Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Making CEF Sustainable

When people think of sustainability they don't have the same thoughts; some will think of ethical consumerism, permaculture, renewable energy or green building. Most don't put sustainability and charities together in their minds. Charities can apply some element of sustainability to most of their work and it's important to consider how we can do this.

Children's Education Foundation is working towards being more sustainable. The contracts for the educational support of our children so far have included a request for the parents or guardians and children to consider how the CEF student could share their educational knowledge with others. Shortly the contracts will be changed to include a list of ways they can very specifically give back. Two examples of this are that they could help a younger sibling with homework, or they could teach literacy or numeracy to a parent who hasn't this knowledge.

We want to see our families move out of poverty of course. We already have seen some of their lives change considerably simply because they don't have to struggle to find the funds for their child or children to go to school. For others it is more challenging to move out of dire poverty even when they have some help.

Internationally microfinance has been considered as one of the ways to help with poverty reduction. Some criticize it and don't feel it's the answer. I personally decided to do an experiment to see if micro loans can work. I chose to help two families and it has been a successful experiment. We gave one loan to a family about five months ago and to the other around three months ago. Both families have been paying their loans back at the required rate and on time. The most exciting aspect of the experiment is that already they are not struggling to survive to the same degree. Also each have expressed gratitude for the opportunity to take action in reducing their poverty. I felt it was an empowering experience for them, instead of the overwhelming one of survival. They now knew they had a means to change their lives.

To give this experiment the best chance of success, my assistant Duyen, and I, discussed every aspect of the loan-giving, until we felt we had some simple solutions. The families are in my local community, making it easy to keep in contact with them, as well as it being convenient and quick to collect repayments. We decided that the loans and the repayments had to be small enough so it didn't feel overwhelming for them. Also we had known the families some time and knew each of their situations well and their personalities. Already we were helping one child in one family and two in the other with educational support. We knew that they would consider that fact, and that if they didn't pay the loans back, and on time, that they risked losing that support. Everything was made as official as possible even though we didn't know if this experiment would work; we drew up a contract and had it notarized at a local government office.

Another aspect we are working with is to make sure CEF continues whether I am dead or alive. Decisions made for CEF's future included simplicity, keeping CEF small and manageable, making sure we have all our procedures and contacts recorded and that there is always someone else who can replace me or my assistant.

Considering that in the last four months I have had both dengue fever and a motorbike accident it's a very sensible course of action! And just to make it clear I don't plan on dying for several decades; but life is unpredictable and I am just making sure we can continue to give each child CEF helps a future with choices!

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