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Giving back

Business Week publishes an annual issue on philanthropy. This year's issue, recently released, contained an article about the founder of eBay, Pierre Omidyar, who has co-founded a philanthropic organization - http://www.omidyar.net/ - that seeks to empower individuals to make change by funding organizations and projects that facilitate this. Their partners include SourceForge.net, Socialtext wiki software, and some campaigns seeking to empower young and low-income people to vote.

Another couple of projects focus on something called "micro-finance" or "micro-credit," which is making small loans available to individuals in poverty, so they can start and run small businesses and thus improve their financial situation. One of these is Grameen Foundation USA (http://www.gfusa.org/), whose mission is "to empower the world's poorest people to lift themselves out of poverty with dignity through access to financial services and to information."

I'm increasingly convinced that some social change is going to have to come through political struggle and large organizations of people banding together to demand that governments and large organizations stop abusing and exploiting them.

But, having grown up in a culture which taught that if you educate yourself, work hard, and are financially responsible, you have a good chance of becoming successful enough to be comfortable and to use your influence to help others, and also being aware that having some money helps a heck of a lot when one has a goal of making more money, I'm attracted to the notion of micro-credit. What I don't know is whether in today's world (which I perceive as full of large heartless entities trying to exploit everything they can get their hands on) it really works to reduce poverty, and whether reducing poverty by helping individuals run and grow businesses also eventually helps reduce poverty in those individuals' communities.

I wonder if anyone reading this has any additional knowledge about micro-credit in general or about Grameen Foundation in specific.

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
red_frog
Nov. 22nd, 2004 11:59 pm (UTC)
Sideline
I don't know anything about Grameen. However, Joe, I noticed that the Nature Conservancy was on your short list. Not trying to talk you out of anything, but I wondered if you'd seen the series that the Washington Post did on its business practices and the follow-up with the IRS. If you have not, I think you might find it interesting. The NC changed its accountability structure, but I haven't seen much on specifics or how that's going.
caprine
Nov. 22nd, 2004 11:41 pm (UTC)
I have read some articles on Grameen in, I believe, the UTNE Reader. I got the impression that it was effective in improving the lives of its borrowers, their families, and their communities.
karenkay
Nov. 23rd, 2004 01:39 am (UTC)
I've heard a fair amount about this particular bank over the years--since it was founded--and all of it was good. The stories are quite amazing, because they seem to be able to do so much with so little. I think it really does work, but it's all on a micro level.

One of the contract I had last year was writing procedures for a payday loan business. I was shocked to find out that most of their customers make $35-75K. But you can't get more than $500 from a payday loan, and the interest rate is exorbitant. What kind of society do we live in? Grameen could do a lot with $500.

Speaking of which, I know people involved in Socialtext, also, coincidentally.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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