New Money

Denver        As something of a post-Katrina tradition begun when I was trapped here in Denver after Katrina, I have a meal of buffalo washed down by a Flat Tire beer after our staff-based management council meetings that review policy twice a year in New York in the spring and Denver in the fall.  This year we had good discussions about where we are going on our critical foreclosure campaign, the development of our maximum eligible participation effort on taxes and benefits that we are expanding with major partnerships this winter, and preparation for the opportunity for major policy and organizational advancements in anticipation of regime change in January 2009, so it felt good to sit on 17th Street and think for a minute about new ways of doing things that none of us might have imagined even a few years ago.  

    One something “new” may start to involve money, which may be the root of all evil for sure, but also happens to be a necessary ingredient in figuring out how to do so many critical things we are stretching to accomplish these days.  A key problem is how to loosen money from where it is trapped in rigid forms and old structures more concerned about wealth, privilege, and power, and link the ideas in such a way that we can get to people directly, make our case, and get support.  Social networking may seem flimsy, but the adaptation of these tools seems to be knocking on the door to creating some real linkages of organizations and causes with people who want to efficiently use their dollars to make change.  

    Recently some friends tried to put me on “change.org” and others have been trying to enlist me the “linked” network, neither of which I understand at all unfortunately because I haven’t had the time to go on them and figure out what’s up.  I gather that Facebook has a new program called “causes” that has started to raise a little money and there are some others with great names like DoSomething, Firstgiving, and GiveMeaning that are all trying to figure this out and make space for people with common interests in direct support to the work to link up and do so.  Not having had a chance to really look into any of those either, I can only report being encouraged by the effort.

    I have looked at kiva.org and find it fascinating.  As I understand the narrative here, some former Silicon Valley-based Stanford grads did time in the Peace Corps in Africa and coming back wanted to figure out a way to get more money into micro-financing projects.  They set up the kiva.org website with some tech buddies and were simply trying to link the small money needs to micro enterprises with individuals who might be willing to provide no-interest loans, also at small amounts obviously, to make their project or business or idea work.  Kiva in two years has attracted almost 90,000 lenders who have loaned $10,000,000.  The math is simple here since essentially the lenders have averaged in the $100 neighborhood for their loans in a very direct connection between people around the world.  The “business” model for Kiva itself is based on them asking if people making the loans would be willing to pitch in a couple of bucks off the top to support the ability for Kiva to run this web-based operation, and that lagniappe, as we call it in New Orleans, supports a full-time staff of four people.  

    It is all quite amazing really when you think of it, isn’t it?  Someone trying to buy a sewing machine for $100 USD in Kenya or Ethiopia or wherever and getting the money from some one in the US through the internet.  I do not pretend this is ending poverty or creating social change, but it is developing new money in an amazingly direct and constructive way for new ideas and new initiatives, and that is wildly exciting.  

    Think of the applications!  What a world we live in now?  How do we keep up?!?  Keep up, heck, how do we figure it out and do it ourselves?

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