On the day, yesterday, that I was reflecting, viciously, on "AIG & Me," my Vermont neighbor Kathleen Colson sent me the report that follows on her February trip to Kenya. She is an amazing person—traveling by herself to all sorts of places she shouldn't, giving her last ounce of energy again & again & again, etc., etc., in pursuit of goals she holds dear. As readers of this Blog know, I think the sun rises and sets over Muhammad Yunus and micro-lending. (Incidentally, I was with one of the country's leading internal medicine docs here in Houston this morning, and we both talked lovingly about the power of micro-lending for perhaps an hour—before turning to the dull topic of my sinus infection.) At any rate, below you'll find Kathleen's report on a related but different kind of program, supporting "deep rural" entrepreneurship, that is demonstrating extraordinary results in places where micro-lending seldom, if ever, makes it. This site [tp.com] has no ads, and never will I'd imagine. And I've never asked anyone to give a penny to anything. But in the name of those greedy bastards at AIG, as well as for the good of the world, I'd ask you to read what's below and consider giving a buck or two to this worthwhile cause, if it strikes you as it did me. I gave a few dollars because of Kathleen's courage and commitment, the power of her program—and, I admit, just a little bit to stick it just a little bit in the ear of the AIG gang. Lousy motivation in the latter case, you say. Sure, but whatever works!
From Kathleen Colson:
"I spent a month in northern Kenya in February, visiting with the women's groups and leaders of the villages as well as watching our BOMA team deliver business skills training programs to potential business owners in 4 villages. On our first morning in the village of Korr, as the mercury hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit, I sat in the midst of a crowd of 250 people. I watched as 200 newly trained businesspeople, mostly women, received a certificate for their participation in a series of business skills training programs that would launch them in their new business endeavors. Abdi Amin, the most successful businessman in the village, spoke to the group and provided encouragement describing his own story of starting a business with just 10,000 shillings. He warned our new entrepreneurs to withstand the pressure to give credit because 'credit is the graveyard of all business.' And then BOMA's trained Business Mentors, John and Adhar, did something that no one has ever done in this remote, neglected part of Africa—they handed cash to poor people so that they could start their own businesses.
"Welcome to BOMA's Rural Entrepreneur Access Project (REAP), a program that is receiving significant attention as a cutting edge model of poverty alleviation for the rural remote areas of Africa. The most important ingredient to our effectiveness is the support we receive from local leaders in places like Korr village. We attribute this to our considerable investment in listening; in our commitment to include local people in the development and leadership of our programs. As our meeting on that hot day in January came to a close, the village District Officer validated our listening investment by announcing to the assembled that, 'This is the first time that an organization has come to our village and given people what they asked for—money to start a business and training and support so that they can succeed. They didn't ask for an ID card, or what political party you belong to. They just asked if you would be willing to work hard and not give credit. The people who support BOMA in the US should know that they have given us what we need the most.'
"I wish each and everyone of you could have been with me to witness this incredible moment. BOMA's programs are informed by our mission to improve the capacity of individuals to earn their own income. But it is really more than that. For a community in transition it is about nourishing the courage of the human spirit, a combination of hope, faith and resilience that sustains an individual's ability to solve their own problems. We give the poor in Africa the resources to determine their own futures within the context of their own rich traditions and heritage. REAP is the centerpiece of that effort—a grants based training and mentoring program that is a cost-effective and sustainable strategy for poverty alleviation. Micro-lending is inaccessible to 70% of the poor in Africa who live in remote communities like Laisamis district and our grants-based program provides the access to capital that is needed to start small businesses. In the words of one of our closest economic advisors: 'We must first wake these ones up for what they can do; loans are for established businesses, for trained people with skills; grants are for the ultra-poor and inexperienced.'
"We are just $16,000 short of the 2009 REAP goal of launching 200 businesses in 4 villages—impacting the lives of 1000 people who will earn a steady income for the first time in their lives. I think the poor in Africa are an important investment in our global potential and I have never been more optimistic about Africa's future. I hope you will join me in celebrating our first class of entrepreneurs by making a donation to BOMA's Rural Entrepreneur Access Project today. By doing this, you will help us invest in people who can get things done on behalf of their own communities. You will help us invest in programs that will provide the resources for people who are determined to improve their lives, and the lives of their children.
"We know we can do this economically, sustainably and on behalf of our donors, prudently. I hope you will join us.
Kathleen tells us that donations can be made online at www.bomafund.org or at www.cowsforkids.org or by sending a check to:
The BOMA Fund
PO Box 1865
Manchester Center, VT 05255
Give it a moment's thought.
[Financial filings of the BOMA Fund, if you'd like to research it: 2007 Tax Form (PDF), GuideStar Overview.]