“A Silent Tsunami” : The Food Crisis and Small Entrepreneurs

There has been a food crisis brewing. The U.S.’s Farm belt has been on the comfortable end of an ample 40% rise in commodity prices since October, but those hefty profits have naturally translated into significant losses for consumers. A UN representative recently suggested that this persistent upsurge in food prices be considered a “silent tsunami,” crushing developing countries’ consumers especially. Until policy intervenes, it seems, these prices and this tsunami will keep swelling.

One on One, One by One: Person-to-person Micro-lending with Kiva

Within our own personal circles of trust, most Americans are used to lending 10 or even 1000 bucks to a friend or relative. Intimacy tends to blur the agreement and it becomes difficult to quantify the “loan.” It’s not so easy to say that a child owes their parents for having been raised, or that a friend owes another friend for a gift. This blurring is set somewhat straight when individuals draw clearer boundaries between themselves. Financial intermediaries have evolved well to serve this purpose, but the evolution continues. As of 2005, a new breed of intermediary has entered the microfinance scene – online person-to-person lending platforms.

How High is Too High?

Microfinance has been praised for its tangible contributions to poverty alleviation, but the media tends to sidestep a certain detail: what do these MFIs actually charge as interest?
It’s a basic question, but the answer would likely baffle the uninformed public. Whereas credit card rates in the US typically linger below 30 percent, interest rates among MFIs can range from around 20 to 100 percent. What then, can be defined as usury?

How Many Birds With One Stone? Socially Responsible Investments

Stones are in limited supply, and, as always, we’re desperate for a bird or two. “What kind of return can I get on that toss?” thought the Cro-magnon man. Today, returns and happiness have been further defined, and to many they extend beyond the immediate satiating fill of a fallen crow. The same rules apply, but after having thoroughly sorted stones, stone throwers and birds, many are armed with money instead. Among other things, deepening social interactions appear to have broadened our options.

Watch Your Step: Banana Skins, 2008

Just out is the most comprehensive risk survey for the microfinance industry to date, Banana Skins, 2008. With a title that refers literally to the classic slippery threat of a strewn banana peel, the report outlines barriers to the industry’s development.

The Castros Fade, and Cuba Sits Waiting

Tuesday morning this week, Fidel Castro stirred interest in his island state by resigning as leader of Cuba. He has formally handed power to his aging brother Raul, an unsurprising move given Fidel’s hospitalization in 2006. Conspiracy theories abound and onlookers wonder if this most recent development might indicate or launch serious shifts in the country’s political and economic systems.

Unraveling Microfinance: The Industry’s Origins

To start out in this historical review, let’s note that the term microfinance asks us to imagine a very specific financial scale. At the apex of the macro world sit those individuals and conglomerates that see billions of dollars fly easily between their guiding hands. Transactions of the micro world are hardly visible in comparison, but are additionally confined to the present and recent past.