Kiva is a “sexy”, high-tech cog in the economic development machine, conceived in where else but the dot-com capital of the world: Silcon Valley, California, USA, North America. At the very least I’m jealous at how Kiva seems to be a citizen of both the new “read the New York Times on your laptop in starbucks” and the traditional “Financial calculator at US AID” development worlds. Also, as a product of the AOL instant messenger generation, I would be the first to admit that I am incredibly energized by the emergence of social business, high-tech hybrids. Slick web pages, the same nifty gadgets I use to check local movie times at Fandango.com, and even some really cool hardware to make a difference in the world; right now, right where I am, with the tools and skills I already have (Kiva on your iPhone anyone?). I’m recalling a trip I took last fall to Northen Ghana in which I stumbled into a rural village library and to a tech-enthusiasts dream: several young Ghanaian students huddled around the monitor glow of a One Laptop per Child machine trying to get the operating system to open an excel file. Here was my specialty: a way to express my love for micro processors and working with others ; a process I had been working on since age 5 when I spoke my first words: “C:\dir /p” Even back on the Kiva homepage front, I’ve fallen victim to the seductions of .orgs where I can create a micro endowment at Star Bucks or a virtual parent-teacher association during a long layover in Bogotá. Seriously cool.
But then, yesterday on a visit to an organic farming coop in the mountains outside of San Salvador, El Salvador I had an out of cell phone service experience: I was reminded about the nitty grity work of community growing from the ground up, but more importantly how exciting and rewarding it can be. Donning her sweat-stained Che Guevara hat, Mercedes the local community organizer in the Salvadoran pueblito, enthusiastically shuttled us from one “shared work” project to another. With a $1k microloan in cash directly group of university students, the community had developed a good old-fashioned, plastic piping, brick tank, and muddy ditches water system to supply their organic crops of corn, tomatoes, onions, squash, oranges, cilantro, carrots, tilapia fish and countless other plants I wish I could understand in Spanish. Her crowning achievement since increasing total food production by three fold from last year are her Cuban designed, homemade water pumps (She pointed out several times that they were designed in Cuba). These two pumps, which each cost about $50 in parts, are made from used metal piping and a fire extinguisher tank, use no electricity or gasoline, and are able to pump river water about 50 vertical meters up the side of a mountain to supply acres of farm land with necessary irrigation. Can your iPhone do that? Needless to say, I was quite impressed by the ingenuity and persistence of the organic farming cooperative that has worked patiently for years on this agricultural project and are now hoping to reinvest their microcredit fund into personal vegetable gardens in each family’s home. With little more than sweat and some used parts from a hardware store the community has been able to drastically improve the economic and emotional quality of life in their community. Next time I visit I’ve planned to propose my new partnership with the organic farming cooperative: cubanwaterpumps.com