Thoughts Sans Boundaries

From non-profit to profit

Posted in Uncategorized by Aditya Moorthy on February 13, 2009

My brother forwarded me a link – www.kiva.org and after I looked at the site it struck me as to how closely it was related to an idea of mine, which I wrote about a few days ago. Of course I don’t claim to be first here but it is nice to see that I could think of something original which has materialised elsewhere even though I wasn’t the first.

I think KIVA is a great initiative and it seems like it is a natural extension of my idea. I wanted to build a portal that will bring the charitable organisations and volunteers together in a seamless way and generate huge man hours at the disposal of these organisations. And as in any charitable activity everyone recognises that the people receiving the charity would eventually like to stand on their own legs (no pun intended). There are of course exceptions such as old age home, tree planting etc which would have to be a continuous effort. But where there is effort to help people rebuild their lives, we would want them to start managing their affairs by themselves at some point. That is when a service like KIVA kicks in where it takes my idea one step further by allowing people to “loan” small amounts of money to small entrepreneurs around the world through micro-finance institutions with which they partner. The micro-financing institutions ensure the proper disbursement of money and collection and eventually pay it back to KIVA who then disburses the money to the original lenders. So in effect someone requiring a loan of US $500 in Cambodia could be getting the loan from 20 different people who would have donated $25 each. The Internet ensures that the money is collected properly, accounted for and handed over to the financial institution with which the borrower is associated with and it works in the reverse when the money is paid back by the borrower. There will be tons of nitty-gritty issues in managing bad debts, lead time for collecting the loan money, service charges by KIVA and the financial institution etc. But I think they can all be ironed out with minor compromises.

Micro-finance is a powerful tool which was popularised by Muhammad Yunus through his venture called Grameen Bank. He jointly won the Nobel Peace prize in 2006 for his efforts to bring people out of poverty through small credit facilities without collateral. Many agree that this is one of the most powerful tools we have today to uplift people from dire straits. There are also criticism levied on this process since the micro-credit scheme levies a higher than normal interest due to the risks involved and the cost of managing several accounts in the place of few. But nevertheless it is still a wonderful way to provide capital to small and micro businesses by cutting through the bureaucracy and red tape.

Coming back to the main argument, that Internet can and does indeed change lives in several ways. In fact, KIVA can then be further diversified to offer investment options for medium to large business – but then I am getting ahead of myself. The core argument that I am trying to put across in this blog is that we can and must do something to change lives of the peoples of the world. We face numerous problems today from different dimensions – religious, political, economical, natural etc., and beyond a certain stage we lose track of what we are trying to solve as one resolution seems to fuel as a cause for another problem from a different dimension. An example would be a political solution to resettle the Jews during the Second World War has caused a religious problem in the Middle East post that event. If one takes a step back and has a holistic perspective, I am sure we would be able to see a cause-effect outcome in most of the solutions to problems. One of the best ways to have the right lens to see the larger issues is to get most people in the world into some sort of a common platform so most of those people see the problem with similar variables attached to it. We have divided this planet into different countries, different races, religions etc and all this has disintegrated the fabric of a common human society. We should all be seeing each other in the same standard and the way we can achieve that is by ensuring that everyone has access to all the knowledge about the other. If only I understand the sentiments of a particular race, I would be careful not to upset it and it works vice versa. And this works in all levels like if I can understand the role of a scientist then I would be sensitive enough to provide them the space and tools necessary to continue their work or at the least not do anything to upset them.

The only way we are ever going to do this to ensure that there is free and fair access to knowledge, structured, malleable and willing to grow as and when it learns of more and more types of people. This should be some sort of an intelligent Internet organism that feeds people with what they want, learns from them and adapts to their needs. I am not talking about Wikipedia but something that is more structured as an University course but provided free with no strings attached.

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