Vancity and the Microfinance wiki.

I am so pleased to announce the new wiki Vancity has launched. It is for the Microfinance community in Canada, and lives at microfinance.ca.

Why did we launch a wiki? Well, in short, we are a longtime Microfinance practitioner wanting to expand knowledge amongst those who are involved with Microfinance in Canada.

We have a product called Circle lending, in which a peer group takes out very small loans together, and help each other to succeed in what are usually home-based businesses to repay their loans together. It is an amazingly transformational product, designed to help lift people out of poverty and give them a new chance.

Additionally, we have a Microcredit Toolkit, which is an open source peer lending model so any institution can replicate it. We were incredibly honoured that Muhammad Yunus, who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for founding Grameen Bank, personally endorsed our toolkit a couple of years ago.

As you can see, we are deeply involved with the Microfinance model in Canada, and wanted to create a place where we could take the open source concept a little further. So we created and are hosting a wiki where anyone can add information as a practitioner, researcher or follower of Microfinance in Canada, with the aim of growing and evolving a central knowledge repository about the subject.

I think it’s a great example of a very inexpensive solution to create affinity within a specific community. Now let’s see if people find it useful.

I want to recognize the amazing Catherine Ludgate, who manages Vancity’s Microfinance programs, and without whose support this never would have been launched. The second I came up with the idea of a wiki to bring together the Microfinance community, Catherine was enthusiastically on board. If you want to know more, here’s a great article about Catherine.

I also must thank Tim McAlpine and Currency Marketing for creating a wiki that doesn’t look like a wiki. See the screenshot below to see what I mean…

Oh, and PS: Colin Henderson at CommunityLend, I am hoping you’ll be the first to add yourself to the wiki…

microfinance.ca

What does Vancity do in the community anyway?

A major project I’ve been working on for the past few months is spearheading the re-architecting and rewriting of all the content in the community area of vancity.com. It’s been a massive project because, well, frankly we never expained the myriad ways we do good things in our community everyday. A little gap I think.

In other words, the very reason I wanted to work at Vancity, and the main thing that keeps me excited to come to work everyday was almost entirely absent from our website. It’s a long story.

So, I’m so extraordinarily pleased to share with you our new MyCommunity area.

vancity.com/MyCommunity

Inside you’ll find out about our four pillars of community leadership (Acting on Climate Change, Facing Poverty, Growing the Social Economy and Being Accountable), what we do in our communities, why we do what we do, what financial products we have that help create positive change, how we help the not-for-profit sector in our local economy, what grants we give out and whole lot more. This project has been absolutely amazing, and I’m really excited about sharing it with you.

I’d love to hear what you all think, especially other CU folks.

Muhammad Yunus and the concept of social finance.

Muhammad YunusAt Vancity, where I work, we recently created a division called Social Finance. This is where our Business Banking department now resides, as well as Commercial Mortgages and our amazing Community Business Banking team, where many of our most innovative and socially relevant products and services are generated.

Creating and naming this new division was an interesting risk, and as soon as I heard the name Social Finance, I thought to myself: Holy crap I can’t believe I get to work here.

What’s even more amazing is that our executives created this new name and division based on an understanding of what Social Finance could be, but without a nailed-down definition of what it means for us. That’s the work of whoever gets the gig of SVP Social Finance.

Last night we at Vancity brought Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus to town. He received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of British Columbia for his amazing work as Banker to the Poor at Grameen Bank, which he founded in his native Bangladesh specifically to help the poor. He spoke about the power of small amounts of money to transform people’s lives, and the role private businesses can play in creating change in the lives of our poorest citizens. In the past he has endorsed Vancity’s Microcredit Toolkit, and we recently announced that our own microfinance-driven term deposit would now be funding local initiatives.

He calls it Social Business, and it’s the subject of his new book, Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism. We call it Social Finance. It’s something that has to be framed for many people, because we have it ingrained in us that there are two options in life: charity and profit.

But there is room for a strong middle ground. Businesses can have as their focus socially responsible goals as their main driver and still sell their products and services in a business-savvy way, repay their investors, pay their employees well and thrive in the business context, and drive their profits back into the work they do. Their work can be of tremendous social value and significance, and yet be no less business-like.

As we deal with issues of climate change and social equity, these kinds of business are cropping up. They could be used to solve the health care crisis in America. To clean up the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver, reduce our carbon emissions, provide inexpensive and nourishing food for poor families to feed their children, vaccinate the third world.

The money invested could be reinvested and continue to solve our most pressing problems, rather than giving money away which has no lifespan beyond the initial donation.

Last night was an amazing time. I was so fortunate to be invited to a small private reception to meet Professor Yunus, and then go to hear him speak to several hundred people about his work serving the poorest people on the planet. His work is actually reducing poverty in Bangladesh by significant amounts. He has opened specialized services focused on beggars, and creating Social Finance opportunities such as Grameen Danone and Grameenphone, Bangladesh’s largest mobile phone company owned in part by the 7.5 million co-operative owners of Grameen Bank.

A Vancity board member asked me at the reception why I had come down to hear Muhammad Yunus speak, and I replied that this kind of activity is the very reason I initially chose to do my banking at Vancity, and why I later decided to work there. Banking is really only marginally interesting to me, but using the platform of banking to solve social problems that we face in our communities is a powerful draw for me. Exploring that intersection where money and community come together is extremely powerful and much needed.

Last night Muhammad Yunus proved how true that is.

eBay in the Microfinance business.

MicroPlace.comA friend recently sent me an article in BusinessWeek about eBay’s Microfinance engine. The article, EBay: The Place for Microfinance, speaks of eBay’s 2006 acquisition of MicroPlace.com.

MicroPlace.com’s mission is “to help alleviate global poverty by enabling everyday people to make investments in the world’s working poor.” Pretty impressive.

Pierre Omidyar, eBay’s founder, is also an investor in Kiva.org, which is a similar site for investing small amounts of money to entrepreneurs in developing countries.

MicroPlace.com fits eBay’s direction so nicely, and takes advantage of their infrastructure to do good in the world. Nice to see big players enabling Microfinance and bringing it to the masses. That’s doing well by doing good.

Why I "do" credit unions.

Two seemingly unrelated things came together for me this week. One is that yesterday was my second anniversary of being at Vancity and my entry into the credit union movement. The other is reuniting with some of my favourite past colleagues via Facebook and catching up on where we’re all at.

Explaining to people I used to work with in Los Angeles and Seattle why I’m working at a ‘bank’, which is a far cry from the brands I used to work on like Disney and Honda is not always an easy task. I left LA to find a lifestyle that was more aligned with my values, and that path inadvertently led me to credit unions.

Before Vancity, I worked at Telus, one of Canada’s top telecommunications companies, and the main telephone provider in BC. I enjoyed working there until the strike in 2005, but I never thought of myself as part of the telecom industry. It was just a job.

But being at Vancity, I have found myself attracted to the philosophy and work of credit unions. If you want to create social change, much of that has to do with money, and that’s where getting to the money via the banking industry is actually pretty exciting.

The link between my own engagement in the credit union movement became clearer when I saw a recent post on the always insightful OpenSourceCU. They were recently honoured as the first recipient of the Credit Union Global Spirit Award for translating philosophy into actions. This is a much-deserved accolade, based on their work helping credit unions reach their potential and engage the communities they serve in their mission.

It was awarded by Carol Schillios, whom I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting, but about whom I’ve heard so many amazing things.

The video on their page is the pivot point, the reason so many of us are passionate about credit unions. It is about the amazing work that Carol Schillios has done on behalf of credit unions with the world’s poorest people.

I have included it below. Powerful, powerful stuff.