The Wokai blog is moving to its new home at http://www.wokai.org/news. Head there to keep up-to-date on the latest and greatest information on Wokai and microfinance in China!
Sandy Huang is Wokai's NYC Chapter President
Exciting things are happening in New York, including the kickoff of the New York Asian Film Festival! Launched in 2002, Subway Cinema's New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) is America's leading and most influential showcase for popular Asian cinema. Each year, the Festival selects over 40 feature films, considering only the best, the strangest, and the most entertaining of the recent titles.
To date, the Festival presented over 170 films from China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam, including the works of Park Chan-wook, Patrick Tam, Takashi Miike, Andrew Lau, Feng Xiaogang, Kim Jee-woon, Lee Myung-se, Suzuki Seijun, Johnnie To, Sion Sono, Shinya Tsukamoto, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Kim Ki-duk, Ryu Seung-wan, Xiao Jiang, Shunji Iwai, and many others.
The NY chapter of Wokai is very excited to be attending one of the screenings this year, and we're looking forward to seeing some of our Wokai fans at the festival as well! Check out the schedule here - the festival started on Friday, 6/19 and lasts until 7/5. Given how nasty the weather's been here, why not spend a night enjoying great films from our favorite part of the world? :)
Sandy is Wokai's NYC Chapter President
More than 150 people came out to celebrate at the Launch, where we raised over $6,500 in ticket sales and silent auction items. The donations raised will be able to support Wokai operations for a month, including trips to our field partners for due diligence and training, web development related to our internet platform and Beijing office operations expenses. It all started in January of this year where a small group of the steering committee of the New York chapter of Wokai got together for Swedish brunch at Smorgas Chef, in the midst of an upcoming snowstorm, to plan our strategy for 2009. After plates of eggs and smoked salmon and a large pitcher of coffee, we had outlined our plan for Wokai’s debut to New York city.
Hosting a large fundraiser is probably not the first thing you would think of when you run down the profiles of the reps in the New York chapter of Wokai – maybe creating some awesome excel spreadsheets or talking your ear off about our changing economy. But on Wednesday, May 27th, the New York chapter took the city by storm with our very first and successful fundraiser – the Launch event!
Wokai-NY partnered with BLVD, a nightclub on Bowery and Spring, to host the debut of Wokai to the grand ol’ city of New York. It was a perfect evening of open bar, delicious hors d’oeuvres, a tantalizing silent auction and an exciting presentation from Casey Wilson, Co-Founder and CEO of Wokai.
The NY reps are a group of passionate and dedicated individuals with some amazing relationships and networks. We were able to garner a selection of Silent Auction items that included a gift certificate to the Institute of Culinary Education, a one-year membership for China Institute Young Associates, a gift certificate to ZipCar, an opportunity to record at the recording studio of Ed Bennett, former President and CEO of VH-1, and a private flight in a 4-seater plane around New York City (and maybe some flight lessons!). We were also fortunate to have Kaplan as our key sponsor of the evening, who offered gift certificates to all the attendees and offered a free class to one very lucky individual!
All in all, it was a tremendous success because of the support of all the attendees and the hard work of the Reps. As I mingled through the crowd, I was often stopped by various individuals who were curious to learn more about Wokai and what we were doing in New York. After Casey’s presentation and call to action, we also had a few Reps walk around with laptops to capture names of people who were interested in joining the Wokai network and become new loaners. It was a heartwarming moment for me to look around and see each of our Reps talking to guests and to see how many individuals were genuinely interested in the success of Wokai. On behalf of Wokai and the New York Chapter, I want to say thank you to all of you who attended and for your continued support of our organization. We hope to see you at our upcoming events!
Wokai delivers an internet microfinance platform that allows individuals to provide Chinese microentrepreneurs with loan capital. Our organization acts as an intermediary in this process, transferring funds from contributors abroad to microentrepreneurs in China through our field partners.
Who does Wokai support?
A typical Wokai microentrepeneur is a female rural inhabitant, living on less than $1/day. Her microfinance loan, ranging from $150-$300 dollars, provides her with the capital to start a small business. Her business varies by location, raising sheep in a rural grassland or operating a small fruit stand in a city center.
With her income, she accumulates savings, which allows her to allocate money towards long-term investments like education and health. By the end of her loan cycle, she has experienced increased financial independence, bolstered self-confidence, and a strengthened sense of community.
Learn more and contribute today at http://www.wokai.org.
This blog post is part of Zemanta's "Blogging For a Cause" campaign to raise awareness and funds for worthy causes that bloggers care about.
What do you think is the best way to create a deep and lasting CONNECTION between Wokai contributors and entrepreneurs?
This question is always in my mind, but a few conversations Matt Flannery, Ajay Madhok, and Adam Tolnay made me acutely aware of the fact that in order to make Wokai a success, we're going to have to think of creative, never-before-seen ways of truly connecting our contributors with our entreprenuers. Just following the status quo of including entrepreneur photos, profiles, bios, and updates, is not enough to as Matt says, "hit it out of the ballpark."
SO, that bears the question: What is the home-run combination???? From what I can think of so far, it seems like what we have to work with are:
- Cameras - either in the hands of our loan officers or our entrepreneurs themselves. Photo Diaries? Slide Shares? Animotos?
- Video Cameras or Flip Cameras - these could provide awesome content, but would be more limited in number and would require serious upload time if we were to video each entrepreneur. Video entrepreneur updates and profiles?
- Mobile Phones - China boasts over 500 million cellphones, so this technology has huge potential. All of our loan officers have mobile phones and I'd guess that at least 25%-50% of our entrepreneurs have them as well. Audio entrepreneur stories and updates that could be recorded through a cellphone call and uploaded to entrepreneur profiles? SMS text updates? Getting entrepreneurs on Twitter?
- Financial Models, Graphs, & Stats - What if we provided graphs, stats, and social impact analyses that map how each entrepreneur will allocate her loan and income as well as rating the overall social impact of the loan to the individual entrepreneur and her community?
Given this combination of tools and stories in our tool-box, what do you think is the winning combination for creating a real connection between contributors and entrepreneurs on Wokai?
Another question that Adam brought up which I couldn't answer was, "What are contributors more interested in?? The stories of the entrepreneurs' lives? The facts and stats on the business that they will be creating, fund allocation, and revenue models? Something in between? None of the above?"
Personally, I'm most interested in the stories of the entrepreneurs that I support. I would love to learn, not only about each entrepreneur's life, but also about the generation before her, the life that she was born into, what the trajectory of her life has been so far. On top of that, as an investor in her business, I'd like to have a pie chart breakdown of how she's spending her funds, how she will allocate her income, and some sort of social impact scoring if that were possible. What are your tastes? Do you agree? Disagree?
Inspired by Jerry Michalski, we are starting the QUEST to find our users. We launched Wokai 6 months ago, and to date we have around 350 users. These 350 people have done A LOT, contributing $50,000 in loan capital for over 100 micro-entrepreneurs in Inner Mongolia and Sichuan.
NOW, we need to take it to the next level to achieve mass scale impact with 100,000, 500,000, or even a million users on board.
There is a huge population out there that is passionate about China and would love to jump on board to build microfinance in China and create the opportunity for thousands to lift themselves from poverty. BUT, while potential Wokai users are out there, we need to find them. From our experience so far, these people include, but aren't limited to:
SO…this is where the QUEST begins. We need YOU to guide us to our users and work with us to engage them so that we can grow Wokai from 350 users to a engaged worldwide community growing microfinance in China.
I’ll be Tweeting (@caseylwilson) and blogging (Wokai.typepad.com) daily as we go through this journey. PLEASE share your thoughts, ideas, and opinions, and join in on the journey.
Zhang Sheng has been working with Wokai for the past year and a half as Wokai's Director of Field Partnerships.
Hello blog readers! I would like to share the story of my first visit of the year to ARDY. The main purposes of the visit were to conduct hands-on training for the Wokai operators, microfinance officers, and accountants, and also to coordinate the accounts for Wokai’s website.
At the blink of an eye, my car arrived at ARDY’s headquarters on Panshan Road. I couldn’t help thinking about the last time I was here – it was for the same training purpose and had the same four-day travel itinerary – the only difference is that the Wokai training officers are not the same person. ARDY had previously employed a bright college student to become Wokai’s training officer. The results of the training at that time were very good. As a young person, however, he couldn’t bear the loneliness and hardship, and he also faced better opportunities for growth (and better pay) elsewhere. For these reasons, he decided to leave. Afterwards, ARDY hired a new training officer. One of the reasons for this training session was to replace the loss of ARDY’s skilled staff members. The aging of existing staff members is quite common among NGOs in China. The aging staff members inevitably lag behind in learning computer technology and acquiring new skills, while forgetting newly acquired knowledge more quickly. At the same time, skilled, young people are unwilling to engage in this sort of high-intensity work in a rather trivial work environment, all without less-than-spectacular financial compensation. Many institutions are facing the difficult problem of employee retention, and the “rejuvenation” (hiring younger employees) of institutions has become increasingly unrealistic. I noticed an interesting trend that the majority of employees working in Chinese NGOs are married. This phenomenon actually means that the selection criteria for NGOs’ staff members are very similar to those for NGOs’ clients. The characteristics of married clients, such as low mobility and sense of responsibility, are being considered for the selection of staff members as well.
The training went smoothly this time. We spent nearly an entire day deciding and dividing everyone’s responsibilities for particular tasks and processes in great detail. We spent two days explaining our website operations and photo filming techniques to the participating employees in the course. During the course of the training, I found out that the best training method is to randomly select a trainee and let him/her repeat the content of my speech or conduct the actual demonstration in front of the audience. The trainees were always a bit shy and felt uncomfortable to speak in front of people, or used amateur posture in the demonstration; however, they acted totally different in front of their juniors and customers. Because they were always looking for ways to avoid my questions, I had to act as a teacher and warned them seriously, “If you do not answer my questions, I will not let you go to lunch.” The statement that I used to dread to hear from my own teachers when I was a student still proved to be effective. It seems that sometimes, being a strict teacher could be a good solution. The training was effective and significant for every participant. I was very glad that they were able to grasp the operation specifics of the website so quickly, despite the fact that I could count the number of times that the branch director used the internet on two hands.
On the last day, I went to visit a Wokai client named Yang Zhengmin. The rain had just stopped on the day of our visit so the road was very muddy. After completing a 30-minute journey on the road (which normally takes 10 minutes), the local staff and I finally arrived at the client’s house. Their home was very simple; there weren’t much furniture or decorative items. There was a black-and-white TV that served as entertainment for the entire family. Yang and his family raised various farm crops such as lettuce and oilseed rape on the piece of land in front of their house. I happened to arrive while they were picking lettuce. The place was filled with a strong fragrance of the lettuce; I have never smelled such fragrance from the lettuce sold in supermarkets. This was his first business that he funded from micro-credit. The director of the branch and the microfinance officer told me that Yang and the officers went from not knowing each other to establishing a trusting business relationship within a span of three days. As a result of their mutual trust, the micro-credit transaction was completed smoothly.
I asked the client, “What would you do if you can’t repay the loans?”
He replied, “If I do not repay, they (MFIs) can't do anything to me, but my fellow villagers will talk behind my back and call me a repudiator or a thief. Is it worth it for me to move away for this little amount of money? The cost of doing this (running away) is way too much. Furthermore, Director Lin (Branch Director) and Mr. Chen (Creditor) both trust me, how can I give them a hard time? I can’t bear losing face for this (not repaying the loan)! Moreover, it is convenient to repay in little amounts. It's very good that it would only require the lift of a finger to repay such a small amount.”
ARDY’s chief vice secretary’s rich agricultural knowledge was very impressive. He can calculate the amount of money spent on feeds every month, as well as the final price and net earnings from selling pigs. Under this kind of supervision, farmers can easily and successfully carry out their projects.
My schedule over the four-day visit was very tight, and everything was done in a hurry. I was so sorry that I couldn’t stay at Yang Zhengmin’s home for lunch. For farmers, offering lunch is an important sign of courtesy. If you decline the offer, he may interpret the gesture as your looking down upon him. As a result, he may not want to interact (or do business) with you next time. I really hope that I can eat lunch with his family next time.
Because it had rained the day before, the road was very muddy. At times my shoes were even stuck to the ground. The microfinance officers have to cross these roads several times every day.
Director Lin (First from right) and Mr. Chen (Second from right) visit the clients multiple times before confirming and giving out loans. Director Lin is very popular with the locals. There are times when the village director holds town meetings after Director Lin’s science and technology seminars because the village director knows that the majority of the villagers attend Director Lin’s seminars.
(Left photo) Yang Zhengmin and his wife are picking the asparagus lettuce and preparing them for sale. After removing the leaves from the roots, the remaining parts of the lettuce are sold in supermarkets. Yang and his wife feed the stripped leaves to the pigs.
(Right photo) The plant is called "Oilseed Rape". The local villagers on the hillside would sprinkle the rapeseeds in the spring. Then they extract oil from the rapeseeds, which is used for stir-frying (a famous method that is used to prepare Sichuan cuisine) or for making Sichuan kimchi. You can say that Sichuan locals basically eat this oil because Sichuan dishes all have a special scent of rapeseed oil. Because Sichuan restaurants in other parts of China don't cook with this oil, it is hard to call their food real Sichuan food.
(Left) The piece of land in front of Yang Zhengmin’s home is his family’s most important asset. He picks the vegetables and walks down the mountain to the nearest market to sell them.
(Right) Besides the black and white television, the other piece of technological device in Yang’s household is a Methane gas generating equipment. Pig manure can be used to produce methane. Methane gas can also be used for cooking, and the residue can be used as a natural fertilizer for the vegetables. [Methane is a type of renewable clean energy – it can substitute straw, firewood and other traditional biomass energy, and it can also replace alternative energy commodities such as coal. Methane has higher energy efficiency than straw, firewood and coal do. From 百度百科 or search Methane.]
By George Scott
It's sadly the way that the poorest in the world are often the most adversely affected by political and economic turmoil. It has been predicted that of direct consequence to the financial crisis, 90 million more people will be pushed into poverty by 2011, their daily income falling below $1.25 dollars a day. in the perhaps the time that it's customers need it the most, how is the microcredit industry being affected by this crisis and how will it affect the service that it is able to provide to it's customers?
The global MF industry
The Microfinance industry has proved resilient to economic downturns of the past and experts are confident that it will be able to weather this one. However, in recent years a huge amount of investment has come from commercial sources bringing with it increased exposure to fluctuations of the financial markets. In short, the MF industry of today isn’t the same as that of three years ago.
Unlike the sub-prime mortgages, microcredit loans are a much more measurable quantity, when you make a loan to a family you know the families income, their expenditures so their ability to repay the loan is fairly easy to quantify, this isn't the problem. The problem lies in microcredit organizations that aren’t deposit taking institutions, and/or, those who rely on substantial external funding, which usually takes the form of complicated debt instruments, increasing exposure to interest rate risk and financial market turbulence. Also where investment was abundant two years ago, that isn't the case today.
Further problems have come about due to Inflation, caused by rising fuel and raw material prices as well as growth of bio-fuels, which has contributed to rising food prices. The effect on market food prices is still a worrying issue for many families in the developing world. This means that microcredit customers may face a choice between repaying their loan and putting food on their table for their families. If I was forced to make that choice, I think I know where my decision would lie.
The Chinese MF industry?
The global financial crisis has led to job losses in the manufacturing and construction industries in China, the Perl River Delta, being particually affected. So far over 20,000,000 workers across China have lost their jobs, many of whom have little choice but to return home to their villages. In response to this the government has taken strong steps promoting microfinance and lending to SME’s as a means to mitigate the effect of these huge job losses: Increasing the credit limit for the fist time and relaxing regulation on private lending, making more funding available to SME’s. In effect freeing up a vast source of government funding and channeling it towards rural areas.
Wokai's Field Partners?
Having spoken with our field partners, they are most concerned that these developments will lead to increased and tougher competition for them, as organizations take advantage of this welcoming environment and establish new microfinance instiutions. However, at the same time they hope that they will be able to use this challenge to the benefit of their customer; providing a more complete service, better loan products, in all serving their clientele more completely and attracting new customers.
Amy is the Vice President of Wokai’s NY Chapter .
Curry fish balls. Fresh steamed dumplings. A collection of skits, cultural dances and martial artist performances. Wokai. All these factors boiled together made for great presentation by Wokai at a dazzling cultural show, NYU’s Hong Kong Student Associations (“HKSA”) Sensations 2K9!
Wokai-NY has always been fortunate to have a great standing relationship with NYU, having co-sponsored events such as Wokai’s Film Screening of “Young & Restless in China” earlier this year.
Yet it was still an unexpected delight to discover that NYU’s HKSA had chosen Wokai as the charity organization of choice for their annual cultural event: Sensations 2k9. The event showcased a NYU original production of “Trouble on Temple Street”, in addition to live performances by singers, dancers and martial artists. And all proceeds of the night were donated to Wokai.
With that, I along with several other NY-Wokai reps, Sarah Miller, Ji Li and Ophilia Chow embarked to the event on April 24, 2009 at the NYU Kimmel Center to help spread awareness on microfinance and Wokai.
What I found to be most exciting about this event, were the participants themselves. It was great to see that people at such a young age becoming so interested and involved in microfinance. What was particularly stimulating; was that these young adults were incredibly eager to jump past learning about microfinance just as a theoretical topic. These students were ready to delve into the world of microfinance on a real world basis and roll up their sleeves in a working capacity. Theirs was a level of enthusiasm I hadn’t seen in quite some time. And something I look forward to in the coming years.
Please join the New York Chapter of Wokai for our Launch celebration!
Click here for tickets: http://wokainyclaunch.
WHAT: A fundraising event celebrating the launch of Wokai’s peer-to- peer microfinance donation platform, featuring wine/beer open bar, hors d'oeuvres, a silent auction, and a presentation by Wokai Co-Founder and CEO, Casey Wilson
WHO: Over 200 socially-conscious young professionals
WHERE: BLVD - 199 Bowery (at Spring Street)
WHEN: Wednesday, May 27th from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.
WHY: In China, approximately 200 million people live on less than $1 a day, and China’s income gap is one of the most severe among developing countries worldwide. Microfinance, commonly defined as providing loans to poor people to help them start small businesses, offers one of the best solutions to global poverty. Wokai is a 501c3 non-profit organization that enables Chinese people to lift themselves from poverty. Wokai is Chinese for "I start," demonstrating our commitment to helping the impoverished help themselves. Through our website, we connect contributors worldwide with entrepreneurs in rural China to help them start small businesses. For example, a seamstress might borrow money to buy a sewing machine. This business generates stable income, which gives the seamstress and her family access to healthcare, improved housing, or perhaps most importantly, education. By empowering people to take control of their own lives, microfinance differs from the cycle of dependency created by previous methods of poverty alleviation.
As a portion of each ticket is tax deductible, please consider requesting a matching gift from your company so that Wokai can benefit twice from your generosity. Thank you!
For additional information about Wokai, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Looking forward to seeing you there!