Everybody Can Contribute and Everybody Will Benefit: Part 2

January 20, 2011

In a previous post, I wrote about micro lending in general.

Below is a local community example of micro lending (this post is based on an article I worked on to contribute to the Fernwood newspaper – the “Village Vibe”)

As many people trying to run a small business have discovered, big financial institutions will lend you money only if you can prove that you don’t need it.

In Fernwood (a small inner-city neighbourhood in Victoria, BC, Canada) a group called Community Micro Lending is providing a wonderful demonstration of how to see things differently. Community Micro Lending facilitates loans between lenders and entrepreneurs in the Greater Victoria community.

Community Micro Lending entrepreneurs are local citizens who need small loans and mentorship to take action and change their own lives. They are turning their dreams into a reality, creating local jobs, and embarking on business or employment opportunities with a socially conscious focus. At the same time they are contributing to a sustainable local economy and helping their community to flourish. An example is Natalie, the owner and operator of Stir it Up Authentic Caribbean Soul Food Restaurant in the Fernwood Square.

Lenders are local people too, investing what they can in people whose stories they understand and whose businesses are part of their own neighbourhood. Natalie’s story was posted on the Community Micro Lending site just before Christmas, and by mid-January, combined contributions of the multiple lenders equaled the $4095 that Natalie had requested. Now she can begin the upgrades to her restaurant and continue to make her delicious roti.

Technology definitely plays a part in spreading the message of Community Micro Lending. Tools like Twitter @VicMicroLending, Facebook, http://da-dk.facebook.com/group.php?gid=119969594687011 and LinkedIn http://www.linkedin.com/company/community-micro-lending-society connect people to the projects.

And yet, though the concept has a high-tech, 21st century component, it is really a very old idea – neighbours helping neighbours to strengthen the community. Something the Jimmy Stewart character of George Bailey in the 1946 movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” would thoroughly understand. In the movie, George runs a tiny mortgage and loan company that constantly experiences friction with the big banker in town. Here’s a beautiful George Bailey quote from the scene where he has to explain the process of his business to a handful of skeptical investors: “Your money’s in Joe’s house, right next to yours. And in the Kennedy house, and Mrs. Macklin’s house, and a hundred others. Why, you’re lending them the money to build, and then, they’re going to pay it back to you as best they can.”

Today, 65 years later, George wouldn’t have to provide such an explanation because as micro-lenders, we’re already completely aware of who our investments support.

The main website of Community Micro Lending, for a “deeply sustainable vibrant local economy” is: http://www.communitymicrolending.ca/

Also note that Fernwood has a great recent history of revitalization and an amazing sense of community.

It’s a distribution problem

January 19, 2011

Everyone can contribute and everyone will benefit.

A catchphrase I’ve used for years in answer to a huge range of situations is “it’s a distribution problem”.

In fact I say this enough to be a bit of a bore certain people who are close to me. “There’s enough food in the world for everyone – it’s a distribution problem; if medical research was funded by a non-profit global organization, there would be no issues with pharmaceutical patents and there’d be medicine for everyone – it’s a distribution problem; we’ve got crumbling roads and bridges with nobody to fix them, but there are prisons full of people wouldn’t have ended up there if they had been employed — it’s a distribution problem.”

I believe that many of these distribution problems will resolve themselves eventually as technologies (like crowdsourcing and data visualization) start to provide us with new forms of information that we can use as a basis for our decisions. Hans Rosling’s work is an excellent example and I love to promote it.

So, thinking of redistribution supported by technology, I can get very excited by ideas like microlending, and in my own small way I do contribute. It’s something I believe can work. E.g.

The entrepreneur who needs a loan describes his or her situation/background online, and potential lenders look to find a good match. Online tools like PayPal make it possible for individual lenders to contribute very small amounts which, when combined, can fulfill the requirements of the entrepreneur. Administrative details, including how the lenders get paid, are automated. It would be difficult to imagine this level of personal connection without a sophisticated technology but now that such technology is commonplace, the potential is amazing.

Whether the lender and borrowers are in vastly different parts of the world, or living around the corner from each other, it’s about sharing stories and connecting to form a partnership and redistribute a bit of wealth. All this can be done (more or less) without much of a “middleman” and the lender is not investing in a “stock” or a “mutual fund” but rather in a person who has a believable plan.

I’ll mention that I’ve read some recent negative stories about microlending and I get the sense that some of these are based on a paternalistic point of view… that credit is good for some but not all. Usually this is said by someone who lives in a home that they could never have bought without a mortgage and who have achieved business success could not have been attained without credit being available when they needed it.

However it does seem true that abuses, such as high interest rates and mismanagement, have led to hardship for some borrowers. I don’t believe this means the concept can’t work but certainly it needs monitoring.

And, some accusations may be shown to be false:

My next blog post will be about a local community example of microlending.