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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Giving the gift of love

As the great historian Douglas Adams once noted, many years ago a guy came around and said, "Hey! Wouldn't it be great if we were nice to each other once in a while?" Some people decided the answer was clearly "No" and nailed him to a tree.

Some of his friends hung around to find out if he'd become a zombie. We still monitor the guy's birthday every year -- without so much worry about zombies, and without nailing anyone to a tree -- as a way of being nice to other people.

It's coming around to that time of the year again, when we try to be nice to others. Last year, in an unexpected and perhaps unprecedented moment of decency, Uncle Rodrigo introduced us to, a Web site that coordinates microloans to small-sized entrepreneurs trying to do well.

So Uncle Rodrigo got started on Kiva himself, helping a shoe salesman in Mexico, to buy food scales for an Azerbaijani convenience store operator and to get an irrigation pump for a mother of three in Togo.

Meanwhile, dad started a loan last year in mom's honor. That loan, to a gentleman in Ecuador, helped a tailoring business build inventory and thus selection and the potential to make more products.

Today, dad got an e-mail that the tailor, Melecio Peñafiel, had just finished paying off his loan. He also finally got around to looking up the translation of the Spanish banker's comments, and found this translated hunk of Spanish:
Also the TIME magazine coat a news article of the microcompany of Melecio. Special gratefulness to Kiva.

Say what? Yep. Senor Peñafiel got himself into TIME magazine describing and an earlier loan to his business, which he paid off successfully (and this part of the reason dad picked him.) It's great reading. An excerpt:
When Melecio Penafiel wanted to expand his tailoring shop in Guayaquil, Ecuador, last May, he didn't go to the bank or ask his relatives for help. His seed money arrived via the Internet. Using the website a Bay Area software engineer named Nathan Folkert lent Penafiel the $500 he needed to buy two new sewing machines, fabrics and thread for higher-quality suits. Folkert has never met Penafiel but says making the loan "felt like I was giving him a shot at the American Dream."


Whatever its limitations, supporters of the microcredit sector say its power to help individuals is real. "Women who come out of poverty spend extra income on health care, housing or sending their children to school," says Gowher Rizvi, a former Ford Foundation exec who gave Grameen its first grant. "That's worthwhile if it's even one family." Back in Ecuador, Penafiel was able to pay back his loan five months later, and had a little left over to cover his six kids' school fees. It isn't quite the American Dream, but it's a start.

And, now, we're at a crossroads. Because Kiva is a loan, you get the money back (aside from a small, optional donation to cover expenses). We've got the whole of the original loan coming back, nearly $1,200. Sure, we could cash it in and spend it on hookers and blow basic household necessities, or we could invest it in another needy entrepreneur. Or two. Or three. Or, with a $25 minimum, we could invest in as many as 47 entrepreneurs. That's a lot of helping.

So, Dear Reader, we ask: Why don't you go surfing over to and find us some worthy investments? And, perhaps, keep in mind you can buy Kiva gift certificates, which make a worthy present -- and won't get anyone nailed to a tree.


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