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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.
Monday, Dec. 12, 2011
On Monday morning Susan thought it would be best to meet up at 10AM to give us enough time to rest after our nearly 18 hour travel. We all met at Susan's house, which is basically the hub for the "Solar Mountain".
The "Solar Mountain" is a land reclamation project, in which workforce from the community has come together to reforest a section of the mountain that had been deforested by a previous land owner. This deforestation has led to issues with erosion control and groundwater recharge. They hope to not only alleviate these issues with their efforts, but to also gain expertise and as Susan calls it "social wealth".
Staying with Susan was a volunteer architect named Liz, who had been designing a small educational building for the community. The location of the building was directly behind Susan's house. Liz explained to us that the building will use sustainable materials and be made out of adobe bricks, which the people of the community will fabricate. The women of the community have already had a tremendous amount experience fabricating adobe bricks because they had previously fabricated them for the main building of the Solar Center. The men have already begun the layout of the education building. It is very impressive that they are able to do so much without the modern construction technologies seen in the states.
Once we all arrived at Susan's house, Erika and Jorge (two young and knowledgeable members of the community) took us to get a general idea of the housing project they call "El Projecto." This housing project will be the community for which we will prepare our design. In "El Projecto," there are 45 homes, of which only 28 are occupied with families. Each home is numbered and has a similar footprint. In "El Projecto," we were extremely surprised to see that within 50 feet were two wells, one on each side of the cluster of homes. One well was located at the lower end of the community while the other well was located at the higher elevated side of the community. According to Jorge, the wells were approximately 270 feet deep. Each well had a manual hand pump that the women and girls would rotate to dispense water. Constant labor was involved to pump the water. Not only would they have to rotate the wheel continuously until the buckets were filled, but would then have to carry the 40-pound buckets back to their homes. Although the distance was not anywhere near as long as we expected, the task was still arduous in comparison to the luxury we find of turning on a faucet in the states. However, for the people, it was just part of their day. We were all impressed by how well the women were able to balance the buckets on their heads. One girl was able to have an entire conversation while balancing a bucket she had just filled up.
Near the well on the higher side was a community washing facility. The facility was comprised of two shower stalls and a clothes wash station. Neither of the stalls nor the wash station had incoming plumbing, but they all had drains to collect the waste water. The waste water is then channeled out to a centralized area for the water to percolate back into the ground. The well on the lower side did not have a wash facility. However, there was a large amount of relatively flat, open space near this lower end. When we asked Jorge and Erika why there was not a wash station located on this side, they didn't seem to know why. We assumed it was due to a lack of funding. One thing that Jorge mentioned was that the lower side tends to have issues with flooding during the rainy season. He explained that at times flooding can be as high as half a meter. They had dug a simple channel to alleviate this flooding, but the channel only led to their main dirt road. This led to problems with erosion on the roadside.
After our tour of "El Projecto" we were brought to the house that Lizzie was staying at. Reina, the mother of the house, cooked us all lunch. They explained to us, that we would eat lunch there every day as it was the most centralized location for everyone else. While waiting for our food, we all realized that the design we had in mind before the trip was not needed for this community. The community did not need a potable water supply but instead they truly needed an improved waste and wastewater management system. However, implementing double pit composting latrines alone would not be a sizable enough task for our design group. Therefore, we would have to figure out other ways to improve the community in a meaningful way.
During lunch, we met with volunteers of Grupo Fenix. One volunteer had just graduated from High School in England, and the other was a carpenter from the US. We were able to discuss our plans for surveying the families of the community. We came to the conclusion that we should ask some general questions later that night to the families we were staying with. Once we got a feel for how they would respond to the survey questions, we would then be able to come up with a master survey for the families of "El Projecto." Susan then suggested that we take some time to plan out our week. This would allow her to make herself available to help us with the information we would need to collect. Since we didn't truly have a grasp of what our revised design intent would be, we focused on trying to collect as much information from the people in the community as possible. We hoped to gather elevations and coordinates for the community. This type of data would help us no matter what our design intent would become.
After lunch, Susan took us to the Solar Center. The Solar Center was located on the opposite side of the Pan American Highway from Reina's house. The Solar Center is the main headquarters for Grupo Fenix in that area. Early on, the Solar Center was the location where many of the solar panels had been fabricated by members of the community. As of late, it has evolved into a research facility. The volunteers along with engineers and local community members have begun to work on multiple projects such as a biodigester and a solar-powered distillation process. Mauro, a mechanical engineer who runs the solar center, explained to us the distillation process they are currently working on. They are hoping to be able to use the distilled water to create batteries and possibly sell the water to companies that make batteries. This would be a substantial revenue generator for the community and seemed to be an extremely "clean" process to create distilled water. Since it was getting late, we were unable to meet with Julian, a volunteer who was helping to monitor the biodigester. However, we were able to schedule a meeting with him first thing the next morning. We headed back to our respective homes for dinner and planned to meet at 8am the next morning.
Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011
The travel was rough, but after a 5 hour overnight flight to Atlanta, a 5 hour layover, another 3.5 hour flight to Managua, and a 4 hour bus ride to Sabana Grande; we finally made it.
Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011
In a recent article in the New York Times, Tom Friedman said, “If we want more jobs, we need to create more Steve Jobs.” What an amazing guy. Steve Jobs: an innovator, a risk taker, an entrepreneur, a problem solver, a design thinker. Steve Jobs took his knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, as the rock stars of science call it, and created a phenomenon that has impacted lives in ways we can’t even quantify.
Bill Gates, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg – they have done the same thing. They have taken STEM, combined it with innovation and entrepreneurship, and created disruptive breakthroughs. And they were all in their 20s when they began their journey.
America is rooted in innovation and entrepreneurship. This is America’s special sauce. That’s how we got to the moon, and that’s how companies like Apple, Facebook and Google were formed.
If we are to really reinforce America’s economic stability by growing new jobs, new companies and new ideas, then we must inspire young minds and give them the ability and the resources to combine innovation, education and entrepreneurship.
The Spirit of Innovation Challenge is rooted in these principals. Our year-round, online, incentivized program empowers teams of high school students to create products using STEM to solve real world problems: from aerospace and clean energy to health and nutrition. This program is focused on student-centered education. Our teams work together with their teachers and our community of mentors and experts with the goal of creating innovative solutions to global challenges.
This year, our winning teams will travel to the Rio+20 conference, where they will serve as ambassadors of science and youth. This is where education can become diplomacy.
In just a few years, our young innovators have accomplished so much. Daniel and Isaac have two patents, have been interviewed by the BBC, were featured in Popular Science Magazine, and were archived into the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. Mikayla and Shannon have been interviewed by Elle Magazine, MTV, CNN, and Fox, and have been honored at the White House. Recently, their product was flown aboard STS-134. Madison has had his business plan published in a Chinese University textbook as an example of how to write a business plan. You might say we’ve turned geeks into rock stars.
While our education system may be broken, our students are not.
When given opportunities, they are amazing. Our students think outside the globe. They are innovative and brilliant. Steve Jobs was 21 when he founded Apple. Mark Zuckerberg was 20 when he started Facebook. Bill Gates was 20 when Microsoft was born. Sergey Brin and Larry Page were really old … they were 25.
Most of the guys who worked in mission control when my late husband Pete walked on the moon were 26. Well if 60 is the new 40, then I say 13 is the new 20. This is the next generation of these amazing icons. They will be the next Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
We all know it’s important to leave a great country for our children, but it’s even more important to leave great children for our country.
Nancy Conrad is a highly accomplished teacher, author, publisher, entrepreneur, and public speaker, Nancy Conrad is perhaps best known globally for her tireless leadership and ardent advocacy for transformative education.
Nancy attributes her steadfast commitment to education advancement to her life experiences ranging from a high school teaching position in Denver, Colorado, to developing educational products based on the legacy of America’s space explorers. In 2008, Nancy created The Conrad Foundation to energize and engage students in science and technology through unique entrepreneurial opportunities. The organization’s signature program, the Spirit of Innovation Awards, is a national competition that challenges high school students to combine education, innovation and entrepreneurship to create products that address the real-world challenges of the 21st century. By enabling young minds to connect education, innovation and entrepreneurship, the Conrad Foundation helps provide a bold platform for enriching the innovative workforce.
Posted by Guest Blog: Nancy Conrad, Conrad Foundation |