Volunteer takes long trek for small loans
Jonathon Stalls finally arrived in Price after pushing his handcart across the plains and mountains of America. Sound familiar?
His transcontinental walk is not religiously motivated as was the legendary trek of the Utah pioneers, but it is dedicated to promoting a noble idea that became a Nobel idea: micro-loans. He said he is simply chatting with people he meets in small towns along his walk about the potential of small-scale venture capitalism as an alternative to purely charitable donations.
The idea originated with Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladesh banker who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his 30-year program of small loans to the working poor in that country. That idea has been amplified by Kiva, LLC, a non-profit organization that operates a system for linking contributors with banks in other countries that are willing to make micro-loans to people who want to make a go of small businesses.
Stalls is calling his journey from Delaware to San Francisco "Kiva Walk," although he is not an employee or an owner of Kiva.
Stalls said that the loans are tiny by American corporate standards - a $600 loan to a woman in Cambodia who wants to buy a cow, for example, or a few hundred dollars for a carpenter in Nicaragua. "It's quite different from handouts," he explained. People have to pay the money back, and the payback rate has been running at close to 99 percent. Yunus had the same experience with his clients.
The way it works is that a community bank in some foreign country will make a loan to an entrepreneur. Then the banker creates a profile of the borrower and explains why the loan is a good decision for the community and the individual. Kiva puts the profile on its web page (www.kiva.org), and people who want to contribute send in whatever amount ($25 is typical). The bank records the contribution on its balance sheet.
When loan is repaid, the Kiva contributors can get their money back, or they can let it roll over into the next investment. As with any loan, however, there is a potential for default, and the Kiva website is clear about this.
That's the message Stalls has been carrying for more than 2,000 miles on his walk that began on March 1 in Lewes, Del. He says he has gone through five pairs of walking shoes already as he logs 15 to 20 miles a day on the road.
"I have visited hundreds of small towns and stayed with families in many of them," he said. "I have had to revamp a lot of stereotypes as I got to learn about traditions and family life in the towns I visited."
The last glimpse of civilization he had before reaching Wellington and Price was a few days in Moab. The journey will take him to Helper and then over the hill to Springville next.
He also makes it a point to update his website, www.kivawalk.com to tell about his journey and the people he has met.