Random Oberservations From Monrovia

August 4, 2009 at 4:42 pm | Posted in liberia, Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Here are some random oberservations, in no particular order, from my time thus far in the Monrovia office.  Enjoy!

  • The department of homeland security won’t allow any direct flights to IMG_4526the US from Liberia because they say the airport isn’t secure.  I can concur, given that this was my customs agent upon arrival.  Uh, pardon me but can you please wake up and stamp my passport?
  • This is the first time in my life I’ve had any semblance of work/life balance…because the power and internet are on only from 9-5.  It’s amazing how little work you can do when all the computers, printers, phones and lights shut shut off leaving the place pitch black.
  • There are advantages and disadvantages of living next to the Nigerian battalion of UN Peacekeepers.  You feel safe when you go to sleep at night but they wake you up every morning, including weekends, with revele call on the bugle.  Can you set that thing to vibrate?
  • Officially the language here is English however there are times during IMG_4525conversations when I nod my head knowingly while secretly waiting for just one word that I actually understand.  The signs around town are priceless, as evidenced by this one.  And no, “pepe” is not a local French guy.
  • The Liberians have a secret handshake they all do – snapping the middle finger as they separate hands – which they use to figure out who the locals are.  My inability to do the snap gives me away.  Plus I’m butt-white.
  • It’s like 1995 again: On a good day I get dial-up speed 28kbps internet connection, but they say it’ll get better when the rainy season is over. In November.
  • My fellow-office mates are great.  We start every morning by singing IMG_4532African American folk songs and 19th century church hymns.  Today it was “Amazing Grace” and “A Might Fortress”.  Then we took turns seeing who could rip-start the generator and then convince the night-janitor to stop hanging the wet mops on the ethernet cables hanging from the ceiling.

What a Fascinating Country

August 4, 2009 at 2:35 pm | Posted in History, kiva, liberia | Leave a comment
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This place is like no country I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few.

Liberia Map

The history of Liberia is unique in Africa because of its relationship with the United States. It is one of the few countries in Africa without roots in  European colonialism.   Liberia did not exist as a country until it was colonized by freed American slaves in 1847, forming a government based on the US system.  The capital city is named after President James Monroe and the monetary currency is the Liberian Dollar.

This government was overthrown by a military coup in 1980, which marked the beginning of 25 years of brutal civil war that left an estimated half a million people dead (out of a total population of just 3.5M)   A CNN report concluded that 90% of the female population was a victim of sexual violence during the war, and the UN listed Monrovia as the most dangerous city in the world.

Charles Taylor, the worst of the dictators is currently on trial here for war crimes but all you have to do is walk down the street to see his legacy:   land-mine victim amputees who are homeless after being forced to murder their own parents/families in a drug-induced haze and become child-soldiers in the blood-diamonds-for-guns war with Sierra Leone.  It’s truly heart-breaking.

On the other hand, it’s a great proving ground for Microfinance as a solution to world poverty.  If it can enable this country, the world’s poorest, to incubate small business entrepreneurs then what more proof do we need?  And microloans are perfect since Liberia’s economy is based heavily on agriculture and simple manufacturing, both of which are capital non-intensive.   In the 1960’s Liberia was the fastest growing economy in Africa; can Kiva and its lenders help the country recover from 30 years of brutality and return it to those glory days?  Stay tuned…

The history of Liberia is unique among African nations, notably because of its relationship with the United States. It is one of the few countries in Africa, and the only country in West Africa, without roots in the European Scramble for Africa; although Liberians had contact with European explorers and traders briefly between 16th to 18th centuries, Liberia did not exist as a nation state until it was colonized by freed slaves from the United States. These freed slaves formed an elite group in Liberian society, and, in 1847, formed a government based on that of the United States, naming their capital city after James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States. This government was overthrown by a military-led coup in 1980, which marked the beginning of a period of instability and civil war that left hundreds of thousands of people dead and devastated the country’s economy.

Today, Liberia is recovering from the lingering effects of this decades-long civil war. Its economy is based heavily on subsistence agriculture, manufacturing, and its many ports. Liberia is one of the poorest countries in Africa; nevertheless, the country has achieved economic growth, largely thanks to foreign investment.[3]

I’m moving to Liberia

July 16, 2009 at 12:18 am | Posted in kiva | Leave a comment
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Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony in Colombia

I’m moving to Monrovia, Liberia on Wednesday.

Because I want to see the next evolution of 3rd world development in action and take part in pulling Liberia out of civil war.  Ok, I’m not exactly *moving* there but it sure feels that way.  Have you ever tried packing for a 2-month trip to a place that doesn’t have electricity, internet, ATM’s or the ability to process credit cards?  I did, in 2006 for my project to build 40 houses for the victims of war in Colombia which many of you generously supported, and it’s that project which led me to Kiva.org and my project in Liberia.

That year Cisco did a podcast on “How Technology is Changing the World” featuring my Colombia project as well as Matt Flannery’s non-profit startup, Kiva.org.  I was immediately impressed with  their approach to micro-lending.  For those of you who don’t know about Kiva, it’s the world’s first online person-to-person micro-lending company, and the fastest growing non-profit in the world, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs around the globe in increments as small as $25!

I compelled by both Kiva’s mission, “To connect people, through loans, to make the world a better place”, and also the idea of empowering small business entrepreneurs as a permanent way out of poverty.  From a development standpoint I believe microfinance is an improvement on the standard charitable fundraising model.  Instead of giving a handout, Kiva gives entrepreneurs access to small business loans, and the 97% repayment rate virtually removes the risk for lenders.  See how it works here.

So how does a non-profit with only 35 employees manage to enable 530,000+ lenders to lend $83M to 200,000+ entrepreneurs in 50 countries around the world?  A big part of their success is a passionate troupe of volunteers, interns, advisors and Kiva Fellows in the field.  And that’s where I come in.  Kiva needs someone with a business, general management, project management, and fundraising background who likes places that are struggling with 30 years of civil war, disease, famine, and destitute poverty.  That’s me!

I find Liberia’s (hi)story fascinating, and it’s so much deeper than Leo DiCaprio’s “Blood Diamond” and its current spot as dead-last in the world in GDP per capita: $490, just below Somalia.  So keep an eye on this blog (and Facebook, Twitter, etc) over the next 6 weeks where I’ll update friends, family, co-workers, and Kiva-supporters of this amazing opportunity to play a significant role in turning former child-soldiers into small business entrepreneurs and returning Liberia back to its former glory.

And don’t forget to ­support kiva and change the world!


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