Helping the Worldcon, and the World Too

Colin Harris piqued my curiosity when he invited Renovation committee members to help him form a Kiva team. Kiva is an organization that facilitates microfinance, providing financial services such as small loans to low-income individuals and those without access to typical banking services, often in the Third World. The team would be independent of and unrelated to the Worldcon, the members simply having that fannish connection in common.  

So far 17 team members have stepped forward. They have put $4,025 out to loan in 102 transactions.

I had not heard of Kiva before and asked Colin, a past Worldcon chair (2005) and part of this year’s Worldcon committee, to tell me more. He wrote:

I thought that creating a Renovation team was a nice idea because I was sure there would already be Renovation members who were also Kiva lenders and that they would enjoy this chance to link their interests together. I also thought that it would raise the profile of Kiva with Renovation members who’ve never heard of Kiva or microfinance, and maybe encourage some new people to join. So it reflects my personal support for Kiva and what it stands for.

The first key point to say straight away is that this isn’t an official Renovation activity (hence for instance you won’t find it linked from our website or discussed in the PRs). As I’m sure you know very well, things like official con charities are very contentious and within any staff or member community there will be a spectrum of opinion from

“conventions should have nothing to do with “causes” as they are inherently political (with a small “p” at least).”

to

“science fiction as a genre is highly sensitive to the future of the world and of society and the SF genre and SF fans have an opportunity, indeed almost a duty, to try and make the world a better place.”

The idea for the group was mine, and I openly admit to appreciating both of the above views. SF IS a genre of the future, full of stories that help us think about the world we are in now or the one we’re creating, and I have always met many fans who (as fans or professionally) are concerned to make the world better. However I also believe that it’s wise to avoid such initiatives becoming official convention activities because there IS a diversity of views about any specific cause and that can become divisive. Far better in my experience to provide space for special interest groups etc, so that fandom helps those who want to come together, while not forcing participation or contribution on people against their will.

This is an open team — anyone can join, click on http://www.kiva.org/team/renovationsf

The first step is to create a personal account on Kiva. You deposit funds, then you choose who to lend them to. Colin explains:

This creates a direct connection between lender and receiver which makes the experience much more tangible for lenders. The idea is to spread risk, so a loan of $1000 total will typically be covered by e.g. 20 people lending $50 each in case of a default. (You lend in units of $25).

When funds are repaid to your account, you can lend them again, or withdraw them – so it really is a loan arrangement, not a charity donation.

Teams are just way of affiliating the loans you make to a social group. If you’re a member of a team (and you can be in none, one, or more than one), then when you loan you get asked if you want to count your loan against that team.

I am very taken with the idea of micro-finance as a way to encourage sustainable development in a tangible way, rather than an aid dependency culture. I’ve been a member of Kiva for about 18 months now myself.

1 thought on “Helping the Worldcon, and the World Too

  1. They work well in India (perhaps under a different name). One amusing difference though, the microfinancing in that country is mostly among women — they don’t loan to men, who can more often obtain loans from banks or other men. By and large, the practise promotes not only small businessess, but also a greater equality between men and women, and the receiver of the loan almost never defaults. By contrast, men often fail in their business ventures and default on their bank loans. That can be said of the World, not just India. Maybe the wrong gender *is* wearing the pants in the family after all?

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