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Let’s be Ants

March 27, 2008 by msrich · 4 Comments · Service Learning in STEP

The Beatles, in their song “Revolution,” said: “we all want to change the world.” While I’m sure that’s true for most of us, what can any one person, acting alone, do to change the world? My response is to say that we must learn to think like ants. One ant, acting alone, can do little to change anything. However, a colony of ants, instinctively working together, can alter the landscape.
Today, the internet has made it possible for us to do what ants have always done, namely, to make meaningful change happen in our world. The internet makes it possible for us to talk to people throughout the world. We can learn what people in distant countries are thinking and doing. However, by itself, the internet is not enough to make change possible. We also need a platform that attracts like minded people to come together to collectively work for the betterment of our world. Most of us call those platforms web sites.
But even web sites are not enough. While some say that money is the root of all evil, it is also the root of bringing about meaningful change in our world. Sure, none of us has enough money to bring about such meaningful change. What could my $25 or $50 do to change the world? That is where the notion of microfinance comes into play. “Microfinance” is just a fancy way of saying that if millions of people throughout the world contributed small amounts of money into a common fund, big changes could happen. Each of us can make a big difference if we started thinking more like ants. Microfinance would not be possible were it not for internet web sites. I’m going to give you two examples of what microfinance can do to help change the world.
Most immediately, we have the spectacle of the fund raising tactics of the Barack Obama campaign. Over one million people have made donations to his campaign, almost all through the internet. Most of those donations have been very small, many in the range of $25, $50 or $100. Yet, when you multiply those amounts by over one million people, you can understand why the Obama campaign is one of the best financed campaigns in the history of our country. Barack Obama has based his campaign on principles of microfinance. However, as I have said, that would not have been possible were it not for the internet and the platform upon which Obama supporters can get together, i.e. his campaign web site.
My second example involves an organization called Kiva. How many of you have heard of Kiva? Kiva is an example of microfinance in its most classical form. What Kiva does is, through the help of local development agencies throughout the world, identify small businesses that need to borrow a small amount of money in order to create a new business or to expand one that already exists. Included are fishermen needing new nets, bakers needing new ovens, or clothing retailers needing to finance an expanded stock of merchandise. If successful, those small businesses will help to improve the economies of their countries by increasing cash flow and by creating new jobs. The money is not given to these small businesses as a gift; it is a loan that must be repaid. The loan is administered by the local development agency. When the loan is repaid, the lenders get their money back. While the local development agency retains the interest as a fee for servicing the loan, once the loan is repaid, it will either be returned to the lenders or become available for making new loans to new businesses. Over time, lenders who span the globe, can develop a portfolio of investments in small businesses in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, or Latin or South America.
I urge you to visit the Kiva website, by clicking here. I promise that your visit will be very exciting. A visit is an opportunity for you and your children to increase your understanding of people throughout the world. After one visit you will understand what microfinance is all about better than anything I have said in this message. You will begin to understand that you really can help to change the world. You will better understand why the world will be better off if we can begin to think like ants.

Ken Schwarz

4 Comments so far ↓

  • msrich

    In fact, in STEP, in preparation for next year’s curriculum which will include a huge component of Service Learning- the students have been asked to design a project for Global Youth Service Day on April 26. Students can easily use the opportunity to microfinance a small business in a developing country through Kiva.

    Parents, if your STEP student has not yet told you about Global Youth Service Day please ask them what they are planning to do and present. This is certainly a great option.

    STEP Coordinator

  • Miriam Lovett

    Wow! Another Blog!! I was anxiously waiting for one.
    Although I haven’t yet checked out the Kiva web-sie, my first reaction is one of caution. How would we know these governments would be trustworthy and not corrupt? If this takes off, there would be alot of money going to various governments agencies for them to manage and control. But who would be looking over their backs to make sure the money I would send as a loan would eventually get paid back or used for someone else in need? How would I know the money wouldn’t go into a corrupt government official’s pocket?? (Don’t worry, I’ll read the web-site…….)

  • Ken Schwarz

    Miriam, you ask good questions. As I have said, the borrowers are identified by local development agencies. They also administer the loans. I don’t know if those agencies are even affiliated with the governments in the countries in which they operate. I believe Kiva does have a way of checking up on those agencies. The web site can tell you more. Personally, I’ve made two loans and both have been repaid. I’m on my second round of loans.

    Ken Schwarz

  • Ken Schwarz

    When I first wrote this article I was not aware of another website that also employs principles of microfinance.

    http://www.donorschoose.org/homepage/main.html is a microfinancing program that is designed to fund educational projects. Sound familiar? Sound like something we might pursue? Let’s talk about it.

    Ken Schwarz

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