ahead, Ms. Zafar is now studying how to leverage this model to encourage the poor to build up savings and accrue assets.

Ms. Zafar is not only helping people start businesses, create jobs and support education that will enable people to break out of the vicious spiral of poverty, but will offer an option to living that is neither violent, nor exploitative.

She deserves a Nobel Prize, in economics and in peace. Micro-financing is a tool to ending the very conditions that create terrorism and extremism. Every Western and stable country has an interest in incorporating her model into their foreign policy.
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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

 

Help for Homeless War Vets Day 2

Swords to Plowshares is a not-for-profit organization that was founded in 1974. It provides “counseling and case management, employment and training, housing and legal assistance to veterans in the San Francisco Bay Area.” In addition, they work to promote and protect the rights of war vets through advocacy, public education and partnerships with local, state and national entities.

From their mission statement: War causes wounds and suffering that last beyond the battlefield. Swords to Plowshares’ mission is to heal the wounds, to restore dignity, hope, and self-sufficiency to all veterans in need, and to significantly reduce homelessness and poverty among veterans.

This exciting announcement came from their website.

Homeless Veterans May Get A Place Of Their Own

In what looks to be a win-win proposition for San Francisco, the Planning Commission has cleared the way for conversion of a surplus city building into a permanent living space for homeless veterans.

If all goes as planned, the historic-but-underused property will be used to get 76 older veterans off the streets and into a home where, as one project backer said, “they can age in place.”

The nine-story building at 150 Otis St. was the city’s first Juvenile Hall and Detention Center when it was built in 1916. From the 1950s through the 1980s it was used as office space for the Department of Human Services. Since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, it’s been little more than a storage space and temporary seasonal homeless shelter.

Plans by the Chinatown Community Development Center and Swords to Plowshares, a veterans’ support group, will convert the building into permanently affordable studio apartments, with space for a resident manager and a variety of on-site veterans’ services.

Swords to Plowshares runs a similar property at the Presidio.

The commission unanimously agreed to allow the affordable housing in an area previously zoned for public use and recommended that the Board of Supervisors approve the plan.

Plans call for renovation of the building to begin this November, with the first tenants arriving in summer 2012.

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The concept of men and women who fought for their country  struggling for their own basic needs is hard for me to understand. I lived in Israel for two decades, a country in which every man and woman serves in the country’s defense forces. Citizens wounded in service to their country receive the best medical and psychological help available, as well as an array of social services. Perhaps this is one of the few advantages of national service. When everyone serves, it is inconceivable that your country’s heroes are left by the roadside begging for a dollar.

Hopefully, thanks to organizations like Swords to Plowshares, this shame will become a thing of the past.

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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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