How do you feel about lending money or investing in social causes? Chances are you fall into one of the categories below:
I Have the Money, But I'm Tired of Giving it Away
Your friend needs a few bucks until payday, your sister desperately needs the same $20 she needs every other week, the TV commercials, your mailbox and your inbox are all inundating you with requests for financial support. You give money to your friend and sister, never asking any questions because you know and they know as well that you have the money to give. And you donate to causes you believe in because you feel an obligation to support the work they do. But resentment is rising in your chest and you don't know why. If you have the money to give and feel a duty to donate why do you feel so angry?
I Don't Have the Money to Lend
Time you have. Money you lack. If they need your time, you're there, but as far as your money goes, you've got a paltry $25 to spare. You know a huge segment of the world's population would still see that measly amount as a windfall, but how do you get it where it's needed most? And even if it does get somewhere it's needed, just how much difference is $25 dollars going to make in the long run to people supporting their entire families on less than $2 per day?
Handouts Are the Worst Way to Help
You have a firm conviction that a handout never helped anyone learn to do anything but stick out their hand. Handouts encourage dependency, not self-reliance, which is the key to true freedom and success. You're willing to assist anyone who understands that assistance is a partnership that requires effort and commitment on both ends. You think of it this way: your mother helped you learn to walk by holding your hand, not by carrying you on her hip.
So Who's Right and Who's Left
Engaging in arguments about which of the above points of view is the "right" one actually serves no purpose when it comes down to furthering the goal of human rights.
What would serve a purpose?
An organization that accommodated all of the above viewpoints. An organization where that person with money to spare could loan it without ultimately resenting the borrower; where $25 could be used to provide a lifetime of support instead of a week's worth of groceries; and where money lent was never a handout, but a loan expected to be repaid. This organization would acknowledge upfront that risks are always involved when loaning money and that while no guarantees are made, their group could still boast an on time repayment rate of 97% with a default rate of only 1%.
That organization already exists.
KIVA is on the cutting edge of what is known as "microfinancing," a unique type of lending system. An article in Forbes cleverly described KIVA as "a cross between Google and Bono." (Forbes.com) It's an apt analogy as while Bono-esque world saviours may automatically embrace KIVA, it's not just an organization for stereotypical do-gooder types. KIVA uses the internet to market its message that human rights activism is something that every person can engage in without surrendering their values as KIVA's philosophy is about as non-partisan, non-judgemental, and non-socio-economic based as one can find.
How is this possible?
How KIVA Works
KIVA's success is its philosophy and its structure. Money lent via KIVA is just that--a loan. You go to the KIVA site, look through the entrepreneurial projects, (businesses with plans, goals, and ideas about maintaining self-sufficiency once they are established) and choose one you'd like to fund with a small investment. You are not the sole supporter of that business-- each project is funded via small loans from millions of people around the world; that's how micro-financing works.
The money lent is as little as $25. However, since this is a humanitarian effort and not a money making business venture, loans are made in the spirit of compassion and good will--no interest is charged on the money lent. The borrower respects the lender's trust through repayment of all money lent. And because their debts are small, interest free loans, people are given the opportunity to start businesses free from bone crushing debt, become self-sufficient, and feel the pride and success that comes when they not only repay a loan, but turn a profit.
So Whose Life is Changed
Obviously, one expects dramatic change in the lives of KIVA loan recipients. However, unexpected change also occurs in the KIVA lender's life. Those with money to spare who previously felt like ATMs feel pride rather than resentment because of a stranger's appreciation. The activist discovers that a few bucks really can affect world change. And the conservative finds an avenue where he or she can see their generosity leading to self-reliance.
Those are the lives that are truly changed--the lives of those who see that supporting human rights is not the sole province of one political party with one economic ideology, but rather something where politics can be transcended for the purpose of aiding humanity.
*~Aisling Ireland~* is long time human rights activist, a active member of Amnesty International, a One Campaign supporter, writer, and an ordained Interfaith Minister and Spiritual Counselor.