Nicholas Kristof and Kiva.org--resources for Naptime Activists
Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times Op-Ed columnist Nicholas Kristof is one of my heroes. His suit-and-tie headshot looks misleading to me. I get the feeling he is most at home out in the world in Afghanistan or Africa, talking to ordinary people and sharing their important stories. It's funny to me that he's considered an "opinion" columnist in the light of his extensive field reporting.
Kristof caught my attention a few years ago when I heard him interviewed on Fresh Air (June 25, 2003) sharing the story of women who suffered from childbirth injuries and not only lost their babies, but faced lives of permanent disability and social ostracisim. This injury, an obstetric fistula, is a tear between a woman's birth passage and one of her internal organs that develops during obstructed labor, resulting in permanent incontinence. Women are often shunned and virtually abandoned after developing this injury.
Obstetric fistulas can be prevented access to to emergency obstetric care such as cesarean sections, or can be repaired for about $450--a high price for a woman in the developing world but an incredibly valuable investment in saving a human life.
Kristof has continued to use his powerful media platform to bring attention to the issue of maternal mortality. Fistulas affect 100,000 to 500,000 women worldwide each year, yet most of us have probably never even heard of this issue. He wrote again recently about childbirth dangers and the struggle to prevent maternal mortality in Somalia and Ethiopia. You shouldn't miss his extraordinary video report and column, "They Think They've Been Cursed by God." You will want to know how you can help. I felt overwhelmed by this story. There are so many worthy causes in the world, including many that governments and the global community should address strategically, that are being largely ignored. The plight of poor women seems to eternally fall into this category. I knew I could at least pass the story along to my blog readers and hope that it inspired you to work for the cause of reducing maternal mortality.
This week Kristof reported on Kiva.org, a website that feels like the ultimate resource for Naptime Activists. Kiva.org provides microfinance loans by matching ordinary people as lenders to fund entrepreneurs worldwide. The experience of the Kiva website feels like a combination of My Space, eBay and the best of venture philanthropy. Kiva works with reliable Field Partners who evaluate applications and adminster the loans. Connecting people through this mechanism has never been cost-effective in the past, but thanks to the internet, as Kristof wrote, "You, Too, Can be a Banker to the Poor" (echoing the title of Nobel-Prize winner Muhammad Yunus' autobiography).
There are many worthy organizations that work on a similar grassroots model. I have volunteered for Women for Women International for several years, and I continue to be incredibly impressed with their accomplishments.
What I found unique and inspirational about Kiva is their website experience that allows you to individually choose businesspeople to loan to, and shows you the other people who have chipped in to fund the loan. You can see a global community developing to make this effort possible. Loans can run $1000+ but each lender can add as little as $25 to the pot. Explore my lender page on Kiva.org if you want to see how it works.
There is a lot to be said for the lending model, most impressively the fact that microcredit can be self-sustaining and profitable. Worldwide, microfinance loans are generating a 97% repayment rate and to-date Kiva has achieved a 100% repayment rate. With Kiva the entire amount of your loan goes directly to the entrepreneur you are funding, with an optional donation requested to help offset Kiva's overhead. As your loans are repaid, you have the option of withdrawing your money or extending another loan to a new entrepreneur.
The bottom line is that you have the power to change someone's life. No matter how busy you are, no matter how tight your budget is stretched, if you can afford to add $25 to the microcredit pool you can contribute to a renewable resource that will be spread worldwide to help others better their lives.