Thursday, December 27, 2007

Microlending: Turn a Profit While Doing Good

Muhammad Yunus, winner of last year's Noble Peace Prize and founder of The Grameen Bank, lived amongst the poorest of the poor in Bangladesh, where he worked as an Economics professor in 1974. He wanted to see how he could best help this growing group of famished people, out of an unrelenting guilt that wouldn't let up after the number of starving seemed to increase all around him and he literally saw people dying right in front of him.

Muhannad Yunus decided to let those, in the process of perishing or suffering severely from hunger, teach him the best way to help them out of this nonexistence.

He started offering them tiny loans for self-employment. These microloans provided them the opportunity to start generating their own income based on the skills they already had. Now his microlending program serves 2.5 million people in more than one hundred countries spanning five continents.

In the beginning, the bulk of the money used in microlending has come from philanthropic groups but pension fund giant TIAA-CREF, and other millionaires, investors and institutions are pointing micro-finance toward a more commercialized route providing a way for lenders to get a steady return on capital and practice social responsibility at the same time.

Micro-finance loans earn relatively competitive interest rate of return, approximately 5-7 percent and loan repayment for micro finance is over 97%!! Yet, only four percent of the demand for micro finance is being met right now, according to MicroCapital. The problem seems to be that technology is not available to track and account for loans to meet the huge demand. IBM has launched a new partnership with CARE that promises to change all that in the very near future.

Micro-financing is where we should invest our money. There is a wide-open market in need and now that the technology will soon be available, there is little excuse not to lend. It sure beats investing in sub prime mortgages.

“While Americans gave record sums to charity last year, some are finding that loaning their money can be altruistic as well... The basic idea is to make small, short-term "microloans" to impoverished entrepreneurs who don't otherwise have access to capital -- helping improve their businesses and therefore their lives.”-- Wall Street Journal

Kiva -- an innovative way of allowing people around the world to make loans. Everyday people can act as banks, and make a loan of as little as $25 over the Internet. puts potential 'social investors' in touch with small businesses in the developing world, which promise to send e-mail updates on how the business is developing.

ZanaNetwork -- Small and mid-sized businesses that need a small infusion of capital can now apply for micro loans. The loans, which range from $5,000 to $25,000, can be delivered in as little as three days, the company says.

ACCION International -- ACCION International is a private, nonprofit organization with the mission of giving people the financial tools they need – microenterprise loans, business training and other financial services – to work their way out of poverty.

FINCA International -- Provides financial services to the world's lowest-income entrepreneurs so they can create jobs, build assets and improve their standard of living.

Grameen Foundation USA -- Support microfinance programs that enable the poor, mostly women, to lift themselves out of poverty and make better lives for their families. To do this, Grameen Foundation partners with a worldwide network of microfinance institutions.

TechnoServe -- having received Charity Navigator's top rating for two straight years, TechnoServe helps entrepreneurial men and women in poor rural areas of the developing world to build businesses that create income, opportunity and economic growth for their families, their communities and their countries.

"The starving people did not chant any slogans. They did not demand anything from us well-fed city folk. They simply lay down very quietly on our doorsteps and waited to die.

There are many ways for people to die, but somehow dying of starvation is the most unacceptable of all. It happens in slow motion. Second by second, the distance between life and death becomes smaller and smaller, until the two are in such close proximity that one can hardly tell the difference. Like sleep, death by starvation happens so quietly, so inexorably, one does not even sense it happening. And all for lack of a handful of rice at each meal. In this world of plenty, a tiny baby, who does not yet understand the mystery of the world, is allowed to cry and cry and finally fall asleep without the milk she needs to survive. The next day she may not have the strength to continue living. -- Muhammad Yunus"


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