#81: Give a microloan

(Advisory: The following post is not an overly happy, positive, or ‘typical’ entry for this blog.ย  Proceed at your own discretion.)

I’m not exactly sure where I first learned of Kiva; I think it might have been through Springwise. (And I’m not exactly sure how I was first introduced to Springwise; I think it might have been by a client I supported in the Marketing department of the company I work at…) At any rate, somehow I was made aware that Kiva exists – and when I first read about the organization, I remember thinking, “Wow, how cool! I want to help support that.” But I never took any action. And desire, good intentions, positive aspirations are all meaningless without action behind them. So today, I took action. I donated to Kiva.

I thought the process of completing this task would be pretty easy. I’d pick some up-and-coming entrepreneur in a developing country, give that person the extra little boost they needed to make the massive leap from impoverished to poor, and hopefully the momentum generated from that action would continue to carry the individual through poor and into lower- (or {dare I hope to imagine it?} middle-) class.

How very idealistic of me. Unfortunately, the opposite of idealistic is realistic. Within minutes of logging on to Kiva’s website, I quickly received a bit of education in the ways of ‘the real world’.

Kiva has a very handy filter function that allows prospective donors to locate the type of individual or group they want to fund. I wanted to support an individual, and I wanted the person to be a woman. Those two decisions were pretty easy. The next item to determine was what type of industry I wanted to support. Initially, I thought I would help a woman who wanted to get established in the transportation realm: it seems like it is a male-dominated industry, and I liked the tenacity that a woman who wanted to make her way in that domain must possess (at least in some measure). So I checked the “Transportation” box – and up came around 20 or so profiles. But. I was quickly disheartened to learn that most of these women were actually applying for loans for a man in her life, usually a husband or a son. The women wanted to get money to help the man either acquire a vehicle, or make repairs to his vehicle. Furthermore, about 80% of the women refused (or weren’t allowed) to have their picture taken; the husband or son was the image that represented the interest of the online profile. I felt a bit like I had been duped; but more than that, I felt disheartened. I simply couldn’t support a group that wouldn’t even let a woman have her photograph taken.

So…. back to the drawing board. I shook off of my sense of sadness as best I could, and tried again.

This time I opted for the “Manufacturing” category – and found that most of the requests here were for women who had a decent business already established, and were looking to expand. Which is great – but I wanted to help someone who hadn’t yet “made” it. I wanted to offer hope to someone who was in strong need of a good turn of events in her life.

Okay, attempt number three. I decided on “Agriculture”, in part because I thought this might be a domain that is more ‘accessible’ to more women, and in part because I liked the sustainable nature of this segment of business. People can decide they no longer want to buy lace, or baskets, or other textiles… but people can’t go without food. My logic was that once a woman was able to get a foothold into the agriculture business, she might have a better chance at truly transforming her life for the long-term, instead of possibly slipping back into desperate poverty should consumer preferences change.

But as I perused the profiles and saw what the women planned to do with the funds they were loaned, I was again disheartened. Many (most?) of them wanted to buy either animals or pesticides – both acts I can’t support in good conscience. Knowing what would likely be done to the animals (slaughter), and knowing the toxins the women (and others) would likely be exposed to through the application of pesticides, I felt like I just couldn’t use my money to support these actions.

As I was processing all of the information before me, my mind and my heart began to struggle with this whole situation. Who am I to decide who receives help and who doesn’t? Who am I to judge what people spend their funds on? I can’t possibly relate to what these various people experience on a daily basis – so who am I to dictate how money is best used by them? Am I really going to let my idealistic notions get in the way of much needed aid? And yet, if I did support people in ways that I thought were harmful (be it to themselves or to other living beings), wouldn’t that make me an incredible hypocrite? Wouldn’t I be acting unethically – immorally, even? I want to help – but how do I know what ‘help’ even is anymore?

I was getting overwhelmed. At this point, I realized a few things:

  • Deciding how to act in a way that is motivated by “good intentions” isn’t always clear – or easy.
  • Life is really, really unfair. How I landed where I am (i.e., a very free woman in a very rich country) is a crazy stroke of amazing good luck.
  • I didn’t do anything to deserve my ridiculously blessed life; and the people requesting funding didn’t do anything to deserve their incredibly difficult lives. It really is a roll of the cosmic dice.
  • Given that my present situation (and the situation of the vast majority of the people in the world around me) is a result of absolute dumb luck (or lack thereof), I shouldn’t feel guilty for all of the gifts I have received, nor should I feel responsible for all of the hardships others must endure. Yet I do.
  • I would make a crappy aid worker.

Oy. Feeling a spectrum of difficult emotions, I looked at my computer screen once more… I looked in the “Food” category… and after a bit of searching, I found Matanat: a woman in Azerbaijan (east of Turkey, north of Iran) who supports her unemployed husband and one daughter by selling a small, basic assortment of fruits and vegetables. She wants a loan to purchase a variety of new goods to improve her business.

Sensing that this was a woman and a situation I could feel somewhat comfortable supporting, I completed the online process to direct funds to Matanat. Item #81 is now done. But I don’t feel all that great about it. I still feel the sting of inequality, inequity, misfortune, and suffering that affects so many people, in so many parts of the world. It hurts. It hurts my heart. It hurts my spirit. It hurts my sense of all the ways I think the world ‘should’ be. It hurts on many different levels. It just hurts.

Sometimes times living in ignorance is a lot easier than being aware of bigger, fuller truths. But – I can’t unlearn. (And I probably shouldn’t even ‘want’ to unlearn, even when the knowledge is painful and difficult.) I can’t un-do what has already been done. I can’t go back. I can only move forward.

So, onward.


About Stef

A "serious" gal who is trying to remember to lighten up and smile.
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17 Responses to #81: Give a microloan

  1. ๐Ÿ™‚ the smile in all of this, Stef, is for your persistence. Yes, it’s often overwhelming to reach out and help. You listened to your gut, paid attention to your values, and kept going till you found someone you could help in a genuine manner. Too often we just turn our back when we just don’t know how to solve all the dilemmas involved with reaching out a helping hand. For me, I contribute to causes, to people that people I know and trust are involved with. For example, a group I belong to on Facebook, created by my coach, is called Women Arrive and we are, collectively, supporting a group of children at a school in Uganda. A friend of mine is the E.D. of the White Ribbon Campaign which is a worldwide effort to end violence against women perpetuated by men. I don’t get involved in all the details because that just paralyzes me, but I trust the people who I know, who are warriors out there in our world, to use the money I give to do good in the world. It’s my way of helping and being true to who I am.
    walk in beauty this day.


    • Stef says:

      Joss, thank you for this very encouraging comment. I also contribute to organizations that help others both locally and around the world (in ways that I believe are both positive and meaningful); I just thought it might be cool to have a one-on-one impact, too. Alas, as I discovered (and as you so articulately state), getting into the details overwhelmed me a bit. But you are right in that I get to hug myself for continuing on, for NOT giving up, and for persisting until I found what I hope is the best choice for all involved. I appreciate your kind reminders! ๐Ÿ™‚


  2. Touch2Touch says:

    Stef, This is a really thoughtful and reflective post about a subject that is very very difficult. As you discovered.
    We have traveled several times with Untours, founded by Hal Taussig, an amazing man, now in his late eighties, who still does all his errands by bike. He uses the profits of Untours to help just such people as you are talking about. The Untours themselves are amazing; but so are the projects undertaken by the Untours Foundation: http://www.untoursfoundation.org/
    We donate as we can, because so few organizations deal on personal one-to-one bases, which appeals to us; so few give to untested quantities, that is, to people. I think you’d be interested in looking at one person’s approach to the question.


    • Stef says:

      Judith, thank you for the link to Untours. It is a wonderful concept indeed. Kiva has a similar approach (“hand up, not hand out”), but with a few more layers of ‘management’ than what it looks like Untours has. Of course, with more people (‘management’) comes larger and broader reach – so again, complexities arise. But I am heartened to know that so many people in the world really DO want to do whatever good they can; thank you for informing me of one such person! ๐Ÿ™‚


  3. Stef, I’ve been reading your blog since the beginning of the Post-A-Day Challenge, but I’m not sure I’ve ever posted a comment before. Most of the time I just enjoy hearing about the small smile-worthy moments you are documentingโ€”so thank you for sharing those!

    This post, though, is prompting me to comment because it reminds me of a book I read, which I reviewed in my own blog (http://lifelinespublishing.net/2010/02/06/we-are-all-poor/). The book is “When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself.” It does a good job of untangling all the motivations and misconceptions that we “rich” people typically take with us into trying to improve the world. The book does not offer any easy answers, but I found it a helpful resource for wrestling with the questions.

    Keep on blogging!


    • Stef says:

      Melanie, thank you for your comment. (And for your blog post/book review – I loved your African missionary example!) The examples cited there are exactly some of the reasons why I’m not a fan of volunteerism ‘handouts’; and why I like the idea of Kiva as a LOAN versus a grant. What is “help” is a whole sticky area, to be certain; and yet, being willing to ask the questions and probe for answers is much better than the alternative – even when it’s uncomfortable and challenging.

      Thank you for your insight, and your support!


  4. ElizOF says:

    Kiva is a terrific organization and they have a much wider pool of entrepreneurs seeking help. It takes some effort to figure out the selections on the site, but once you do, there are ample categories, including those who have not received any loans. All of the people I selected last year have paid back their loans and I now need to select a new crop of people to help. It has been very satisfying and, as you realized, it helps to just support people from your heart and not judge how the business they spend the money on. In many cases, that is all they can afford to do to feed their families… Plus, they do have to work super hard to pay the loans back. Good for you that you hung in there and picked someone. ๐Ÿ™‚


    • Stef says:

      I have such empathy for the various things some of the individuals on the site feel compelled to do; I can’t being to understand their lives. And while I have certain biases, ideas, and (to put it bluntly) prejudices as to what is “right” or “better”, I also know enough to know that I can’t possibly understand what sometimes has to be done in order to survive. (Never mind flourish or thrive, but simply survive…)

      And yet, yes, there ARE people who are doing things I *can* comfortably stand behind; but that was less the ‘point’. With enough searching, I can *always* find someone who is similar to me; I was just saddened by some of the items I experienced in the search.

      But – that’s where I get to step in, and support the people I can, and trust that the positive influences will continue to spread and grow…


  5. You did good Stef, you did good.


  6. That was incredibly sweet of you to help someone out like this. It’s nice to see people that CAN help, do so. ๐Ÿ™‚


    • Stef says:

      Thanks Sharon. I received an update from Kiva saying that 58 other people contributed to Matanat’s loan, and that she has now received 100% of her requested funds. It feels really good to be part of a small army of individuals from all over the world, coming together to support one of our fellow citizens.


  7. Christine says:

    Thoughtful post – one that reflects the dilemmas we face every day when our values may conflict with other good we can do. I’m referring to the part about your discomfort in giving a loan that might result in the funding of something that you might feel diametrically opposed to – such as the slaughter of animals. It is an interesting and sometimes frustrating line to walk!

    PS – sorry I haven’t had a chance to comment lately, but I have been lurking in the background enjoying your posts!


    • Stef says:

      Christine, it’s good to hear from you. No need to apologize for ‘lurking’; I understand you have had your hands full lately. I hope things are getting better for you.

      I agree that it can be an interesting, frustrating, difficult, and yet rewarding line to walk when we choose to engage, and try to do a part to help the world and our fellow citizens who share it with us. No easy answers…


  8. Pingback: Day 767 | Three Daily Delights

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