Center for Science, Technology, and Society, News page
Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012
I have visited Kenya twice in the last six years. In 2005 after high school, I worked for six months with the social enterprise Komaza, based in Kilifi, Kenya. Komaza uses an innovative micro-forestry design to fight rural poverty. There I developed an inexpensive home water filter made of clay painted with colloidal silver, an effective anti-microbial. During this time I lived in the town of Kilifi and worked in the large city Mombasa, and so I was exposed to urban and sub-urban cultures. On this recent trip, I was most interested in the rural culture of the Giriama tribe in Ganze district; about 1 hour’s drive inland from Kilifi.
The Giriama in Ganze have a strikingly different lifestyle to mine, and very different to urban Kenyans as well. As complex and vibrant as their culture is, I would try to interpret and understand the photos I received by organizing their culture into sub-groups such as food, water, technology, home, school, work, friends, family, etc. Many of the photos I received can be classified into just a few of these large categories. I have chosen those I share here for their prevalence in the photos I received.
All photos posted in these blogs were taken by rural Kenyan high school students.
Giriama Food: Ugali is the staple food in much of Kenya. It is pounded cornmeal cooked with water until it reaches a stiff mashed potato-like texture, and it is in just about every meal a person in Ganze eats. Women pound corn into this meal for hours in large mortar-pestle constructions. Most families in Ganze grow their own corn to make ugali, while other crops may be grown to sell. While high in starch and therefore good energy in terms of calories provided, a diet of ugali with little else can still cause deficiencies and malnutrition. While it can be a bit bland on its own, its firm texture makes it very filling. It is picked up by hand in little balls, which are used for grabbing vegetables, chili peppers, meat and fish, or whatever the family may be eating. Ugali is also mixed with water to make a refreshing porridge for kids.
Giriama Home: A traditional Giriama home is cozy, well insulated, and can cost $300-500 dollars to make; building poles are sometimes foraged for, but often bought from town. The poles are inserted into deep holes in the ground and tied into a structure. Clay mud is inserted between the poles, and palm fronds are made into a “makuti” roof, which can be made or purchased. Unfortunately, because of rain, heat, and rot, makuti has to be replaced approximately every five years, just as the mud huts themselves have to be occasionally reconstructed and renovated. Sometimes granaries or fire pits are built into huts, and walls can be decorated with magazine clippings and tinsel.
Giriama Cool: I was very interested in what makes a student cool or “poa” at school. The amount of Western and American influence on Giriama youth and popular culture is amazing. While they appreciate traditional Giriama song and dance, students often prefer American rap and hip-hop. Omar is a self-proclaimed freestyle rapper (Swahili and English) although I never got to hear his work. He and the others took many photos of “poa” hand-shakes, gang signs, and poses, all of which I imagine have been imported here by radio, magazine clippings, mobile phones, and word of mouth. Pants are dropped, collars are popped, non-functioning clear sunglasses are bought, and the look is complete. At the coolest high school parties in the middle of the bush, kids drink palm wine and dance to Tupac and Beyoncé.
Posted by Kieran Howard (Guest Post) |
Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012
Before the trip I was feeling a little nervous to go to another country that I never been before. I’ve only been in the US and Mexico, and I wasn't sure what to expect. I kept reminding myself that everything would go smoothly as long as I came prepared. I've traveled alone before and I’ve gone to a rural community in Puebla, Mexico about two years ago - so as long as I remembered to pack light, bring a flash light and bug spray, I should be off to a good start. It wasn’t until I got to the airport that I began to feel excited and so thankful my group and I were given this opportunity to visit our project location.
As soon as I arrived to my home-stay, I was a little anxious since I didn't think I was going to be staying with a family alone (the others were assigned to different homes) and my Spanish is not the greatest. But as soon as I walked in the door, Reina and Areli (the mother and daughter) graciously welcomed me. The father and the 2 brothers were a little quiet at first, but after I sat down, we all began to talk.
Although I have experienced my fair share of bucket showers during my Puebla trip, using a latrine was definitely a new thing for me. It seemed to be like a portable restroom, however, with more flies. It is also not as confined as a portable restroom, so other creepy crawlers can easily enter. And of course, a latrine doesn't move until the six foot hole is almost full. The first time I used the latrine was the evening I arrived. Reina guided me through the dark to find the seat and then closed the door to let me be. Since I couldn't really see anything, my first nervous impression of the latrine was to not sit on the seat unless I want to risk falling in. I realized the next day it is quite impossible since the seat opening is not wide enough.
After experiencing the life in Sabana Grande for four days and conducting oral surveys with about 10 families, I learned that this community is definitely in need of a better sanitation system more than a water distribution system. The good news is that the families do not have to walk far to pump water from the well to their homes. The bad news is that this community is limited to the amount of space for single pit latrines and of course the people of Sabana Grande would like to use a better form of a toilet. I really did appreciate the fact that the current volunteers and the organization Grupo Fenix are doing so much to keep the communities as sustainable as possible while trying to improve the standard of living. If we were to create a running tap to each home as we initially planned for our senior design project, Susan explained that it could potentially lead to the abuse of water, which many developed countries face today. Now, it is our main goal to design an improvement to the current sanitation system as well as develop a water resource recovery component to maintain the sustainability within this community.
"Wealth is not the good which we are trying to find, for it is only useful, i.e., it is a means to something else." -Aristotle
The people of Nicaragua do not have wealth in a monetary sense, but they have the means to acquire the ends which they seek. They work as a community to be self-sufficient, which is something the US lacks. Most go without internet, proper tools, and proper education of the things they would like to accomplish. But united, they are fearless. They are willing to risk failure because they have no other choice but to try. What they don't know or can't do is not an issue because they are willing to stumble until they have accomplished what they desire. From the time I first arrived in Managua to the time I left Sabana Grande, I have seen their strength, passion, and self-sufficiency. It is inspiring. I only hope I will have the courage to return to this beautiful place and be a part of adding to the "social wealth" that they already have so much of.
As I prepared to go to Nicaragua, I knew that I was going to a place where poverty was prevalent. However, the actual conditions were worse than I had originally imagined. The bus drive from Managua to Sabana Grande seemed to go on forever, but we finally arrived. As we got there I noticed that there were no lights, making it extremely difficult to walk because I could not see where I was going, or where I was stepping. The people there, on the other hand, were very used to it and were walking with ease through the darkness. After a couple minutes of walking, we had to separate as we each left with our host family. There were no paths, lots of rocks, and many areas that had eroded away because of the previous rainfall season which flooded the community. After what seemed to be a long time, we arrived at the house. I noticed that lighting in the house was very minimal. There were also no bathrooms; they use latrines instead. And in order to shower, I had to use cold water from a bucket.
As the week progressed we learned about the community and took down as much data as possible. We learned that the community of Sabana Grande wishes to become more modern. One of the biggest concerns of the community was a feeling of being technologically behind with their eco-friendly practices. For example, they make adobe houses using old building techniques that they find extremely outdated. This makes them feel like they are not keeping up with modern societies.
As our trip to Sabana Grande concluded and we headed back home, I pondered about our trip. I thought about the experience and the people there. The week went by really fast because we had a lot to do, and in a way I am glad that it went by so quickly because I am not used to their lifestyle. I feel foolish and selfish for not being able to adjust. I realized that sometimes, we don’t appreciate what we have readily available and take everything for granted. On a daily basis we are too busy to stop for a second and think about what we have. Here, we have light readily available, a nice sanitation system, and a warm shower while others live in complete darkness during the night, have to dig holes in the ground for fecal human waste, and have to take cold showers regardless of the temperature outside, among other things. The community of Sabana Grande is in need, and it is my hope that our team comes up with an appropriate and feasible design for this community. The trip to Nicaragua was an eye-opening experience and if all goes well, it would be wonderful to find funds and actually implement a successful design in the community.
It is always intimidating to go to a new country, especially for me since I have a minor phobia of flying. But before this trip, I was really nervous and contemplating whether or not I should go because I didn't know what to expect. This was my first time traveling alone in the sense that I wasn't traveling with any of my family members, and I always expect the worst. You only hear about the bad things about a country in Central America because that is the only thing that people see or hear from the media. In addition to that, people warned me to be careful, watch my wallet, to not wear any jewelry, and to try not to stand out. In the end, despite all of the negative things I heard, I put my faith in God that everything would turn out okay and left to Nicaragua with my group.
Upon arriving in Nicaragua, I couldn't help but notice that it looked a lot like Mexico, except poverty was more prominent in this country. While we were waiting for the bus that was going to take us to Sabana Grande, I noticed that many of the people were staring at us. Everywhere we walked people turned to look, but it was because we obviously didn't look like we were local. No matter where we went, I always tried to speak in Spanish because I felt a little strange speaking in English and also so people knew I could understand and speak Spanish as well. As we got on the bus, I was glad we were able to reserve some seats because a bus may have enough room for about 60 people, but many more get in and ride the bus for hours standing up. The bus is the main form of transportation for many people over there and it is not the most comfortable ride. It is usually very packed, it is sometimes difficult to get in and out at the stops, and people usually have to stand until a seat is available. For me it was not a pleasant experience being on the bus, but the people over there seemed satisfied and content to use this form of transportation.
Once we got to the community, we met the families that were going to host us for the week. They were very welcoming and showed us where we were going to sleep. The room was not very inviting; it had concrete walls, the beds had mosquito nets that covered them, and there were spiders and other insects on the wall. At first I was a little shocked because I’m not used to sleeping with so many insects surrounding me, but I learned to deal with it and accept what my living situation was going to be like for a week.
Many of women in Nicaragua have to make about 10-15 trips a day to bring buckets of water to use at their household. They have to use cold buckets of water to shower outside and in order to go to the bathroom, they have to use a latrine. Over here in the United States, we are privileged to have easy access to everyday necessities for example a shower, faucet, and a toilet. We take all of these things for granted because they come so easy to us; we don't have to do any work to receive them. But what we don't realize is how lucky we really are to live in a place like the United States because many people around the world do not have access to clean, potable water. And because we take our everyday necessities for granted, we tend to waste more of our natural resources. People here are more inclined to leave the water running, take long showers, and waste more food. While in Nicaragua, I was really careful on finishing everything that was served to me, because if I left anything on the plate, I would feel terrible because several people over there barely have food to eat. Most of us over here are very fortunate to be able to enjoy a meal every day and we shouldn't be wasteful; we should all appreciate what we have. This was a lesson that my dad has been trying to teach me for years because he came from a poor community in Mexico, and it didn't really hit me until I got back from Nicaragua. I wish people had the opportunity to visit a country like Nicaragua to open their eyes and be grateful for the things we have over here.
That whole week was an amazing experience that I would never forget. Everyone in the community was very kind and willing to help us on our project. Their way of life is very different from our way of life over here in the United States. They don't have much but they are okay with the essentials in life: food, water, and a family. I couldn't help but feel spoiled because it would be hard for me to adapt to their way of life. Since we went around the holidays, the family we stayed with decided to decorate a little bit, this year. The mom went to that main city to buy a strand of Christmas lights. Seeing the look on the little kids and the rest of the family when the lights were turned on was priceless; they were all in awe. I don't believe the kids were going to receive much for Christmas, but they seemed content with the simple decorations that went up and they appeared to put more importance on spending that time with the family than anything else. I felt spoiled at that moment because I remember in past years, I would ask for several presents during Christmas. This year I did not ask for anything because I felt like I already had everything: great family, great friends, I am currently attending a good school, food, water, and health. To me that is the definition of being wealthy.
Posted by Lizzie Mercado, Kyle Magazu, Hilda Garcia, and Agustine Perez |
Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2012
According to the World Vision website, "more than 75 percent of Cambodian children enroll in primary school, with more girls enrolling in the past decade. However, a majority of children repeat grades, taking an average of 10 years to complete their primary education. According to UNICEF, less than half of all students complete primary school. Only 24 percent of boys and 21 percent of girls are enrolled in secondary school, with completion rates much lower than that."
GSBI alum Kamworks has a mission, "to provide Sustainable solar solutions for off-grid communities. Knowing that about 80% of the Cambodian population are living in the rural areas and have no access to an electricity grid, solar electricity could be an economical and clean solution for these people."
One of their biggest issues right now is lack of awarenss about solar energy. According to their website, "market research shows that only about 10% of the rural people in Cambodia know the concept of solar energy."
Monday, Dec. 19, 2011
bushes on the slopes of Mt. Elgon, a large and solitary volcano in East Africa, yield red-ripe cherries making their way as Fairtrade
coffee beans to western markets and major coffeehouses such as Starbucks. Smallholder farmers will soon receive a bonus of cash for their crops. The good news is that the price of coffee this harvest season in Uganda
is likely to rise due to heavy rains earlier this year that limited the crop size.
There’s little incentive for the farmers to save any of that cash influx, however. Village banks are few and far between; moreover, they charge account maintenance and transaction fees that rapidly sip away the meager income. Moreover, with rampant inflation in Uganda and devaluation of the shilling, it’s a pretty sure bet that their hard-earned money will be worth less tomorrow than it is today. Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo describe how the poor save without banks in their recently published Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty, often “brick by brick.” The poor want to invest in something that has future value – just like everyone else on the planet.
We witnessed this paradigm last week on a visit to Mt. Elgon with the CEO of Solar Sister
(GSBI ’11) Katherine Lucey, and her amazing team of women entrepreneurs. “We” included myself; Social Benefit Operations Director Sherrill Dale (for those who don’t know Sherrill, she’s the one who makes our signature Global Social Benefit Incubator program happen); Chair of the Center’s Advisory Board Jeff Miller; and his incredible wife, Karen. We’d arrived on Mt. Elgon after visiting other GSBI alums ToughStuff
(GSBI ’09) and KopoKopo
(GSBI ’11) in Nairobi, and re:char
(GSBI ’10) in Bungoma, about a 10 hour drive from Nairobi across the Great Rift Valley. Crossing into Uganda and reaching our base at Sipi Falls was another day’s journey.
Solar Sister is an amazing social enterprise by any standard. Already employing 177 women and affording them economic opportunity through an Avon-style sales model, the team strives to bring “light, hope and opportunity to even the most remote communities in rural Africa.” They are succeeding, and though their goal of scaling to 5,000 sisters in 5 countries within 5 years sounds ambitious, they may well exceed it.
Each Solar Sister carries a bag of products matched to different market needs in their sales territories. In the bag are ToughStuff’s affordable, modular solar-powered energy products including lighting, mobile phone chargers, and a D-battery form factor device that powers radios with the flexible solar panel module. These are the top three uses of electricity for the poor, with TVs next on the list. Also in the bag is Angaza Design’s (GSBI ’11) super-bright, sleek solar-powered lantern that lights up a typical single-room home for an average family of 7.
The ToughStuff radio-powering device is a big hit; we all like entertainment! And many purchasers of mobile phone chargers create microenterprises that provide their communities more affordable, and sustainable, ways to charge their mobile phones, critical given the information access and services now enabled by mobile technologies. (The power of mobile is well recognized within Africa with organizations such as iHub
in Nairobi fostering mobile innovation. Read more...
Lifeline Energy (GSBI ’04) CEO Kristine Pearson’s excellent blog on the burning issue of kerosene use
set the context for the contrast between those who had invested in solar powered lighting and those who had not. At the nearest town’s fuel station, we saw lines of young children filling empty 500 ml plastic bottles with clear kerosene at nearly 3000 shillings per liter, a huge fraction of the average daily income on Mt. Elgon. It wasn’t at all hard to imagine the picture Kristine had painted of an even younger child drinking the kerosene as if it were a beverage. Nor was it difficult to see how the lack of light hindered learning and damaged health.
The villagers we visited with Solar Sister had different stories to tell. They had invested in solar lights after receiving a bolus of income – it doesn’t come weekly or biweekly, but seasonally, perhaps after the coffee harvest. They were reaping the economic benefits of not purchasing kerosene every day. Depending on the lighting product, payback can be less than a month, with future savings fueling livelihoods, education, and housing.
Lidia, the very first Solar Sister, is a successful entrepreneur in her village. Her husband works for her. We visited her mother in another village and demonstrated the Angaza light to her great delight. She plans to open a store in her village - what a great holiday gift from daughter to mother – light and livelihood!
Another family we visited was using the 1700 shillings per day savings to cover school fees for the girls, a very high return investment according to Banerjee and Duflo. A third family was using the savings to expand their home, brick by brick.
Lucey shows how sustainable businesses with significant social impact can be “powered by smart investment in women entrepreneurs.” Applications for the 2012 Global Social Benefit Incubator, our tenth year, are now available for inspired, passionate, and compassionate social entrepreneurs like Lucey and her sisters. They light up all of our lives!
Friday, Dec. 16, 2011
This was our last day in the community of Sabana Grande and it was time to say goodbye to our host families. We caught the 7:45am bus in Ocotal and began our 4 hour ride back to Managua to meet with the professor from the University Of Central America (UCA). Our team has been corresponding with Professor Mauricio Garcia since the beginning of Fall Quarter in hopes of learning more about the civil engineering side of Nicaragua. It was nice to finally meet him in person. He introduced us to another civil engineering lecturer, Jimmy Vanegas Salmeron. We scheduled the meeting to explain our project and experience in Sabana Grande. Both were very excited to hear of our intent to design an improvement to their current sanitation system and water resource recovery methods. We asked Jimmy if he had access to any plans and geotechnical data of the project area. He told us that he would try his best to get any kinds of records for us and that we should email him the coordinates we obtained during our trip. At the end of the meeting, we exchanged our contact information and gave our thanks. We returned back to our hotel and got our things ready for our flight back home the next morning.
Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011
In the morning, the group headed out to Susan's home to go for a small hike up the solar mountain. As soon as we got there Susan further explained the construction projects around her home that Liz briefly went over on Monday. The men were working on constructing a bodega, solar kitchen, and a classroom. Each structure is built using sustainable, local materials and traditional building techniques, with a few modifications. The main difference between traditional structures and the newly built structure is the addition of carvings of beautiful pictures on the exterior.
The men were also finishing building their first, experimental double compost latrine. Each wall was made out of three different materials: straw, bamboo, and chicken wire in order to determine which material works best. The double pit compost latrine was also made aesthetically pleasing with carvings of their national bird and sunset on the walls of the latrine. The community enjoyed this aspect of the latrine and became much more excited, especially the women. It is unfortunate that most of the community still associates sustainability with poverty. For example, the community would love to have flush toilets in their homes, but they do not have the necessary resources to do so. On the other hand, most of us volunteers are trying find ways to improve their sanitation without heading in the direction of water abuse. With the help of aesthetics in these projects that which the community can take part in, slowly this mindset within the people has been changing. Keeping that in mind, we will try to incorporate aesthetics within our design as well.
After we finished touring Susan's home, we then began our hike as Susan explained their reforestation projects. To keep families from using wood as their heat source for cooking, some of the women in the community helped build several solar ovens. Susan had about 4 ovens behind her home and a few of the local women that have worked at the Solar Center have one solar oven at their homes as well. The best thing from our experience with the solar ovens was that they roasted beans of delicious coffee! Whenever we were offered a cup, our answer was always yes!
On our way up to the mountain, we saw that a family was building an additional house behind their home. They had recently finished building a church with steel C sections, adobe bricks, and metal decking for the roof. We were glad to see that this community has the skills to construct simple buildings, which we will keep in mind when creating our own design. After observing their construction in progress, our hike continued up the mountain. Unfortunately, we ran out of time to go up higher into the mountain since we had planned to visit the Mayor’s office in Totogalpa.
Since we had some trouble retrieving elevations with our own GPS, we hoped to gain any information or data that the government had for “El Projecto.” This could include construction drawings, soil properties, and topographic maps. Luckily, at the Mayor’s office, Susan was able to obtain electronic files of the housing plans of “El Projecto” onto her flash drive and later email to us. After we finished up our meeting in Totogalpa, sunset was approaching, so we all rushed back home to avoid walking through the darkness.
Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011
After getting up early and eating breakfast with our families, our group reunited that morning at Reyna’s house. Upon arriving there we noticed that one of our group members looked rather sick. We suggested that she stay in for the day to rest up and get better because today was going to be more tedious than others. Soon after, the rest of the group walked outside into El Proyecto, a community of about 45 homes. Before coming to Nicaragua, we were able to obtain a GPS in order to get the coordinates of the community and the different elevations. We walked to the corner edge to of the community to start and we took coordinates and elevations every 10 feet. After walking for about 2 hours, we finished gathering data around the whole community. One thing we noticed when we were recording the elevations was that they varied greatly during different times of the day because the GPS uses a barometric reading. As the pressure changed throughout the day, so did our elevations that made our readings unreliable. Our coordinate readings were accurate enough in order to find a topographic map of the area that will give us more accurate elevations.
After lunch, we decided to continue our interviews with other families in the community. Since Susan was busy at this time, we would have to go on our own and knock on people’s doors to see if they were willing to answer some questions. The idea of this made us feel a little uneasy, because we didn't feel comfortable enough going door to door, in a sense we felt like we were intruding. After finding some courage, a team member stepped up and went door to door asking families if they would like to help us by answering some questions. After each family agreed to assist us, the two members that spoke Spanish would ask the questions and converse with the families. After interviewing several families, we decided to go to our homes early to get some rest.
Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011
Are you out of ideas for holiday gifts and haven't crossed off a single name from your list? Well here is a list of GSBI Alumni organizations that can provide a unique gift for your loved ones and can also create a lasting impact in the life of someone one in need.
Gifts to Give: Many of our GSBI Alumni use fair trade as a means to create economic opportunity.
Craft Network ’08 (International) provides export facilitation and enterprise development services, through high-speed satellite communications, linking artisans from over 300 fair trade producer groups in the developing world to consumer markets. By breaking down barriers to global markets, thousands of artisans worldwide benefit from job creation, increased sales, strengthened ethical trade practices, and standard of living improvements. You can visit their online store here.
||eShopAfrica ’05 (West Africa, Ghana) uses the worldwide web to preserve cultural artifacts and enhance livelihood opportunities for traditional African artisans. You can visit their online store here.
|GRUPEDSAC ’09 (Mexico) has been working for over 20 years to educate, train, and carry out activities to promote the development of sustainable societies for low income, small farmers in Mexico. Simultaneously, the organization works on the development of environmental responsibility among all citizens through and appreciation of indigenous knowledge, skills and systems for increasing the well-being of rural communities. You can visit their online ecotienda here for unique handmade bags and purses.
||Gifts and Graces Fair Trade Foundation ’09 (Philippines) provides product development assistance and training which help people sharpen their creativity, improve their craft, and strengthen sales. The market access that Gifts and Graces provides contributes to increased incomes and an improved quality of life though enhanced food security, shelter, health, and educational opportunities for families. The producers also gain pride and self-esteem from being productive, contributing members of society. You can visit their online store here.
Gifts that Give: These GSBI Alumni offer ways for you to directly assist or invest in a beneficiary.
||Angaza Design & Solar Sister Team Up!
Angaza Design ‘11(Africa) is dedicated to making clean and affordable energy accessible to the 150 million East Africans without access to electricity. Angaza aims to replace the dependence on dim and toxic kerosene lanterns, with clean, bright solar-powered LED lights.
Solar Sister ’11 (Africa) empowers women through economic opportunity. Using a market based solution to eradicate energy poverty in rural communities throughout Africa, Solar Sister gives women the tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty.
Support two GSBI alumni at one time! Give the gift of light here.
You can also purchase an Angaza light for your own home emergency kit here.
||Kiva.org ’06 (International) is a non-profit organization with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. Leveraging the internet and a worldwide network of microfinance institutions, Kiva lets individuals lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world. Help an entrepreneur start their own business here.
||Lifeline Energy ’04 (South Africa) Lifeline Energy improves the quality of life of vulnerable populations. We provide renewable energy alternatives to those most in need. This includes sustainable access to information and education, as well as lights and solar panels. Give a radio and give the gift of knowledge here.
||ToughStuff ’09 (International) is a pro-poor social enterprise which provides solar-powered products for low income people, replacing expensive and environmentally damaging kerosene lamps and batteries. Users substantially increase their incomes as these robust products that provide less expensive sources of light and power allowing them to work more effectively and live fuller lives. Help support the “Business in a Box” with your gift here.
||Trees, Water & People ’11 (Haiti) delivers immediate triple-bottom line returns to the poorest communities in the Western Hemisphere by leveraging its 13 years of experience toward the development of a charcoal stove that reduces household charcoal consumption by up to 40%. This allows families to repurpose 20% of their annual household income from fuel expenses toward other productive activities. Give the gift of a cook stove to a family in Haiti here.
|SAMRUDHI ’09 (India) SAMRUDHI Micro Finance Society provides cost-effective, livelihood-based, collateral-free, financial services (such as microcredit) to rural and urban poor households. SAMRUDHI reverses the age-old vicious cycle of low income, low savings, low investment, and an expanding system of low income people, through the injection of credit for livelihood investment, more income, more investment, and more income. This brand-new site helps entrepreneurs in India. Learn more here.
||Solar Ear ’10 (Brazil)manufactures low-cost, solar-powered hearing aids with a workforce that is deaf. With a purchase price of only $100 (vs. equivalent products priced at $750), Solar Ear makes hearing aids available for low-income people who could not otherwise afford one. In addition, Solar Ear partners provides training, education and employment opportunities for deaf people in the local communities they serve. Give the gift of hearing for a child here.
Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011
Kiva.org is the fruit of a philosopher who asked a practical question: what could I do to help very poor people improve their lives? Matt Flannery visited Africa and discovered that a very small amount of money could help people in big ways, and that people in existing communities of trust would ensure that a loan was repaid. With some friends and family members, Matt started making a few loans. Kiva.org is now one of the most visible micro-lending institutions in America. Matt visited Santa Clara on November 9, and told stories of how this came about.
Every time I hear news about the big banks, the ones too big to fail, I get a bit more cynical. The enormous salaries to men whose banks’ bad behavior brought the American economy to its knees, credit default swaps so complex their inventors could not understand them, secret loans made by the feds to banks, government bailouts used to fund lobbyists to fend of regulation...these stories prompt in me a question: is the whole banking industry a parasite on society? The occupy movement does have a point here.
Starting a bank was the farthest thing from Matt Flannery’s mind, but he found, as I have, that one cannot foster human flourishing for poor people without providing them access to some capital. Matt was a computer programmer at TiVo with a Masters degree in philosophy, so he came to banking through a nonconventional path. He didn’t get into this line of work to make money, but rather, to alleviate poverty. Perhaps it was the ethicist in him that perceived economic options where others saw nothing but risky loans. In the Ugandans he met he found people alive with hopes and dreams, and he activated his networks back in America to partner with them. To accommodate the compassion of micro-loaners like you and me, he created a website to share the stories of people who needed credit, and Kiva.org was born.
This form of economics has nothing to do with the predatory or parasitic practices that foster cynicism. Instead, it’s based on mutuality through the international sharing of stories. Micro-loaners here in America learn about the needs of the poor, working so hard -- but unable to escape the traps of poverty without credit--in poorer countries over there. By exchanging stories, Kiva.org fosters practical compassion. People do want to make a difference, and by making a micro-loan, they can. Kiva.org facilitates this exchange.
Matt clearly loves what he does, and he has apparently found his life’s work. He used his computer programming skills to help countless people. From another perspective, his is a very old solution. In response to interest rates of >40% during the late Middle Ages, members of my religious order, the Franciscans, devised and launched local credit unions to provide loans at a fraction of this rate. These were the forerunners of the modern banking system....and this from a religious order that takes its vow of poverty quite seriously!
Fostering practical justice means understanding the economic reality of people who are poor, and just might be able to make it out of their poverty trap with a loan. Cynicism of American banking may be warranted, and the occupy movement may decry greed, but understanding how well conceived economic interventions based on solidarity can make a huge difference in the lives of others seems highly appropriate for a Catholic university that prides itself on teaching conscience. It is my hope that the Global Social Benefit Fellowship can help some Santa Clara students learn this.
Keith Douglass Warner OFM is a Franciscan Friar and the CSTS director of education.
Watch the Video of Matt's Kiva talk from November 9th, here.
Posted by Keith Douglass Warner OFM |
Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011
At around 8:30am we met up with Susan Kinne, as planned. We took the long route to the Solar Center in order for us to see the rest of the community. Upon arriving at the center, Julian, a volunteer from Canada, was there awaiting our arrival. We walked to the recently built restaurant at the Solar Center, which has a stove that is powered by biodigester. We then walked outside to see the where the biodigester was located while Julian explained how it worked. A biodigester is a system that takes in organic wastes to be digested by bacteria, where the byproducts are methane gas and a nutrient-rich liquid. The methane gas can be collected and used as fuel to cook with and the liquid can be used as fertilizer. At this moment, we all had a big interest in implementing this idea into our design. After seeing only latrines in this community, it was weird to actually see a flush toilet around this area. I jumped at the opportunity to use this flush toilet and I made my contribution to the biodigester. After being at the Solar Center for a while, we headed back to the community. We still had time to before lunch, so we decided to start interviewing the people in the community by asking them questions that would be crucial for our senior design project. We all felt comfortable having Susan there while we began our interviews because she knows everyone in the community and she was able to introduce us to several families. All of the families were very kind, welcoming and willing to help us. It was interesting to hear some of the answers they had to give and see how conscious they were about how much water they use and how sustainable they think their community is. All of the families we interviewed were very open to the ideas we had for our design for example having double compost latrines at each home as well as a communal flush toilet that will be next to the water pump. After retrieving a lot of useful information we had lunch at Reina’s house. After lunch we visited Ocotal, the nearest city to the community we were staying at. The purpose of our visit was to go to a hardware store to check what kind of materials are available in Nicaragua that we are going to use for this project. We also went to an internet café so that we could all check our emails and call relatives at home. The city of Ocotal was a beautiful place and it reminded me a lot of typical cities that you see in Mexico, so everything looked pretty familiar to me. After we were all done with what we needed to do, we headed back to the community to have dinner with the families that hosting us and get some rest for the upcoming day.