Upstairs above a house church, Cristo Liberator, in a barrio called Committee del Pueblo, in Quito, Ecuador, there is a microcredit bank with the name "William Temple Cooperative Savings Bank" (or something like that). Anyone can join the bank for twenty dollars and receive interest at two percent on their investment. Members can take out micro loans for up to $200 for small business projects whose plan meets the bank's approval. The process and requirements for a loan are very simple.
Along with other members of Executive Council I spent an exciting morning visiting Cristo Liberator parish. Episcopal Life online has a fine description of the work of this and other parishes and projects in the Diocese of Central Ecuador. You can read it HERE.
The microcredit idea is fast catching on. Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen ("Rural") Bank won the Nobel Peace Prize for pioneering the concept of microcredit. The Questioning Christian ran an excellent blog essay on this. Read it HERE. The Questioning Christian supposes that we in Anglican-Land might do well to cut to the Gospel and act at least as much in concert as, say, non-Christians do in the cause of grass roots projects that lead to greater self-sufficiency and the relief of poverty.
There are a variety of macro agencies that allow anyone to invest in funds that in turn support microcredit cooperatives (banks, savings and loan, etc). The question is, how can any of us connect with the actual credit cooperatives?
There are what are essentially investment funds that in turn provide funds for local credit organizations. Oikocredit is perhaps the best known of these. Oikocredit describes itself this way: Oikocredit "as a worldwide cooperative society, promotes global justice by challenging people, churches and others to share their resources through socially responsible investments and by empowering disadvantaged people with credit."
There are organizations, such as Episcopal Relief and Development or the Archbishop's World Relief and Development Fund that support specific microcredit organizations on a local level.
There are organizations involved in self-help or self-starting agricultural and business activities – Heifer International or Five Talents – that promote cooperative local financing (either through loans or in kind loans (animals, etc)) – and thereby engage in some form of micro-business credit work.
It is difficult, however, to find listings of actual local microcredit institutions – lists in which Cristo Liberator's William Temple Savings Bank would be noted. Access to direct ways of investing in local microcredit institutions seems difficult. There are all sorts of problems of "accreditation" particularly when the hope of microcredit is that it involves little formal paperwork and entirely local structures. Most alternative investment programs put a shield, a set of guarantees, between the investor or contributor and the actual microcredit organization. But those same protections make it difficult to actually buy into a local microcredit bank or to know the precise details of its investments in the community.
When I was in the room, the William Temple Cooperative Savings and Loan was specific and real. It was incarnational. It was grass-roots. Stepping back to the clearing house (Oikocredit or Episcopal Relief and Development, or Five Talents) it feels as if I am divorced from the reality of the local microcredit cooperative. I have become "macro" again.
In the macro world I can get involved in the "philosophy" of giving, the abstract desire to give and give with pure intentions and to good end. And while the reality is that I am able to help by making contributions to what is more or less a "mutual fund" I feel disconnected from the source energy of microcredit and its power to change lives. In order to get connected in the specifics it would seem I have to be there in that upper room. The barrier to incarnational giving is that I seem to have to be there in the office of that microcredit institution. Is there any way to do break down that barrier between the need to give or invest with security and the desire to be as close to the ground as possible?
In an odd way one of the problems in Anglican-Land is that too much of the snarl and growl is abstracted from the realities on the ground: The realities of love of other become abstracted into general rules of behavior and beliefs held dearly that shape our responses. On the ground love is of persons and beliefs help form better vessels for holding that love. We take better risks with one another when we are close. Maybe if we were to practice at involvement with microcredit institutions we might discover something about the microcredit nature of the exchanges that make up the community of loving and forgiving communities - for example the Church.
So the question is about practice: Is there any way to break down the barrier between the need to give or invest with security and the desire to be as close to the ground as possible?
What I am looking for is some sort of listing of actual microcredit banks, with some sort of reference points about their viability and legitimacy, where I too could put down my $20 and buy a share in the savings and loan in Quito, or anywhere else in the world, and take my lumps and make my 2% return and fortune with all the other contributors. I too could receive the annual stockholders report that indicated that 33 loans were made and how the pay-back went, and what the cooperative bank was able to accomplish.
I am very glad that Oikocredit, Five Talents, Episcopal Relief and Development, and so forth exist. Indeed these organizations might be the screening for many of the microcredit banks that would be listed. But wouldn't it be fine to actually be able to contribute directly to a specific bank – either through another agency or through Pay Pal or some other payment intermediary – and become, even at a distance, an incarnational presence in an actual community?