Posted by: joshtoro | October 19, 2008

To View My Journal Updates on Entrepreneurs

One of my main tasks during my Kiva Fellowship is to be writing journal updates on the entrepreneurs funded on Kiva’s website.  All of these journals will be added to my What Will You Be Doing? page.  I will just be adding new entries to the bottom of the page whenever I post them on Kiva’s website (usually on Fridays) so the page will soon grow to be pretty long.  Just scroll down to the bottom to enjoy the newest entries!  

I hope they inspire you to start making loans on Kiva’s website!

Posted by: joshtoro | January 12, 2009

A Thank You

Hey guys,

Sierra has just written a very good (in my opinion) blog entry about her experience in Honduras.  Check it out here:
http://fellowsblog.kiva.org/2009/01/11/speaking-about-poverty/
Also, 
if you haven’t seen Kieran’s video yet, I highly recommend it: 
http://fellowsblog.kiva.org/2009/01/07/the-story-of-a-kiva-loan/

It gives a great and humorous view of a Kiva loan from click to reception.

In a more direct note about this thread to my donors,
in the middle of my kiva fellowship I was reassigned to Microfinanzas PRISMA Peru and have been working with their branches in Tarma and Huancayo on a veritable ‘journaling blitz’.  If you recall, I was initially supposed to go to Emprender in La Paz, Bolivia for the second half of my fellowship.  Since I had to be back in the States on January 16th and they wanted their first Kiva Fellow to be able to stay for an extended period of time, Kiva had to find someone who could fit that role better than I.  

I am happy to report, especially to our anonymous donor of our fundraising dinner way back in September who split his/her funds between Sierra and I, that Kiva has chosen Sierra Visher to replace me and be the first Kiva Fellow to Emprender!!!  If you read her most recent post on the Fellows Blog mentioned above, you will be as excited as I am.

Thanks again for all your support and comments!  The dinner we had in September went a long way in helping me fund the housing and transportation for my kiva fellowship; I can only hope the hundreds of journal updates, dozens of videos, and handful of blog posts over the past few months have underscored how big an effect lenders like you have had on the lives of tens of thousands of entrepreneurs in all areas of the world… and the effect donors like you have had on us two kiva fellows… whatever we produce, you had a hand in it by allowing us this incredible opportunity to chronicle the lives of the working poor!  

sincerely,
kiva fellow josh bull

Posted by: joshtoro | January 8, 2009

A Reflection in a One-Way Mirror

I am entering into the homestretch of my Kiva fellowship- five days left in Huancayo and three days in Lima then it is back to America to start a new race: job vs. my savings account.  If anyone can pick up big changes by noting the small things (quick note: I am reading The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy…I’m pretty sure nothing in this post has anything to do with the book but who knows? I’m only on page 116), they would have noticed that I am not nor will be going to Bolivia.

Basically in late October Kiva had its first ‘summit’ of all their Field Partners that operate in South America in a school on the outskirts of Asunción, Paraguay.  In a side conversation at the summit, it was determined that since Emprender (the MFI I was to visit based in La Paz, Bolivia) had never had a Kiva Fellow before, they wanted one to come who could stay for an extended period of time.  Another part of the equation were my own limitations: I was going to be working with EDAPROSPO in Lima, Peru until December 15th; my fellowship had to end on January 16th; and most MFIs and businesses pretty much shut down/do the year-end books from Christmas to New Years.  After a conversation with Michelle (head of Kiva’s operations in Latin America & the Caribbean), it was decided that I could go on a ‘journaling blitz’ with another Kiva Field Partner (MFI) located in the sierras of Peru (a compromise: as close to a ‘Bolivian’ experience as was available).  Thus, for the past month (minus the week between Christmas and New Years when there was no work to be done) I have been working with Microfinanzas PRISMA Peru, a considerably larger microfinance institution.

If EDAPROSPO central offices had five staff members (they do), then Microfinanzas PRISMA’s central offices have five STORIES (they do).  If EDAPROSPO has branches in six neighborhoods of Lima (again, it does), then Microfinanzas PRISMA has branches in six PROVINCES of Peru (I’m going to stop with these cutsy parenthetical interruptions…but not the if, then facade).  If EDAPROSPO has 400 loans on Kiva’s website, then Microfinanzas PRISMA has 4000 loans on the site.  Thus, my experience was bound to be different than the one I had with EDAPROSPO, a variety that I willfully selected – I had had the option of just staying on at EDAPROSPO for another month.

At EDAPROSPO I was the first Kiva Fellow they had ever had – my main task was to establish the relationship and put a face to the Kiva that wired them money every month and had them interviewing borrowers and putting their photos and stories on a website.  One of my first decisions was whether to live with the assistant director of operations, Guillermo, or live in a hostel in downtown Lima.  I was initially hesitant to choose the former if only because the cost would be the same while the commute would go from a five-minute walk to an hour-long two bus ride.  Living with Guillermo (and his girlfriend Katie who also works at EDAPROSPO, and his grandmother ‘Abuelita’ or María if you’re someone who calls grandmothers by their first name and his cousin Reuben) was the best decision I made.  Guillermo made sure to give me the complete Peruvian experience and towards the end of my time in Lima, I had been certified as one-of-us – a Limeño.  I think being able to decipher all the buses by colors, handpainted signs, letters stenciled into side-view mirrors, numbers that may or may not be on the roof, etc. and then even giving directions to Katie on how to get to a part of town I’d never set foot in (including transferring buses) sealed the deal.  The relationships I formed at EDAPROSPO quickly moved beyond the professional relationship I was to set up and became a personal friendship with several EDAPROSPO employees, most of all with Guillermo.  I won’t recount all the fun times I had with EDAPROSPO staff in this post; but since they are etched in my memory, I will save them for a later post.  A book I read this past weekend – How to Be Alone by Jonathan Franzen – had an opening essay on his father’s battle with Alzheimer’s which included a throw-away passage on how recounting happy memories actually rewires the physical structures of our brains and thus influences how we interpret future events.  Like Franzen, I won’t say anything further on the subject here.

Building and supporting the organizational relationship between Kiva and EDAPROSPO meant that my work involved much more than simply going into the field to interview entrepreneurs for journal updates.  I would say half my time was in the field and half my time was in the office.  Most of my work went into internal documents for future Fellows and Kiva staff but I did manage to interview around 60 entrepreneurs and take 27 videos that I could share with you.  Though the hours at EDAPROSPO were long (commutes did a stellar job of lengthening the workdays), the days were varied and my tasks were vague and work came of my own initiative.  Over the course of two months I got to visit every branch of EDAPROSPO, working mainly with three of them and extensively enough with one (Comas) that I got to the point where I knew all the staff there quite well.  Because I felt that I had formed pretty solid relationships, visited all of the branches, and written journals for almost a third of their outstanding loans, I felt it would be fun to go to another organization for my last four weeks.

From the start, my work assignment was different: Microfinanzas PRISMA had the same number of journals written as EDAPROSPO had when I got there but ten times the number of outstanding loans that needed journal updates.  I would be going on a ‘journaling blitz’; targeting Juliaca (near Lake Titicaca as a nod to my strong desire to go to Bolivia) and Tarma (in the sierras of Peru, about 6 hours from Lima).  Since the plan had already changed once, I think it decided to just keep on changing.  Before I had finished my time with EDAPROSPO, another Kiva Fellow assigned to Microfinanzas PRISMA in Huancayo (in the sierras, 7 hours from Lima) had her backpack stolen while she ate lunch at a cafe.  Since the backpack contained her iPod, laptop, and camera; the loss was pretty devastating.  She ended up coming back to Lima and, after a time to recuperate and try to get a replacement camera and laptop (which were, tragic to the point of laughable, stolen from a Kiva staff member’s luggage on his way from the States to Peru), headed out to Pucallpa in the jungle and Juliaca.  Since Huancayo (along with Tarma) were the biggest needs in terms of overdue journals, my blitz switched before it began and my itinerary now included Tarma for the first ten days, a surprise Xmas vacation in the States, and Huancayo for 13 days; Juliaca, Lake Titicaca, and Bolivia would all have to wait for some other time in my life.  

A ‘journaling blitz’ when put in the hands of the ‘super-industrious-bordering-on-workaholic’ mindset of Peruvians meant that my weeks in Tarma and Huancayo have been filled to the brim, if not overflowing, with visits to entrepreneurs.  My surprise Xmas vacation split these work-crazy weeks in two and thus made them more palatable.  If my introduction into the working life has gone from 16 hours a week at grad school from January to May, to 40 hours a week at the Carter Center from May to August, to 50 hours (in the office…not any of my time uploading updates on the web or editing short videos) a week at EDAPROSPO from October to early December, then my time in Tarma and Huancayo is merely a natural progression in my work schedule.  In Tarma I worked every day of the week from as early as 5am (usually 6.30am) until 9pm, though I did get to start work at noon on Sunday.  By the time Christmas vacation rolled around, I was ready for it.  My journaling blitz in Tarma proved to be just that: I worked up an astounding (at least to me) 55 journal updates, a number I hadn’t surpassed until the end of my second month with EDAPROSPO.  In Huancayo, in just three work days, I have built up an additional 35 journals.  Thus while EDAPROSPO had varied work and enough office time to meet and know all the staff of every branch, my time with Microfinanzas PRISMA has been very concentrated (WRITE AS MANY JOURNALS AS POSSIBLE) and thus afforded me the luxury of really only getting to know the two loan officers who have directed and accompanied me to all the clients (specifically, Angela in Tarma and Jessica in Huancayo).

Is there a point to this post? you may be asking yourself.  And at this time, probably 7 minutes in, I have to confess there isn’t.  We were simply rained in this afternoon and with a mountain of notes sitting in front of me, written in a mixture of Spanish and English, from 80 interviews waiting to be assembled into coherent stories, I chose instead to write a new post and delay the inevitable just that much longer.  I scheduled myself an extra day in Lima before I fly to Washington DC for the inauguration so I am somewhat tempting fate: hoping that somehow I’ll be able to write basically 100 single-spaced pages of stories in two days and thus arrive, like Obama, in DC with a clean slate and nothing from the past to occupy my time nor demand my immediate attention.

I think we all know how likely it is that between us, Mr Obama and I, won’t have any nagging concerns leftover from the past few months to deal with…

 

(If you have a story or memory that you want me especially to address in this blog, please post it as a comment to this blog entry… Since it is unlikely you know any of my particular memories of my time here in Peru, I will allow you to proffer emotions, specific dates, possible situations, personal questions, or topics to muse on as potential memories that you want me to share) 

Posted by: joshtoro | December 21, 2008

A Day in the Life of a Kiva Fellow

Dear Sir:

Please find my lack of communication on the blog to be due to extraordinarily long working hours with PRISMA Peru.  With days that start at 6am or earlier and end at 9pm or later, it is quite difficult to find time to get on the internet, much less upload creative content.  In any case, I have finally uploaded a video that gives insight into how business owners are found for the journal updates (featured under What Will You Be Doing?) that make the investments on Kiva worthwhile to many lenders.  As YouTube (via iMovie) will not accept videos longer than 10 minutes, I split the video into two parts.  If you go to the YouTube site, you can watch the videos in higher quality; I am uncertain of how to make my embedded video the same.  In addition, I have uploaded over thirty photos from my past week in Tarma and the surrounding villages in Junin Province, Peru.

Sincerely, 

Kiva Fellow Josh Bull

 

A Day in the Life Part 1:

A Day in the Life Part 2:

Posted by: joshtoro | December 11, 2008

Formal Trust, Informal Love

Mrs. Rosario Roca runs a bodega in the front of her house on a quiet street in Comas, a northern suburb of Lima, Peru.  After giving an EDAPROSPO loan officer and I Inka Colas (a yellow soda with the taste of bubble-gum, widely considered the national drink of Peru [nonalcoholic, the alcoholic distinction belongs to the Pisco Sour]), Mrs. Roca gave us a snapshot of what it meant to be a small business owner and resident of her neighborhood in Comas.  The hospitality gave it away.

She has spent four years receiving loans from EDAPROSPO and this was her first loan financed by Kiva lenders.  To receive loans from EDAPROSPO, a person normally forms a group of neighbors and entrepreneurs who become a ‘banquito’ (little bank).  From this position, EDAPROSPO lends a large amount to the group, split among the members according to their requests (which is the amount you lent), and the group members then cross-guarantee each other’s loans.  This approach to microfinance, stemming back to Muhammed Yunus’ approach in Bangladesh in the 1970s with his Grameen Bank, has the effect of building or, at the minimum, reinforcing trust among a small community of neighbors.  Mrs. Roca thrives in this atmosphere of trust and is known as a prompt (and sometimes early!) payer of her debts.  While most communities could stand a little boost of the interpersonal trust that ‘banquitos’ give, in Mrs. Roca’s case, it seems more like a natural extension of what the community already does.

On the lefthand side of the front counter of her bodega, Rosario keeps a handwritten ledger of credits that she extends to her neighbors who frequent her store.  She says that she has always let her clients pay her when they could; in theory this means that a person will build a tab of 20 or even 50 soles and then pay her in a lump sum when they get a paycheck or have enough money.  More often, however, her system of credit has led to very late repayments or none at all; time accumulates, people move out of the area and she is left with having to eat the debt that she extended in trust.  The picture, though, is not as bleak as that anecdote makes it out to be.  Next to her ledger of customer debts and credits is another sheet with handwritten names and figures.  This sheet is a community chest that helps neighbors when a family member gets ill and racks up a hefty medical bill or is kept from work for an extended period of time due to illness.  13 years ago, her husband had a serious injury and her neighbors collected money, each what they were able, and helped them pay for the medical expenses.  Now, a neighbor has been bedridden and she is returning the favor; a finely woven web of trust has been spun in terms of medical insurance, without any outside organization acting as an impetus. 

Her store, despite the frequent occurrence of ‘eating’ bad debt, continues to make a profit.  She uses the profits to re-invest in the store, slowly building her stock of available goods for sale.  Her stock of capital has grown to the point that she is considering expanding her store.  Rosario’s husband, recently retired, is slowly learning the trade his wife has been perfecting over the past 25 years.  He laughs often, still has trouble finding some snacks in the shop, supports his wife in her many endeavors, and seems to enjoy his new role as the helpmate to his wife, the boss.   Rosario does not just run a bodega though; she also cooks lunches on request (and there are plenty of requests) and Sundays makes soup.  On the weekends and holidays, she cooks hundreds of tamales that her neighbors, passer-bys, and relatives clamor for; she has even been asked to cater for several weddings (which take 200+ tamales).  With her husband now available to help run the store, Mrs. Roca is likely to expand in her burgeoning food sales network.   For the upcoming Christmas season, Rosario is stocking up on panetones (Peruvian fruitcake), milk, and sugar.  She has timed her next loan from EDAPROSPO well so she will get the full dispersal a month before Christmas to temporarily boost her capital for the busy season (she wanted to do this last year, but her group needed experience [in the form of regret] rather than foresight to agree to pay their loans off early to start a new cycle in December rather than February like usual).

The community bond of trust is undoubtedly strengthened in the formal setting of microfinance.  However, in Rosario’s case, the bonds existed before the ‘banquito’ even started.  Six years ago, an event that could have easily broken the virtuous circle of trust occurred.  Rosario had been running low on supplies and needed to go to a discount superstore to stock up on new items.  With 1000 soles on hand, she went to a place about thirty minutes away by taxi to buy items for her store.  After she had collected all the merchandise she needed in several large bags, she hailed a cab.  The cab arrived, she filled it with all of her goods (her store was basically empty so the items she’d bought represented all the capital she had accumulated over many years), and they drove back to her street.  The cab driver suggested he back up to her store so she could more easily unload the heavy bags of merchandise.  After doing so, she stepped out of the cab and walked around to the trunk to begin unloading her goods.  The cab driver then hit the gas and swerved out of the street and neighborhood with a thousand soles worth of merchandise, never to be seen again.  When everything is taken, something is returned.  Mrs. Roca was financially ruined; the bodega she had been building up for many years- gone – in a blink of an eye.  But then something inspiring happened.  Her neighbors, not wealthy people themselves, decided to hold an event in the street.  With their get-together, they raised enough money to replace everything that had been stolen. 

Now I am a believer in the institutional role that microfinance can play in building trust among people; you extended trust to Mrs. Rosario Roca by lending her your money, she built upon your trust by repaying you promptly and in full.  The institutional underpinnings of microfinance are rooted in someone taking an initial risk of lending to a person who has no collateral and having that risk met and exceeded (in relation to the rate of their richer brethren) by prompt repayments by the poor.  If that trust is not met, then it is very likely that the poor entrepreneur will never get another chance to get access to credit.  What I love about Mrs. Rosario Roca’s story is the reminder that trust is not confined to formal relationships.  The extension of credit may be taken away but you cannot take away your neighbors.  Mrs. Roca’s neighborhood is a cauldron of trust, one where people look out for each other in sickness, in theft, and in poverty.  Microfinance offers a path out of poverty by allowing trust to swirl through the field of financial services and into an accumulation of physical capital based on formal relationships.  What Mrs. Rosario Roca’s neighborhood offers is a path out of isolation by allowing trust to swirl through individual traumas and tribulations and into an accumulation of social capital based on the necessarily informal relationships of love. 

rosario roca

Posted by: joshtoro | November 28, 2008

Josh’s Book List

If you’re interested in what I am reading or what I have read since I started keeping my Pseudomemories (since September 2006), then this is that list.  Since it is rare for us not to be affected by what we read, a lot of what I write and perhaps think are influenced by the following books.  You can click on the pictures to go the book’s page on Amazon…that’ll give you a description and a chance to buy it, should you please.  At the top of the page I’ll keep a running total for books and pages read.  All of these books have been read in their entirety from front-to-back. 

Total Books Read:   146    Total Pages Read:  45,626

Current Book:  What’s Wrong with Microfinance?  eds. Thomas Dichter & Malcolm Harper  285pg

 whats-wrong-with-microfinance1

 

 

Books Read:  

01/16/09 to Present   The Big Hunt for a Job (and occasionally, animals ;) )

beyond-tragedyshadow-of-the-sunstrunk-and-whitecareer-diplomacy

08/20/08 to 01/15/09  Kiva Fellowship Companions

persecuted church by Tyler Thigpeneconomist world in 2009kafka on the shorethe god of small thingsThe RoadHow to Be Aloneto siberiaa history of the american peoplehalf the way homeNationi was told there'd be cakethe white castleveronika decides to dieKiva Fellowship 10/02/08-1/15/09abril rojounder my skindiamonds, gold, and warelusive quest for growthemperors childrenthe war of the worldblindnessthe gatheringout stealing horsesJesus Wants to Save Christians

05/15/08 to 08/19/08 Center of Summer is Carter (Carter Center Assistantship)

devil in the white citywhen a crocodile eats the sundespite good intentionsPillars of the EarthKite RunnerFacing the CongoGoverning the AmericasIts Not About the Bikethe white nilecontemporary latin america

 

 

List Format

  1.  The Idea of a Christian Society by TS Eliot 104pg
  2.  The Development of Religion/The Religion of Development inspired by Quarles von Ufford 196pg
  3.  Faith in Development: Partnership between the World Bank and the Churches of Africa 243pg
  4.  Under Orders: The Churches and Public Affairs by Roswell P. Barnes 138pg
  5.  Makers of the Western Tradition: Portraits from History vol.2 by J. Kelley Sowards 323pg
  6.  Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell 303pg
  7.  The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham 314pg
  8.  The Everlasting Man by GK Chesterton 320pg
  9.  The Gifts of the Jews by Thomas Cahill 252pg
  10.  The Cult of Rhodes: Remembering an Imperialist in Africa by Paul Maylam 184pg
  11.  The History of South Africa by Roger B. Beck 248pg
  12.  Orthodoxy by GK Chesterton 168pg
  13.  Gods and Generals by Jeff Shaara 498pg
  14.  Listening to God in Times of Choice by Gordon Smith 150pg
  15.  The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara 376pg
  16.  Gandhi by David Arnold 266pg
  17.  To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf 320pg
  18.  The Wealth and Poverty of Nations by David Landes 650pg
  19.  Strange and Dangerous Dreams by Geoff Powter 245pg
  20.  Subverting Greed: Religious Perspectives on the Global Economy by Kaitter and Muzaffar 193pg
  21.  A Short History of Byzantium by John Julius Norwich 472pg
  22.  Confessions of a Reformission Reverend by Mark Driscoll 207pg
  23.  The Mystery of Marriage by Mike Mason 222pg
  24.  The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho 190pg
  25.  Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson 245pg
  26.  The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery 85pg
  27.  The World in 2007 by The Economist 130pg
  28.  The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver 543pg
  29.  The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman 326pg
  30.  The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman 550pg
  31.  Ignorance by Milan Kundera 195pg
  32.  By the River Piedra, I Sat Down and Wept by Paulo Coelho 180pg
  33.  The Fifth Mountain by Paulo Coelho 245pg
  34.  The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera 312pg
  35.  Three Weeks with my Brother by Nicholas Sparks 356pg
  36.  The Way of the Wild Heart by John Eldredge 302pg
  37.  Simply Christian by NT Wright 240pg
  38.  What is the What by Dave Eggers 476pg
  39.  Liza Lambeth by Somerset Maugham 102pg
  40.  The Dust of Empire by Karl E. Meyer 286pg
  41.  Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson 240pg
  42.  Sex God by Rob Bell 201pg
  43.  Foreign Aid by Carol Lancaster 284pg
  44.  US Economic Foreign Aid: A Case Study of USAID by David Porter 238pg
  45.  Transforming Foreign Aid by Carol Lancaster 112pg
  46.  The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki 321pg
  47.  Understanding and Managing Public Organizations by Hal Rainey 504pg
  48.  Organization Theory and Design by Richard Daft 640pg
  49.  The Politics of Public Budgeting by Irene Rubin 347pg
  50.  Budgeting Politics in American Governments by James Gosling 279pg
  51.  Lords of Poverty by Graham Hancock 250pg
  52.  The White Man’s Burden by William Easterly 436pg
  53.  Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris 257pg
  54.  The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy 326pg
  55.  International Relations of Social Change by Jan Aart Scholte 186pg
  56.  Colossus by Niall Ferguson 415pg
  57.  King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild 318pg
  58.  Getting to the 21st Century by David Korten 253pg
  59.  Alice Lakwena and the Holy Spirits by Heike Behrend 193pg
  60.  Aboke Girls by Els De Temmerman 168pg
  61.  The Scars of Death by Human Rights Watch 135pg
  62.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling 760pg
  63.  Till We Have Faces by CS Lewis 313pg
  64.  Into the Wild by Jon Krakaeur 203pg
  65.  Waking the Dead by John Eldredge 243pg
  66.  Serve God Save the Planet by J. Matthew Sleeth 255pg
  67.  The Irresistable Revolution by Shane Claiborne 367pg
  68.  Bureaucracy and Red Tape by Barry Bozeman 224pg
  69.  Life of Pi by Yann Martel 336pg
  70.  Diminished Democracy by Theda Skocpol 366pg
  71.  The War for Muslim Minds by Gilles Kepel 295pg
  72.  Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris 272pg
  73.  Public Personnel Administration: Problems & Prospects 4th ed. by Steven Hays and Richard Kearney 398pg
  74.  The New Public Personnel Administration by Nigro, Nigro, and Kellough 362pg
  75.  A Voice for Nonprofits by Jeffrey Berry and David Arons 219pg
  76.  Nonprofits and Government by Elizabeth Boris and Eugene Steuerle 395pg
  77.  The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism(20th anniv. ed) by Daniel Bell 397pg
  78.  Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen 382pg
  79.  The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell 301pg
  80.  Prayer & the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance by Donald Miller 291pg
  81.  Toward an End to Hunger in America by Peter Eisinger 188pg
  82.  Food for the Hungry: The Reluctant Society by Judith Segal 91pg
  83.  Beyond Party: The Know-Nothing Movement by Mark Voss-Hubbard 262pg
  84.  Snow by Orhan Pamuk 463pg
  85.  The Four Loves by CS Lewis 141pg
  86.  How We Are Hungry by Dave Eggers 214pg
  87.  Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart 344pg
  88.  A Billion Bootstraps by Phil Smith & Eric Thurman 238pg
  89.  Microfinance Handbook by Joanna Ledgerwood 302pg
  90.  Microfinance: Evolution, Achievements, & Challenges ed. Malcolm Harper 182pg
  91.  My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk 412pg
  92.  God and Gold by Walter Russell Mead 449pg
  93.  Finance and Poverty by Maria Carpio 176pg
  94.  The Economics of Microfinance by Armendariz de Aghion & Morduch 346pg
  95.  The Commercialization of Microfinance eds. Deborah Drake & Elisabeth Rhyne 320pg
  96.  Impact Analysis for Program Evaluation by Lawrence Mohr 311pg
  97.  Contemporary Latin America by Ronaldo Munck 260pg
  98.  The White Nile by Alan Moorehead 431pg
  99.  It’s Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong 289pg
  100.  Governing the Americas: Assessing Multilateral Institutions eds. Gordon Mace, Jean-Phillipe Therien & Paul Haslem 317pg
  101.  Facing the Congo by Jeffrey Tayler 286pg
  102.  The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini 400pg
  103.  The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett 973pg
  104.  Despite Good Intentions: Why Development Assistance to the Third World has Failed by Thomas Dichter 317pg
  105.  When a Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin 352pg
  106.  The Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen 447pg
  107.  The Fate of Africa by Martin Meredith 753pg
  108.  The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu 228pg
  109.  The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin by Adam Hochschild 331pg
  110.  Forgotten Continent: The Battle for Latin America’s Soul by Michael Reid 399pg
  111.  Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins  328pg
  112.  The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning  235pg
  113.  The Princess Bride by William Golding  283pg
  114.  Our Endangered Values by Jimmy Carter  222pg
  115.  Quarterlife Crisis by Robbins & Wilner  198pg
  116.  The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta  368pg
  117.  The Great Divorce by CS Lewis 160pg
  118.  Dave Barry’s History of the Millennium (So Far!) by Dave Barry  256pg
  119. Jesus Wants to Save Christians by Rob Bell   218pg
  120. Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson   238pg
  121. The Gathering by Anne Enright   261pg
  122. Blindness by Jose Saramago   352pg
  123. The War of the World by Niall Ferguson  879pg
  124. The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud   496pg
  125. The Elusive Quest for Growth by William Easterly   355pg
  126. Diamonds, Gold, & War: The British, The Boers, and the Making of South Africa by Martin Meredith   570pg
  127. Under My Skin: Volume 1 of My Autobiography, 1929-1949 by Doris Lessing  419pg
  128. Abril Rojo por Santiago Roncagliolo   328pg
  129. The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon  192pg
  130. Veronika Decides to Die by Paolo Coehlo  240pg
  131. The White Castle by Orhan Pamuk 161pg
  132. I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley 240pg
  133. Nation by Terry Pratchett  370pg
  134. Half the Way Home: A Memoir of Father and Son by Adam Hochschild  248pg
  135. A History of the American People by Paul Johnson 1104pg
  136. To Siberia by Per Petterson 256pg
  137. How to Be Alone by Jonathan Franzen 320pg
  138. The Road by Cormac McCarthy  287pg
  139. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy 336pg
  140. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami   480pg
  141. The World in 2009 by The Economist  206pg
  142. The Persecuted Church by Tyler Thigpen  148pg
  143. Career Diplomacy by Harry Kopp and Charles Gillespie  266pg
  144. The Elements of Style (4th ed) by William Strunk and E.B. White   105pg
  145. The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuscinski   325pg
  146. Beyond Tragedy: Essays on the Christian Interpretation of History by Reinhold Niebuhr  317pg
  147. CURRENTLY READING
Posted by: joshtoro | November 19, 2008

Moving Right Along…

With 7 weeks past and 8 weeks to go, my Kiva Fellowship is moving right along.  As my colleagues around the world, from Cambodia to Uganda to Peru can attest, much of the Kiva Fellow’s life is spent in motion. Already I have had two days where the number of hours spent on buses to number of clients interviewed, if imagined as a see-saw, would make for one very boring recess hanging on a plank suspended in the air. But if my last post dealt with my feelings on productivity (see “Buses and Productivity“), now I am considering the more general implication of movement and capital and Kiva.

Financial institutions like EDAPROSPO function as intermediaries that allocate capital from those who have it to those who need it.  In the for-profit world, this allocation occurs for its namesake: profit.  In the nonprofit world, however, the allocation is done with a double bottom line: profit (just enough for the institution to cover its costs) and social impact.  Lenders on Kiva lend their money for no profit and thus can be said to be interested solely in social impact.  The desire to see lives changed for the better powers the movement of capital on Kiva from lenders.

nelly ruth guerra de donayre

Nelly Ruth Guerra de Donayre

And what of the borrowers?  Entrepreneurs, at least here in Peru, join in by moving capital once dormant or confined to the house into the economic sphere.  I have seen this phenomenon with one lady I interviewed recently in Puente Piedra (a northern exurb of Lima, Peru) named Nelly Ruth Guerra De Donayre. She decided that the lunches and soups she makes for her family could easily be sold to her neighbors.  Now that a large military base is being built two blocks away, she has the incredible opportunity to sell to the hundreds of workers who will be building the base and later the hundreds of soldiers who will live there. 

 

 

Guadalupe 'Lupita' Rodriguez Torres

Lupita Rodriguez Torres

Another woman like Guadalupe ‘Lupita’ Rodriguez Torres first built a network of clients by selling products from an Avon catalogue and  then utilized that network to sell her homemade leather goods and build informal savings and loan groups.  She has gone even further by preparing breakfast and lunches to sell to the workers at the leather factory where she buys the leather for her aforementioned leather products. The entrepreneurs on Kiva move capital from the household to the economic sphere and thus use these goods and services to create the possibility of profit for them and their families. Borrowing money from Kiva through the Field Partners often allows them to overcome constraints that impede their profits or to create opportunities for faster accumulation (ie loan to buy a taxi rather than renting it, ability to buy more goods to sell, etc.). At the heart of most of the stories I hear are the motivations to provide a better future and education for their children and to build and improve their house (process described in “Buses and Productivity“).  Thus, the desire to see lives changed for the better powers the movement of capital by Kiva borrowers.

So what I have seen is that the twin movements of capital, from excess capital to loans and from deficit capital to loans, are powered by a common desire to see lives changed for the better.  While the outcome is assuredly right, I believe that the process is beneficial as well.  There is something to be said about joining (the) movement.  If this movement of capital for the sake of improving individual lives can be likened to a stream, then there are several possible parallels that can be drawn.  Like entrepreneurs draw out personal items into the marketplace and gain profits and improve the lives of themselves and their families, so too will we change and be changed by bringing our personal talents and abilities into society.  CS Lewis in The Four Loves talks about how each of us draws something out of each other; when one person enters the group, everyone has something new drawn out of them.  In the same way an entrepreneur creates new capital for the entire economy, so too do we each add something new when we take a step outside of our private world.

A second parallel with a stream mimics Heraclitus’ famous saying: No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.  As the lenders on Kiva continually have new options on how to allocate their capital for the sake of changing lives for the better, so too do we have the option of allocating our capital – our talents and abilities – everyday to someone or something new.  No relationship is stagnant; history accumulates everyday. No interaction with a person is ever the same; people change and so every interaction is a new opportunity to invest in someone else.  And like the capital invested on Kiva, the effects of our invested time and abilities can have a cascading effect: a loan to one woman allows her to  her invest money into the education of her children who may one day use their accumulated knowledge to transform not only their household but their community or even their nation. Imagine if Barack Obama’s paternal grandmother had received a microloan via Kiva to raise goats in rural Kenya, which led to enough saved money to let his father travel to the States which eventually led to the first African-American president (He didn’t but there could be someone today is starting a similar process). As springs become rivulets become creeks become streams become rivers become seas, a single movement into motion can become an ocean.

One of the things that drew me to Kiva was that it allowed me to put my idle capital into motion for the sake of better lives around the world.  The cascading effect is particularly appealing.  One person’s decision to let an extra $25 be used by another can lead to a changed life for the better.  Another person’s decision to share their lunches with others can lead to a changed life and lives for the better.  While economists have been slow to move away from the classic labor/capital divide to embrace the hybrid concept of human capital, I think Kiva captures that sense of that new word fantastically.   Lenders and entrepreneurs on Kiva are engaged not only in that movement of physical capital but also in that broad societal movement of human capital.  With profit, the word human capital becomes a hybrid – what matters is how humans fit into your enterprise for the sake of profit; you cannot separate the two.  In fact the economist’s term ought to be humancapital.  I believe the negation of profit for the sake of social impact allows Kiva to be in the movement of HUMAN CAPITAL.  We are investing in each other, changing others and being changed ourselves, and the result is more humanity, more lives changed for the better.  I believe that this is right type of capitalism, one that adds to the reservoir of capital in humans.  Whereas profit treats capital solely as a summation of money, social impact treats capital solely as the summation of quality of human life. And as my job as a Kiva Fellow is to strengthen Kiva’s movement of capital, I like to think of it as building the strength of this brook so that it can join other brooks and form streams that will form rivers that will form an ocean that can cover the world.  If this capitalist movement of capital facilitated by Kiva can be said to be linked to the bigger idea of HUMAN CAPITAL, then I could say my role as a Kiva Fellow is moving right (capitalism) along…

 

To move capital to fundraising clients of EDAPROSPO on Kiva, click here.

Posted by: joshtoro | November 13, 2008

Marriage -> DEBT <- World Politics

In lieu of sharing my own stories, I have amalgamated three stories with a common bond, debt, that has been preoccupying me both in my dealings with microfinance (the less rosy picture of credit is debt) and in my own musings on life.  As my job involves promoting the extension of credit to poor entrepreneurs and as my life is composed of relationships and takes place in the grander narrative of history, I believe these issues are okay to ruminate on.  I would opine on the matter at great length, and perhaps will in a later post, but for now let me share with you three pieces that may give insight into the puzzle I’m assembling and disassembling in my mind on long walks in the wee hours of the night.

First, to give deference to my post’s title, is a lecture/sermon series given by Andy Stanley that I found by accident when looking at a funny parable using Starbucks (“Coffee is good”…”All the time!”).  It is called iMarriage and the first part (there are three) deals with the tricky cross-over between desires and expectations and all the consequences this has for marriages.  I’ve included the first part of NorthPoint’s Marriage Expectations below:

In the middle of this talk, Andy mentions how insidious the shift from desire to expectation can be and how romance is necessarily snuffed out by the introduction of a debt/debtor mindset.  While I affirm his beliefs, I obviously have never been married and thus have no basis for my supportive opinion.  What I do have, however, is the experience of playing board games with roommates and friends.  At the point where one player replaces the mystery of the outcome and the desires of world domination (I’m talking about the game Risk, but insert the title of whatever game you play) with an expectation that one player will obviously win, it takes all excitement and all joy out of the game.  If you win, it was expected and you may even feel disappointed that you didn’t win in a more convincing fashion.  This same joy-killing attitude can infect sports and obviously marriages.

So moving on to the specific idea of DEBT as it affects personal relationships, I point you toward a good article by the Canadian author Margaret Atwood.  Entitled “A Matter of Life and Debt”, Ms. Atwood’s article in the New York Times came at the height of the unraveling of the American financial system in October.  I have included it below but you can also find it here.

 


October 22, 2008
OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

A Matter of Life and Debt

THIS week, credit has begun to loosen, stock markets have been encouraged enough to reclaim lost ground (at least for now) and there is a collective sigh of hope that lenders will begin to trust in the financial system again.

But we’re deluding ourselves if we assume that we can recover from the crisis of 2008 so quickly and easily simply by watching the Dow creep upward. The wounds go deeper than that. To heal them, we must repair the broken moral balance that let this chaos loose.

Debt — who owes what to whom, or to what, and how that debt gets paid — is a subject much larger than money. It has to do with our basic sense of fairness, a sense that is embedded in all of our exchanges with our fellow human beings.

But at some point we stopped seeing debt as a simple personal relationship. The human factor became diminished. Maybe it had something to do with the sheer volume of transactions that computers have enabled. But what we seem to have forgotten is that the debtor is only one twin in a joined-at-the-hip pair, the other twin being the creditor. The whole edifice rests on a few fundamental principles that are inherent in us.

We are social creatures who must interact for mutual benefit, and — the negative version — who harbor grudges when we feel we’ve been treated unfairly. Without a sense of fairness and also a level of trust, without a system of reciprocal altruism and tit-for-tat — one good turn deserves another, and so does one bad turn — no one would ever lend anything, as there would be no expectation of being paid back. And people would lie, cheat and steal with abandon, as there would be no punishments for such behavior.

Children begin saying, “That’s not fair!” long before they start figuring out money; they exchange favors, toys and punches early in life, setting their own exchange rates. Almost every human interaction involves debts incurred — debts that are either paid, in which case balance is restored, or else not, in which case people feel angry. A simple example: You’re in your car, and you let someone else go ahead of you, and the driver doesn’t nod, wave or honk. How do you feel?

Once you start looking at life through these spectacles, debtor-creditor relationships play out in fascinating ways. In many religions, for instance. The version of the Lord’s Prayer I memorized as a child included the line, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” In Aramaic, the language that Jesus himself spoke, the word for “debt” and the word for “sin” are the same. And although many people assume that “debts” in these contexts refer to spiritual debts or trespasses, debts are also considered sins. If you don’t pay back what’s owed, you cause harm to others.

The fairness essential to debt and redemption is reflected in the afterlives of many religions, in which crimes unpunished in this world get their comeuppance in the next. For instance, hell, in Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” is the place where absolutely everything is remembered by those in torment, whereas in heaven you forget your personal self and who still owes you five bucks and instead turn to the contemplation of selfless Being.

Debtor-creditor bonds are also central to the plots of many novels — especially those from the 19th century, when the boom-and-bust cycles of manufacturing and no-holds-barred capitalism were new and frightening phenomena, and ruined many. Such stories tell what happens when you don’t pay, won’t pay or can’t pay, and when official punishments ranged from debtors’ prisons to debt slavery.

In “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” for example, human beings are sold to pay off the rashly contracted debts. In “Madame Bovary,” a provincial wife takes not only to love and extramarital sex as an escape from boredom, but also — more dangerously — to overspending. She poisons herself when her unpaid creditor threatens to expose her double life. Had Emma Bovary but learned double-entry bookkeeping and drawn up a budget, she could easily have gone on with her hobby of adultery.

For her part, Lily Bart in “The House of Mirth” fails to see that if a man lends you money and charges no interest, he’s going to want payment of some other kind.

As for what will happen to us next, I have no safe answers. If fair regulations are established and credibility is restored, people will stop walking around in a daze, roll up their sleeves and start picking up the pieces. Things unconnected with money will be valued more — friends, family, a walk in the woods. “I” will be spoken less, “we” will return, as people recognize that there is such a thing as the common good.

On the other hand, if fair regulations are not established and rebuilding seems impossible, we could have social unrest on a scale we haven’t seen for years.

Is there any bright side to this? Perhaps we’ll have some breathing room — a chance to re-evaluate our goals and to take stock of our relationship to the living planet from which we derive all our nourishment, and without which debt finally won’t matter.

Margaret Atwood is the author of “The Handmaid’s Tale” and, most recently, “Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth.”

 


 

 

To end this triumvirate with the Julius-Caesar character being DEBT, I present an interview that noted English/American author Niall Ferguson gave to the German paper Der Spiegel today.  If you are wondering about the connection, I just finished Niall Ferguson’s massively long book “The War of the World” encompassing 880 pages so I am pretty engrossed into his worldview.  Also his interview is entitled “A World War Without War” and he delves into insights he garnered whilst writing his tome on the First and Second World Wars.  In the interview he describes the current arc of history and specifically refers to the recent past and upcoming future as Chimerca, a marriage relationship between the United States and China based on debt/debtor version of marriage.  You can read the article here or simply scroll down:

11/11/2008 04:47 PM

NIALL FERGUSON ON OBAMA AND THE GLOBAL CRISIS

‘A World War without War’

In a SPIEGEL interview, British historian Niall Ferguson discusses Barack Obama’s historical election, Europe’s hopes for the new president, the consequences of the economic crisis and his idea of “Chimerica” — the economic alliance between Beijing and Washington.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Ferguson, were you moved when you saw the future president, Barack Obama, in Chicago?

Ferguson: Yes, it was a very moving moment. It was similar to the release of Nelson Mandela. When Obama was born, in 1961, mixed marriages between blacks and whites were still illegal in one-third of the American states.

SPIEGEL: Historically speaking, that was yesterday,

Ferguson: Of course. But we are talking about ordinary discrimination, not just the legacy of slavery. And it had not disappeared. It is astonishing that the transformation from a racist America to an America that elects a black man to the White House was possible within that period of time. Even the world’s most dogmatic conservative ought to be moved.

SPIEGEL: You initially favored John McCain?

Ferguson: I have become a convert in the last six months because of Obama’s extraordinary combination of rhetorical genius, coolness under fire and organizational skills. This was the best election campaign we have ever experienced.

SPIEGEL: Which doesn’t necessarily have to mean a great presidency.

Ferguson: What it means is enough: the death of racism, the end of the original American sin and, most of all, the right reaction to end the economic crisis. Obama can stimulate self-confidence because he is so calm and collected. He will not simply put an end to the crisis or ensure that banks lend money again. He is a politician, not the Messiah. But he can change the national mood. Americans are lucky that they were able to elect him now, just as the panic reached its climax. It is as if they had voted Roosevelt into office earlier, in 1930, and not in 1933.

SPIEGEL: Shouldn’t the world have seen it coming, the economic crisis we are now experiencing?

Ferguson: Of course, it has been clear since 2006. I know that for many people it doesn’t feel that way. They are horrified because they were taken by surprise, and they are in a panic because the enemy comes from within. The system is the enemy. And they don’t understand the nuances of the crisis, which makes them afraid.

SPIEGEL: In retrospect, historians are usually right. What did you foresee in 2006?

Ferguson: Excessive debt. The debts of private households and the financial institutions reached levels that could no longer be offset. Then came the bubble in the real estate market, when prices doubled even though the houses weren’t worth the money. But most of all, there was the ignorance of the bankers, hedge fund managers and financial experts in the political arena, who did not want to recognize something that was plain as day.

SPIEGEL: Namely?

Ferguson: That a liquidity crisis could happen. That they would run out of money. “Impossible,” everyone was saying at the time.

SPIEGEL: It sounds a little self-opinionated for you to claim that you had predicted all of this for years.

Ferguson: Oh, I’ve been wrong before. The thing I was wrong about was the trigger.

SPIEGEL: The trigger?

Ferguson: I had believed that the price of oil would be the cause of the world economic crisis, and that the necessary trigger would be a second defenestration, a second Sarajevo and perhaps even a war, a truly major war.

SPIEGEL: Iraq and Afghanistan don’t count?

Ferguson: Too small. I had believed that a geopolitical event would lead to a credit crisis, but this crisis is so fundamental that it was capable of triggering itself. Money disappeared, and now companies can no longer refinance, can no longer borrow anything. Now it’ll be bloody.

SPIEGEL: Are the bubbles happening with greater frequency than before, or is this just the way we perceive it? Or has the world economy consisted of a single super-bubble for some time now, as speculator George Soros says?

Ferguson: There have been bubbles large and small, again and again since 1700. First there was the tulip bubble and then, in 1890, it was all about the gold mines. No, we haven’t even changed the rules of the game. If a central bank makes loans available to speculators at low interest rates, we have a bubble. Always, it’s guaranteed. Yesterday, today and tomorrow again.

SPIEGEL: Do you consider the US government’s so-called bailout plan and the Europeans’ investments in banks to be pointless?

Ferguson: No, but it is not clear that they will work. We have a situation like 1914 or 1931, and the financial and fiscal authorities have learned from history. They are doing the right thing. They are trying everything to prevent us from getting into a Great Depression.

SPIEGEL: With success?

Ferguson: We will see. So far, success has meant that relatively few banks have collapsed, whereas in the 1930s it was thousands. At that time, the gross national product dropped by 30 percent and there was 25 percent unemployment in the United States. This time we will have a painful recession, but not figures like those. What I truly criticize is the fact that so much time was wasted.

SPIEGEL: What was lost as a result?

Ferguson: Flexibility. Clout. A lot of money. Many, many possible solutions. The US treasury secretary should have flown to Beijing and could have solicited investment in American banks, which would have benefited everyone. Those who combat a crisis early on can prevent its effects from becoming too entrenched.

SPIEGEL: Is confidence in the market’s ability to purify itself dead?

Ferguson: Yes. But a true Armageddon was needed before the Republicans could be made to understand. A world war without war, a state of emergency, was needed. Now we are responding the way they did in World War I: with moratoriums, suspension of trading, new money. It’s fascinating. And it wasn’t the fault of Alan Greenspan …

SPIEGEL: … the former Federal Reserve Bank chairman …

Ferguson: … who believed that the market would regulate everything, and yet the assignment of blame is too simplistic. We are all at fault. Who in America or Great Britain didn’t take out a loan for a house that was far too expensive or for a car? And then all of these bubbles come to resemble one another, but the financial world is immune against the whole thing.

SPIEGEL: Why?

Ferguson: Most managers leave the educational system completely unequipped for the decisions they will have to make. They learn business as a mathematical discipline. They know nothing about what happened before their careers began. Many working on Wall Street today don’t even know what happened in 2000, after the Internet boom.

‘A Crisis of the Western World’

SPIEGEL: Does the system teach people to be irresponsible?

Ferguson: And to be naïve. For these people, it must have felt as if nothing could go wrong between 2001-2007. When that happens, one is tempted to make one’s own experience part of the theory of financial history.

SPIEGEL: Is it a coincidence that this crash began in the United States?

Ferguson: It could have started anywhere. The system was an upside-down pyramid, a pyramid made up of securities, derivatives, bets and loans, and all of it was balanced on a fragile tip consisting of mortgages. If it had happened someplace else, the consequences just wouldn’t have been as dramatic. But it had to tip over. It was a crisis of the Western world, and then it turned into a global crisis.

SPIEGEL: Will Barack Obama truly change the world? Or world politics?

Ferguson: Yes, by virtue of his very existence. The world is waiting for him, ready for a different America. The United States has the opportunity to remake itself without Obama having to make many changes to its foreign policy. He will close Guantanamo and declare an end to torture. All he has to do is change the tone and the game will already change because he is the one playing it. That is the real phenomenon. By virtue of his sheer existence, he reestablishes American credibility.

SPIEGEL: There are concerns in Germany that a President Obama will demand more soldiers for Afghanistan. On the other hand, there is hope that he will pursue multilateral policies.

Ferguson: Both are justified. Obama will certainly focus on Afghanistan, while at the same time attempting to withdraw Americans and get international soldiers. A true challenge could arise if Iran or al-Qaida tried to test Obama. Al-Qaida hasn’t been taken over by J.P. Morgan yet, and Iran won’t abandon its nuclear policy just because a black man is in the White House. Both dangers still exist. However, I believe that all of these issues, including Kyoto, will initially fade into the background because the economic crisis will demand our attention for a long time.

SPIEGEL: What will the consequences of the crisis be?

Ferguson: New York could turn into Venice.

SPIEGEL: A museum of itself?

Ferguson: At least in the distant future, in 100 or 200 years. The more that happens in Asia, the better London’s position will be, even from a geographic standpoint. The same, of course, applies to Shanghai, or Hong Kong.

SPIEGEL: Life is unfair.

Ferguson: Money has never been fair.

SPIEGEL: Isn’t Europe better equipped for times of crisis? More modern?

Ferguson: Perhaps, but Europe will be more severely hit by the crisis. In Great Britain, Switzerland, Belgium and Germany, the financial sector constitutes a higher percentage of the gross domestic product than in America, which is why the impact will be far greater in Europe. And Russia, Iran and Venezuela are feeling the brunt of falling oil prices.

SPIEGEL: In other words, the United States could become a winner in the current crisis, for which it bears the blame?

Ferguson: Absolutely. Obituaries are premature. It depends on how China reacts. The Chinese have achieved exchange rate stability and protected the dollar with artificial interventions. They will continue their policies because they now own vast numbers of dollars and export goods that are paid for in dollars. The United States and China are involved in a marriage like my wife’s and mine.

SPIEGEL: The wife …

Ferguson: (laughs) … spends what the husband saves and earns. A very healthy equilibrium. It will remain that way.

SPIEGEL: What is so healthy about it?

Ferguson: It has always been the case that one economy offsets the weaknesses of others. There is nothing wrong with that. The United States can afford to pay for this crisis as long as it gets cheap money in Beijing — that is, by paying not much more than four percent interest. And China needs its exports to the United States to continue growing. Chimerica …

SPIEGEL: … that’s what you call the structure of the Chinese and US economies in your new book …

Ferguson: … is no chimera, but rather a functioning alliance. Of the big three — China, Russia and America — two always join forces in a coalition, and neither China nor the United States has any reason to prefer Russia as a partner.

SPIEGEL: And yet the American deficit cannot be healthy.

Ferguson: Well, it’ll balance itself out a little now. But if the United States had a balanced budget, it would be a shock for the global system. No one can seriously want this to happen. If the Americans started saving the way the Chinese do, that’s when we would have a Great Depression!

SPIEGEL: That was one of Barack Obama’s key warnings: “We borrow money in China and use it to buy oil in Saudi Arabia.” During the campaign, he repeatedly promised that he would put an end to this.

Ferguson: A few foreign policy advisors will probably explain to him very quickly that he would be better off not to touch the relationship with China.

SPIEGEL: But there is some truth to his sentence.

Ferguson: That’s true, but it is also an over-simplification. Americans want to buy goods inexpensively, and the Chinese can produce inexpensively. Does anyone want to upset this system? Imbalances should exist in a global economy. Nations grow at different rates, and the system is there to transfer profits and savings from one place to another. This makes much more sense than the financial autarchy of the 1950s, when there were no international transactions.

SPIEGEL: It’s hard to believe. In the end, you think everything is fine the way it is?

Ferguson: No, but the subject isn’t the deficit or America’s dependence on China. China has become somewhat more self-confident and America somewhat more insecure, but China is no rival for America, neither militarily nor economically. The subject is dependence on oil, which is a technological subject, not a financial one.

SPIEGEL: Responsible politicians …

Ferguson: … would borrow money in China and invest in clean technology, in wind power and solar power. That would be a rational strategy. It was crazy to borrow money in China and burn through it by speculating in the real estate market.

SPIEGEL: So you don’t think lending is the problem?

Ferguson: It never has been. Lending transactions are the basis of the economy. It isn’t lending, it’s investment. If you don’t invest, but just consume, you bring about your own ruin.

SPIEGEL: Will European-American relations change?

Ferguson: Yes, but not in the way many Europeans expect. Democrats and Republicans are not that different on foreign policy. In fact, there is much more continuity than you would think. Will Obama be the antithesis to Bush? No, because the national interests of the United States have remained the same.

SPIEGEL: Obama has not had a relationship with Europe so far.

Ferguson: And for that reason he will see Europe as a single entity. He’ll be surprised, because he doesn’t know whom to call when he wants to speak to Europe. Europe will present itself to him as a group of sovereign states, and Messrs. Sarkozy and Brown, and Ms. Merkel, will all want to be his best friend, each of them on their own.

SPIEGEL: What will the new American president be able to achieve economically, if anything?

Ferguson: He promises a feeling of change, not necessarily real change. But the feeling is already important enough. This whole crisis has to do with trust and self-confidence. We need a US president who brings renewal.

SPIEGEL: So what can Obama do?

Ferguson: He can give a great inauguration speech.

SPIEGEL: And what else?

Ferguson: Give more great speeches.

SPIEGEL: He can’t do more?

Ferguson: No, because he will have the least latitude of all presidents we can remember. Obama wants to assemble a nonpartisan government, and we will experience a more cautious first 100 days than we did under Bill Clinton. He will be cautious to the point of being boring. This will be precisely his great strength.

SPIEGEL: Where does the problem lie?

Ferguson: With Hank Paulson.

SPIEGEL: What does the current treasury secretary have to do with Obama?

Ferguson: Because of his big bailout plan, Paulson has already spent the money for Obama’s healthcare reform and for his tax cuts. The money is gone.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Ferguson, we thank you for this interview.

Interview conducted by Klaus Brinkbäumer.

 

And there you have it, an inside glimpse into how Josh’s pseudomemories are fortified.  By drawing together disparate pieces of information gathered in the course of my past few days and pondering how they could fit together, I am beginning to formulate deeply held beliefs about marriage, debt, and world history.  While I am notorious for having opinions and knowing what they are but then refusing to share them unless absolutely pressed, here is a glimpse into how they sometimes meld into what I call a pseudomemory.

Memories are just imagination with a hint of arrogance thrown in.  If one is honest, we would realize that what we take as ‘MEMORY’ is really just an imaginative reorganizing of the myriad of experiences and information we have received in our past into a format we can understand (and especially minute amounts of all we have received…if you think of sample sizes and their effect on the validity of a research experiment, then it ought to become readily apparent to us how tenuous our bases for opinions are and hence how lightly we ought to regard them when substantial issues are at stake [ie our relationships with other people, nations, and God]).  Obviously I have read much more than these two articles and Mr. Ferguson’s book in the past week and heard more people talk than Mr Stanley and have thought extensively on other topics, but for some reason or another, those three sources came to form an idea that I probably will tuck away for future reference when consulted on the topic of marriage/debt/world history.  Though memory is rightfully the storage area of knowledge and experience that inform our current opinions, I prefer to view any PARTICULAR delving into that ocean as a pseudomemory- a hazy idea formed of memorable components could easily be re-arranged tomorrow to justify a new course of action.  Let the prefix add humility to a word which connotes pride and, if unexamined, can lead to disastrous consequences (ie nationalism, stubborn policies, fundamentalism, judgmentalism, etc.).  

Now if you can excuse me, I need to dismount off my high horse and get back to work. ;)

Posted by: joshtoro | November 2, 2008

The Encounter Poem

I wish it were as easy as just letting go
The moment of fear, I looked to the sky
When I turned my gaze down
I saw
Nothing

stranger in the dark
Tried to run
Run away
What is left behind comes ahead
strangers in the dark
I’m terrified

I looked to the sky
When I turned my gaze down
I saw
Nothing

Barrel of a gun
You cannot have my pride
No I know it’s not my time
Raise your hands to the sky
Close your eyes
Counting backwards from three
This is real
Oh my God
Help me
Please
stranger
Please

I looked into the sky
And saw the Dark
When I turned my gaze down
I saw

When I turned my gaze up
I saw the Stranger
Stranger in the Dark
Oh God
I’m terrified
Please
Take anything you need
Just don’t take me

I looked into the dark
And saw

——————————–

This was written after listening to Taylor Carson’s “Stranger in the Dark” off his Tangled in Truth album on repeat for an hour while walking through a dangerous neighborhood.  To listen to the song, click here.  It’s track 9 on the left side of the screen. (Note, the barrel of a gun stanza is basically just bits & pieces of Taylor’s song jumbled together.  If you want to buy his album, click here.)  Cool thing is I actually met Taylor when he was recording his first album in his basement in early 2005; he gave me a copy before he had even finished it.  Now he’s on his third album and if you can tell by this song, doing quite well.  To hear the whole song via a crappy and/or creepy video I uploaded on YouTube, click here.  iTunes won’t let me share my music, so I threw together three pics and added the song.  It’s best watched with closed eyes :)

 

Posted by: joshtoro | October 29, 2008

A Chat on Buses

I visited EDAPROSPO branches in Huaycan and Vitarte today.  Huaycan is off the Carreterra Central about halfway between La Molina and Chosica.  To get there, I left my house in Surco at 7.30am, caught a bus at the corner, rode said bus all the way up Avenida Ayacucho and Av Aviación for forty-five minutes to Javier Prado (a main thoroughfare that runs through the center of Lima and out it’s northeastern corner, aka La Molina), switched buses to one going out Javier Prado, through La Molina and out to the Carreterra Central which runs out to the provinces.  Huaycan is about an hour further out once you reach the Carreterra (Vitarte is only thirty minutes out on the same road).  Combined with my post yesterday, I think you can begin to appreciate how much time I spend on buses, mototaxis, and walking around interviewing a handful of clients a day.  One of the unexpected pleasures on these long bus rides is when a conversation can develop despite the blaring music, insistent and high-pitched honking, jerky stopping and acceleration, yelling by the cobrador (guy who hangs out the window and yells where the van is going, hopes to hear a pedestrian yell back or wave, opens the sliding door, collects your fare, jumps out sometimes and smacks the side of the van, and immensely enjoys the words ‘sube [get on]’ and ‘baja [get off]’), and movements of your twenty fellow passengers in your 10-passenger van. 

Today I had the opportunity to talk to a grandmother (probably in her early 50s) holding her baby grandson while we haltingly made our way from Huaycan to Vitarte.  And what made the talk even more amazing than the fact that we could hear each other was what she had to say.  As Hernando de Soto describes much better (and in more depth) than I in his book The Other Path, this is how a typical land invasion works: a group of people usually from the same province decide to move to an empty piece of land.  They form an invading committee, divvy up the land into plots, and decide on a night to move in as one.  There is strength in numbers and if they hold firm, the government will willfully overlook their presence and after several years of successful occupation, grant them titles to the land.  Like almost every suburb of Lima, Huaycan began as a land invasion in the 1980s.  This grandmother had been a part of the first group of people to settle in what would become Huaycan.   She told me that she had lived in Huancayo (a town in the Sierras about 6 hours away from Lima) and her cousin had told her about a community of people that were preparing to invade some empty land northeast of Lima.  On the night of the invasion, she received her plot and moved in.  For three days she had no shelter at all and shivered the nights away sitting on her piece of land (I think she didn’t expect it to be so cold).  Little by little, she and the rest constructed dwellings of thatch.  These thatch roofs and walls are replaced by plywood when there is money.  Plywood gives way to better wood which gives way to adobe bricks which gives way to concrete which gives way to adding a second story of bricks, etc.  People create terraces where once only uneven rocky hills lay; staircases first of shifted rock and dirt then wood then concrete are put in the hillsides; roads develop between blocks of lots, first made of the misshapen terrain then of flattened dust then of asphalt.  Markets form in much the same way as vendors start with a dollar of inventory walking along the road then get a bit more and cart it around in wheelbarrows then build a community of thatch stalls which turn into a market of tin stalls then a market with walls and hired security and concrete floors.  Over time, a city is formed where once there were only rocky desert hills. 

Thus over twenty years time, a gringo like me could find a two-storey building housing EDAPROSPO off a split four-lane paved highway surrounded by markets and next to houses on a hillside with staircases for me to climb from house to house and then return on a bus driving the same road and talk to a grandmother with her grandson about her participation in the invasion of empty desert and about her daughter who is married to a German and now living in Finland studying English in German.  After our thirty-minute chat, I disembarked and went on my way to interview women like this one who literally turn nothing into something, little by little, every day.  

On my Kiva lender page (which all of you should get one now if you don’t have one already), I say that my occupation is traveling the world collecting stories and friends.  While my job is to collect the stories I garner from interviews with Kiva clients, it is the talks with people like the grandmother today that make me reconsider the interim time I spend on buses not as a drag on my productivity but rather a fulfillment of my self-professed occupation.


Posted by: joshtoro | October 28, 2008

A “Taste” of My Week

As you may have noticed, as you probably check my blog at least daily, I have not updated anything in the past week.  Last week was my week in the central office of EDAPROSPO in Jesus Maria, Lima.  What you see on Kiva’s website is only half the story.  The other half is called Partner Administration and this side is where the Field Partners manage their relationship with Kiva, transfer the funds from Kiva lenders to their Kiva borrowers, and post new entrepreneurs as well as journal updates.  Well, this side of the Kiva equation is getting a pretty radical makeover on October 30th and my job last week was to prepare EDAPROSPO for the switchover.  This task culminated with me giving a three hour presentation in Spanish to the central office staff on what changes were coming, why they were coming, and how to function in the brave new world of partner administration version 2.0 .  If you can imagine how hard it is to give a three-hour presentation in English to professional staff of another organization on loan management and Internet technology, try doing it in Spanish.  All said and done, the presentation was a success (I only had to filter a few questions back up to Kiva staff in San Francisco, and those were more to confirm what I told EDAPROSPO then new revelations). 

However, to make up for my lack of time further in the field with actual Kiva clients, Guillermo (the guy at EDAPROSPO overseeing everything Kiva-related…and my housemate) has set up enough interviews to cover last week’s absence as well as this week’s target and a few more just for kicks.  Today I went to the Huarochiri branch of EDAPROSPO, which happens to be the furthest away of their six branches.  For those of you who have visited Lima, Huarochiri is actually the province east of Lima that edges up to the resort town of Chosica.  I visited three clients in Chosica and three more in a small sierra town called Matucana an hour and a half further out.  All said and done, I spent seven hours on buses today to conduct six interviews!  This fact may find its way into my next “treatise post” (one that goes on the Fellows Blog and this one…ie Trust as a Foundation and The “Between” Week) which is tentatively entitled “Moving Right Along”.  As is readily apparent, traditional banks don’t lend to these poor clients not only because of the lack of collateral mentioned in “Trust…” but also because of these ridiculously high transaction costs (i.e. transportation & time) which will be mentioned in “Moving…”.

The point of this post, however, remains to be mentioned.  Why is taste in quotes?  Well, besides that little insight into how my days involve a lot of traveling, I had a very interesting lunch today in Matucana.  Being my adventurous self, I decided to get a new dish.  The plate consisted of rice, sliced roasted potatoes, onions, fried tomatoes and red peppers, and oh yeah, bull penis. 


Bull penis.  I ate bull penis today. 

It got better though.  Since it had taken the better part of 4 hours to get to Matucana, the loan officer and I had our bull penis lunch before visiting the three Kiva clients in this small town in the sierra.  The first client, as luck would have it (obviously there was some luck leftover as I didn’t have any with my lunch), was a sweet lady named Leonor Cordova.  Leonor buys pigs, cows, and bulls (gulp), kills them, chops them into big 100-kilo pieces, brings them via taxi to her house in town, puts them in a large fridge, cuts them up with a fantastic machine (I took some video and it will be included in her journal update whenever I get that on the blog) into smaller pieces, and sells them in the market down the street to restaurant owners.  Because I didn’t take a picture of the meal (one, I because I didn’t know it was note-worthy until the plate arrived and the loan officer casually informed me I was eating the penis of a bull; two, I was too busy concentrating on finishing the meal while playing it off like I was totally fine [successfully…btw, if you read my old posts on Memorable Pseudomemories, it tastes like llama]), I took a picture with Mrs. Leonor Cordova with the remains of the bull I had eaten.  Needless to say, what remains of the bull could be a good eunuch in the Kingdom of Bulls because, I can assure you, it has been castrated.

 

The rest of the week I will be going to two more branches of EDAPROSPO and visiting thirty-odd more Kiva clients.  And while you still don’t really know what I did last week (I think I was sufficiently vague to merit a nod and a “That’s right. I just realized I really don’t know what Josh did last week.  Well done, Josh, well done.”), you now have a “taste” of what I did today.  And if you want to take heart, I recommend yet another Peruvian dish called anticuchos, which are, you guessed it, skewered bull heart on a stick. 

Thanks for reading the blog and I’ll try to keep it updated more frequently in the future.  I had an urge to only post when I had a grandiose thought or insight into microfinance but now I realize that may leave you guys in the dark for a week or more.  Therefore, expect more posts like this interspersed (usually every two weeks, sooner if I can) with grandiose posts befitting the Fellows Blog and PseudoMemories & VeriDreams.  Also, in a shameless way of boosting my stats on the Fellows Blog, I will probably be posting a link to my next well-thought-out post on the Fellows Blog here for a few days (the number of views of our blog entries on that site are shared between Fellows in a competition-like manner) then post the entire thing here with some additional meanderings a few days later.  In that way, the people who read the same post (ie “Trust…” is identical on both sites) can be counted on my internal Kiva Fellow stats.

In sum,  I had bull penis and not only did I eat the whole plate of it, I met the lady who killed the bull and some of you may have given her a loan to do so.  So from all of us at the other end of the transaction (clients of the clients of the clients you lent to): Thanks.  I am now proof that these loans can have a big impact on people’s lives.  Moving right along…

Update: I was informed that I misheard what the loan officer said.  It was not bull penis but rather testicles that I ate.  While that is obviously a relief (the eunuch part still holds I think in the Kingdom of Bulls), I decided to leave the post as is because as we all know, perception is reality and that was my perception that day.

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