Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Valentine's Day Loan-A-Thon

Good day friends, what better way to show some Love than by giving? Get ready for the team's first Loan-A-Thon, on Valentine's Day.

The idea is that during 48 hours around Valentine's Day, each member invest on at least one loan. If all 76 of us invest on at least one entrepreneur during the Loan-A-Thon, then we would add $1,900.00 to the team's loaned amount.

And this time, I'm throwing in a few goodies to motivate you. I just got five cool Kiva lanyards to give away to five members who make loans during the Loan-A-Thon.

Not enough you say? I hear you. I also got a superb Kiva Hat to be given away as well.

Each loan you invest in will entitle you to one 'ticket'. All tickets would go into a lottery to find the six lucky winners.

So, we have a Kiva hat as first prize and five Kiva Lanyards as second prize. Remember, the Loan-A-Thon is 17 days away, get ready!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Slate Magazine rates Kiva as the best microcredit charity

By the way, I got to know Kiva by reading this article...

A Good Run for Your Money
What's the best way to loan a poor entrepreneur $20?
By Jude Stewart
Posted Thursday, March 15, 2007, at 7:03 AM ET

Pardon me, turkey fans, but the real time for thanksgiving is bonus season. It's tough to muster gratitude in November, when you're entering the most hassle-heavy months of the year. Come March, though, the holiday horrors have faded, you've nearly broken the back of winter, and that Big Check is finally in the mail. Hallelujah! Pass the mustard! You'll be flush all through daffodil season—until tax time, at least.

We had a banner year in my household, so I resolved to share the take with some worthy charitable causes. Contrary to popular belief, this does not mean spreading my largesse further or wider. Numerous experts agree: It's most effective to give consistently to a few organizations than to spread your dough too thin—that way, you make more of a dent in the cause. Even worse, some charities sell the names of their small-potatoes donors to other charities. That's your thanks for tossing $10 a year to Save the Abused Monkeys: a flood of orangutan-related junk mail.

Since my charity bucks are limited and divvying them up isn't ideal, I'm aiming for a tight sweet spot: a small donation with real bang for the buck. When I read about microcredit—the practice of making tiny loans to poor people in the developing world so that they can start businesses and break out of poverty—it piqued my interest. And when the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh and its founder, Muhammad Yunus, won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for pioneering microcredit work, I was hooked. As an entrepreneur, I dig the idea of helping another jump-start her kitchen-supply business in Ghana. It also eliminates that pointless drop-in-a-bucket feeling to know this specific woman couldn't open her tamale stand without my $20—let alone the fact that when the loan is repaid, that $20 can get reinvested into another success story. (Truly the gift that keeps on giving.) Question is: Which microlenders cater to individual donors? And which is the most satisfying place to sink my dime?


Microcredit firms come in three flavors. First, there are thousands of grass-roots lenders, which administer loan programs locally in villages throughout the world. Second, there are what I'll call "aggregator foundations," which gather donor money and redistribute it to local programs they deem worthy. Those local programs make the actual loans to individual entrepreneurs, recycling the repaid funds into new projects later. The last type is your microcredit yenta: They match individual lenders with individual borrowers, Feed the Children-style. I focused only on players from the latter two categories, since they cater most to individual donors. I excluded faith-based lenders and the thousands of local lenders from my test as well.
I judged all players by three criteria:

User Experience (10 points).
Was it convenient and easy to make my payment? Could I split up my payment or reinvest my lent funds automatically? (Keep in mind that making a loan is not tax-deductible, because it's eventually paid back. An irrevocable donation to a foundation, however, is usually tax-deductible.) How well could I navigate the Web site to find an intriguing, worthy business to fund? Upon completion, how badly did I want to tell the world what I'd done so they could try it, too?

Trust (10 points).
Since microcredit is just going mainstream, these organizations were mostly new to me. I measured trust by years in business and third-party endorsements like four-star Charity Navigator ratings, plugs in major press outlets, or awards (one point for each, four points maximum). I also took note of efficiencies in fund-raising and administrative costs (how many cents of every donated dollar the charity devotes to the cause itself vs. operating expenses), as
well as any mention of the percentage of borrowers who are able to pay back their loans.

Effectiveness (15 points).
Measuring whether my money makes a difference is crucial but difficult. Do I get the project detail I need to evaluate the project/borrower? Do they offer results data later? Are there any stats for repeat loans for borrowers, indicating business growth? Can I connect directly with my borrower or a program manager?

The results, from worst to first:


Prosper is basically eBay for small loans. Say your Aunt Tabitha launches a business knitting leg warmers. Prosper offers her a chance to quickly borrow the capital she needs from other individuals, in a way designed to get her a competitively low interest rate on her loan. Here's how: Tabitha enters a loan request online at Prosper, including the amount she wants to borrow and the interest rate she wants to pay. Before her loan request goes public, Prosper checks her credit score so that prospective lenders can make sure she's legit. Lenders, in turn, register at Prosper, transfer money into their Prosper accounts, and then search the site for loans they'd like to fund. When the Flashdance fans find Tabitha's business, they can lend any amount they want, from $50 to the total loan amount. Just like a hot item on eBay, competing lenders can lend money at a lower interest rate than she asked for. As they compete, Tabitha's loan costs drop. At the same time, lenders benefit by earning interest on loans they make.

It's a good idea. And Prosper connects only Americans, so you naturally get better credit-worthiness data than you get for any Third World borrower. But Prosper's problem is garbage-in, garbage-out: too many people paying off credit-card bills and funding blowout weddings. (Wonder what type of business she's starting.)

Sifting through this garbage, and the fact that they don't accept credit cards or PayPal, made lending on Prosper less than pleasurable. While I did decide to provide inventory financing for a nice guy manufacturing infant mattresses, for all the hassle, I crave more of a change-the-world feeling.

User Experience: 6 (out of 10)
Trust: 5 (out of 10)
Effectiveness: 5 (out of 15)
Total: 16 (out of 35)


The current hot-potato debate in the microcredit world is whether microlenders should seek a profit to self-sustain or stay committed to their nonprofit roots. That issue isn't irrelevant to small donors, but it's most pressing to big-time philanthropists and global banks eager to promote their favored approach. (My short list will probably reveal my left-of-center bias: I like my charities fiscally responsible but also clearly charitable.)

If you prefer the for-profit approach to microlending, check out South America-focused Acción. Acción extended the world's first microloan in Brazil in 1973. In the mid-1990s, it shifted to a commercial model, in ideological opposition to its sister-competitor in the region, Pro Mujer, which remains not-for-profit.

You can donate any amount you want via credit card online, but you don't get any say as to where your donation goes. I dropped my $20, collected my friendly thank-you e-mail and tax-deduction receipt letter, and that was that. For those excited by finance-speak, the site offers ample stats and reports, but I was seeking some feedback on the human level.

Acción International does boast a consistent four-star Charity Navigator rating, and the organization's longevity makes it worthy of a good effectiveness score—they must be making a difference after all these years. But I found Acción's hypercorporate feel, plus the lack of say-so on my money's use, troubling. Is my $20 funding MonstroBank's foray into usury in Guatemala? I wanted reassurance to the contrary, or at least the chance to steer my contribution away from that.

User Experience: 6
Trust: 7
Effectiveness: 12
Total: 25

Trickle Up

A midsized aggregator since 1979, Trickle Up sells the concept of microcredit arguably better than its peers. It leads with specific entrepreneurs' stories, a remarkably simple but effective way to motivate lenders. It's illuminating to hear what kinds of businesses one can start for a few hundred bucks—raising pigs, making bricks—and what bumps entrepreneurs may suffer along the way. Trickle Up provides what it calls "risk-free conditional seed capital in the form of a grant," so technically speaking, it's a donation you don't get back, but it monitors the return on those funds as closely as if it were a loan.

Donating is straightforward, if basic. (Trickle Up also accepts donations as low as $5, even by credit card, which is a nice little-guy gesture.) While you don't have much say in where your money goes, I didn't feel as much need to micromanage: Its commitment to the businesses' effectiveness rings true, as does its practice of releasing grant money in increments while a business proves itself. Eighty-one percent of Trickle Up entrepreneurs depend on their new business as their primary source of income, and most report substantial gains in their family's nutrition, education, and sense of financial security. Effectiveness stats like that, plus the organization's respectable history and highly efficient budget—86 cents of every dollar goes toward making loans—add to Trickle Up's credibility.

User Experience: 8
Trust: 8
Effectiveness: 12
Total: 28

Global Giving

Started by ex-World Bankers, this matcher categorizes its offerings so that you can find the cause that's right for you. Those interested in, say, "economic development" can contribute to projects ranging from safety training and English lessons for Nepalese sherpas, to carpet-weaving equipment and supplies in Afghanistan. Global Giving takes 10 percent of your payment for its operating expenses, but some of that 10 percent also returns to you in the way of meaty project information: a project overview, including e-mailable project contacts; detail on the local lender; regular progress reports; an estimate of what your payment amount will buy for the project. You can't beat that kind of accountability.

Global Giving scored high on all three criteria, although all those numbers-heavy reports misled me into thinking I was making a loan, not a donation. I funded a program that trains battered women in Brazil to make and sell traditional Brazilian dolls; only when I'd paid up (credit cards, PayPal, or check) did I realize this was a tax-deductible gift. Global Giving's very solid offering would work just as effectively to make person-to-person microloans; I'd love to see them focus on that more.

User Experience: 8
Trust: 8
Effectiveness: 13
Total: 29

Grameen Foundation

The Mack Daddy of microcredit, Grameen pioneered the solidarity-circle model used by many microlenders: A group of borrowers guarantee each other's loans—if one woman can't pay back her loan, the others have pledged to cover her—and meet regularly to brainstorm and participate in job training and self-esteem courses. The social pressure keeps default rates low and builds interconnected networks of entrepreneurs in each locality.

Trust-wise, Grameen has a four-star Charity Navigator rating three years running and universal press acclaim—and that Nobel Prize its founder won doesn't hurt, either. On the effectiveness front, however, I craved an opportunity to direct my donation and wanted more feedback once I had parted with my money. Then again, maybe I should just trust the World Bank: It claims microcredit, thanks to Grameen, accounts for a full 40 percent of the reduction in moderate poverty in rural Bangladesh. While I thrill more to the idea of lending to an individual than giving to a big foundation, if you're going with a big gun, Grameen is microcredit's clear leader.

User Experience: 6
Trust: 10
Effectiveness: 13
Total: 29


Finally: microlending as I'd imagined it. Kiva (agreement or unity in Swahili) lets lenders choose from individual borrowers, who are vetted internationally by local microlenders. Started as a side project in 2004 by a married couple, neither the lender nor Kiva takes a cut of the interest, saving it all for the local lender to administer to the borrowers day-to-day.

The organization gets strong marks for both usability and payment options (all credit cards, plus PayPal); you can fund loans partially, although the minimum payment is $25. I funded Madam Elizabeth Lomotey in her kitchen-supply business in Ghana and was surprised to see pictures of my fellow lenders next to mine.

Kiva's weakness is the cursory business-plan descriptions: You're really trusting the judgment of the local lender more than the plan itself. I can overlook this, though, given the high number of descriptions local lenders seem to have to write on behalf of the borrowers. Other perks? You're alerted via e-mail every time another loan payment comes in, and it's fun to check back on your lender and review his or her journal entries. (Sadly, Madam Lomotey is a taciturn one; other borrowers and their local loan managers get more chatty.) All that's missing is information on the borrowers' previous loans, which could indicate an expanding business.

Kiva combines online community with microlending in a way that's truly exciting. It's remarkably compelling to see your borrower face to face—you can even contact them via their local lender rep. Given Kiva's shoestring budget, it's a strong start.

User Experience: 10
Trust: 8
Effectiveness: 12
Total: 30

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What You Don't Know About Mexico

By Maggie Van Ostrand

It's been a while since the U.S. media has said anything about Mexico except giving the low-down on drug cartels, illegal immigration, and kidnappings. Negativity sells newspapers and sends traffic to media websites because nobody reads a publication that headlines "Plane Lands Safely." Common sense tells the intelligent reader that there must be another side to the story of what Mexicans are like. You're right. Here are a few true stories to help balance media negativity.


A storm of California wildfires, over 2,000 of them, have been especially ferocious this year. On and on our brave firefighters fought against nearly impossible odds, with new infernos continually blazing, unusually high temperatures in the bone-dry State, and the most savage enemy of the firefighter: wind.

Firefighters continued, exhausted, without sleep or rest, to protect our citizens and our resources. More than 870,000 acres, or 1,350 square miles, have been consumed making the crisis the largest in the State's history. One hundred structures were destroyed, one person perished.

What hasn't received much publicity is Mexico's help in combating the blazes. Mexican firefighters arrived in California to relieve ours even before those from Australia, Greece, and New Zealand.


There was a time in history when Mexico was accused by a U.S. NAFTA-opposed politician of making "giant sucking sounds." Well, folks, the giant noises that came from Mexico during the Katrina tragedy were not giant sucking sounds, they were giant rumbling sounds, and they came from a Mexican Army convoy driving north to help the U.S. in its time of crisis.

As water rose over the rooftops of New Orleans, the Mexican Army prepared to do battle on our behalf. For the first time since 1846, Mexican military units operated on U.S. soil, as Mexican Army trucks and tractor trailers convoyed north, with Mexican flags taped to the roof tops of the 45 vehicles.

These vehicles, manned by 200 soldiers, officers and specialists, carried water treatment plants, mobile kitchens and supplies to feed the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The convoy included military engineers, doctors, nurses, two mobile kitchens that could feed 7,000 people each per day, three flatbed trucks carrying mobile water treatment plants, and 15 trailers of bottled water, blankets and applesauce. Burritos on the side.

Last time Mexican troops were on U.S. soil (1846), they advanced north of the Rio Grande in Texas (which had recently joined the United States). Mexico, however, did not then recognize the Rio Grande as the U.S. border. There are those who say it still doesn't.

In 1916, Pancho Villa led a group of fighters in a brief raid into Columbus, New Mexico, in what is considered the last battle against foreign forces on U.S. soil. Apparently, nobody is counting Taliban terrorist cells in the U.S.

Mexico planned a second 12-vehicle aid convoy together with a Mexican navy ship steaming toward the Mississippi coast with rescue vehicles and helicopters.

The Mexicans set up consular offices in trailers around the disaster zone to help their estimated 140,000 countrymen living in the region, 10,000 of them in New Orleans. In addition, help was offered by a search-and-rescue group called "topos" -- (moles) -- organized by youths who dug through collapsed buildings after Mexico City's 1985 earthquake.

"This is the first time that the United States has accepted a military mission from Mexico" for such work, said Javier Ibarrola, a newspaper columnist who covers military affairs in Mexico. "This is something that's never happened before."

Then-President Fox of Mexico had not waited for Senate approval to help us. In an act of solidarity between our two nations, he was strong enough to give an order without wading through red tape.

In the words of the New Orleans flood survivor who was helping reunite lost children with their parents, "When you help someone else out, you help the world."


An ace flier is defined as a fighter pilot who has destroyed five or more enemy aircraft. Charlie Foster was a World War II ace with the 201st Fighter Squadron. What's more, Charlie's heroism beyond the call of duty netted him a Mexican Congressional Medal of Honor.

Yet no one made a movie about Charlie Foster, the way they did about Audie Murphy, a famed Medal of Honor-winning World War II hero, in To Hell and Back. No HBO miniseries about Charlie was made by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg the way they made Band of Brothers, the one about WW II's 101st Airborne Division's Easy Company. No Hollywood studio made an Oscar winning film about the 201st, as they did about the Civil War's first all-black volunteer company in 1989's Glory. But in its way, Charlie's tale is as special as those famous stories of heroic actions.

What makes Charlie's story unique is that his real name isn't Charlie Foster, it's Carlos Faustinos, a Mexican citizen. Carlos fought beside American airmen in the Pacific Theater and was a member of the elite Esquadron Aereo de Caza 201, also known as the Fighting 201st.

Not only did this information surprise me, but so did the fact that Mexico declared war on the Axis powers on June 11, 1942. Imagine that. Can't you just see kind, agricultural Mexico declaring war on the Big Bad Wolves Hirohito, Mussolini and Hitler? But Mexico did indeed declare war, and they put their men where their collective mouth was.

It was at that time Mexico organized the 201st Fighter Squadron, a select group of Mexican pilots, including Carlos Faustinos. Thirty-five officers and 300 enlisted men were trained in Mexico, then given additional flight training as P-47 fighter squadron at Pocatello Army Air Base in Idaho, and were then attached to the 58th Fighter Group in the Philippines where they began combat operations. They wiped out machine gun nests, dropped 181 tons of bombs and fired 153,000 rounds of ammunition, acquitting themselves well and bravely. Seven of their pilots were killed in action.

The Fighting 201st wasn't the only heroic group of Mexicans. In a town called Silvis, just west of Chicago, runs a street once named Second Street. It's not much of a street, not even two blocks long, muddy in spring, icy in winter, dusty in summer. On this single street, 105 men participated in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. It's the street where Joe Gómez, Peter Macías, Johnny Muños, Tony Pompa, Claro Solíz, and Frank, Joseph, and William Sandoval grew up together. They worked for the railroad, like their fathers who had emigrated from Mexico. These young men, raised to revere freedom, went to war without hesitation.

The two Sandoval families alone sent thirteen; six from one family; seven from the other. According to the U.S. Defense Department, this little street contributed more men to military service than any other place of comparable size in the United States, standing alone in American military history.

In a letter to Frank Sandoval, Claro Solíz described Second Street as ". . . Really not much, just mud and ruts, but right now to me it is the greatest street in the world." He never saw it again. Not one of these boys came home alive.

In honor of their supreme sacrifice, a monument listing the name of each man now stands in Silvis, Illinois. Second Street has been officially renamed Hero Street USA. Next time you're in the mid West, you might want to visit this street of heroes just to say thank you.

Maybe these stories weren't sensational enough to be covered by the media, but they happened just the same.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Small Things Challenge

Make sure you participate on the Small Things challenge. This is a combined effort by Kiva, Intel and Save the Children. All you have to do is visit this page and click! Just like that:


Thursday, January 8, 2009

December Stats

Well, 2008 is gone and we are a few days into 2009. There is no question that our team "Para Mexico" is a success and the growth in terms of amount loaned, entrepreneours helped and number of members has been beyond everyone's expectations. Let's keep this great pace for the new year and keep helping out one microloan at at time.

Our membership grew up by 22% in December. Welcome to our newest members: carmen, Michael and Louisito, Jorge, Mauricio, Leonor, Veronica, monica, karen, Xamarante, Fabian, Ronny, Celia, Karencita, Aimee and Marcia.

Most of our members are in the USA, followed by Mexico and Canada. And we have our first member from Australia, Aimee.

I really thought the loaned amount would be stagnant during December, due to the current economical climate and the Holidays, however many of you decided it was a good idea to invest on kiva during this Christmas season. Kudos to you'all!! There is certainly no better way to raise spirits than to give. Our total loaned grew a whopping 53.19% during December!!! Congratulations, what a great effort!

Most of the loans are going to Mexico, followed by other latinamerican countries such as Peru, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Dominican Republic. We have many loans going to countries in the African Continent as well, some others to Central Asia and Cambodia, and just one going to Eastern Europe and another to Oceania.

Impact within the Kiva community (out of 4120 kiva lending teams):
Loans: 165-----Ranking: 86 (+1 from previous month)
Total Loaned: $5,400.00-----Ranking: 82
Members: 72-----Ranking: 57