Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Thinking About Microfinance

I'm a little embarrassed that until this past weekend, I hadn't read Muhammad Yunus' Banker to the Poor. It was one of those glaring gaps into my personal and professional development that, looking back, is completely inexplicable. I probably shouldn't even be admitting this in public but I suppose it's never too late to get with the program.

When I have a few moments to myself these days, I often find myself thinking about current aid structures and imagining how things might be different with the introduction of microfinance. Just this morning on my run, I was listening to a This American Life collaboration with Planet Money about NGOs in Haiti. They tell the story of a local mango farmer who has the land and the water for one hundred mango trees but needs a small canal to expand her business and the mango exporter who wants to distribute plastic crates to mango farmers because better packing methods would double his and the farmers' income.

The canal-building struck me as a great opportunity for a micro-loan since it sounded like the upfront investment in infrastructure was the main hurdle constraining growth. Meanwhile, the mango exporter with the crates first tried giving them away for free and then tried partnering with an NGO that later lost its funding after the earthquake. Neither scenario proved successful.

Part of the failure in the first approach was neglecting to take the time to demonstrate the economic value of fewer bruised mangoes to the farmers. Additionally, giving the crates away for free stunted any feeling of having a financial stake in the new packing method. If the farmers had first been convinced for themselves that changing their process could increase profits and then saved up or borrowed money in support of their business, they would have been more personally invested in the project. As it was, many crates ended up as chairs.

In the second scenario, bureaucracy, natural disaster, and fickle funding for NGOs delayed the project indefinitely. I have no way of knowing with certainty if microfinance opportunities could have changed the outcome for the mango farmer and the mango exporter but it seems like you'd be hard-pressed to do worse than the current system.

To bring this back to Malaysia, I'd love to hear more about your personal experiences with microfinance projects since Yunus mentioned that Malaysia was one of the first countries to adapt Grameen's banking model outside of Bangladesh. If you have any stories that you'd like to share, just leave a comment on this blog. Thanks!

Part of this post originally appeared at aditkowsky.wordpress.com.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

5 minutes, 5 Easy Ways = Better English

Just 5 minutes to improve

Tips for improving your level of English. That’s what today’s piece is about.

It all came about during a session with an inspiring group of working adults in, what I would call a "prestigious" body in KL.

I shared some of the tips that I had successfully used over the years with students. At the end of it all, there was one request to have them written out. It shows how serious he is in improving himself, and I do admire him for it.

The better your level of English when you communicate with customers, the better the impression you leave on them. So, here are five simple tips that just needs an investment of five minutes per activity. Good luck!

1. Write for five minutes each day
Write on any topic that you like. It could be about what you did yesterday, your plans for the weekend, the colour blue, your ambitions, etc.

The sentences do not have to be perfect. The whole paragraph does not have to flow well. This is just a practice session to let the words flow onto the page. You can worry about grammar later.

2. Read for five minutes each day
Read a storybook / newspaper / magazine, etc.
Look up the meanings of a few new words. Guess the meanings of all the other words that you do not know – this is called predicting and you should practise it.

3. Note five new words and phrases.
Jot down new words and phrases that you find.
Write them down using lots of coloured pens or draw pictures to show what they mean. If you have the time, paste pictures next to the words. Have fun because that’s the best way to learn language.

4. Copy for five minutes
Writers and copywriters are advised to do this. They take an article or advertisement that they like and copy it out by hand. This way, they can easily remember the words and sentence structure used easily. Pick something that’s useful for yourself.

5. Speak in English for five minutes
When we first start on a new language, some friends or colleagues may not be very encouraging. Ignore them.
Instead, make it a point to speak for at least five minutes in English every single day.

The more you speak, the quicker you will become at forming sentences and you will also find it easier to pronounce words that you once found difficult.

If you can think of more easy ways that just take five minutes to do, let me know!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Rural Champion Moms Unite 2010

Singing, dancing, clapping, cheering, good food and above all inspiring stories made a terrific event celebrating rural moms.

Moms from all parts of Malaysia were nominated for the RURAL CHAMPION MOMS UNITE 2010 and the winners represented many different cultural groups all with one common aim: to make Malaysia a better place for the less fortunate.

The winners represented the many dedicated and inspiring moms who give not only to their families but also to their communities.

A snapshot of all the hardworking mom winners is here. Women with 8 children, who still had time to give to their community, women with very little education yet helping others to learn, highly educated women giving their time freely not only in Malaysia but also in less well developed countries such as Cambodia, women keeping crafts and cultures alive, women who trekked through deep almost impenetrable jungle to reach long houses and promote literacy and education.

Wow! Their stories were breathtaking.

When I heard the stories of these amazing moms, I realised that they really were special people, but I was also glad that I did not have to be on the judging panel to choose the winners.
I loved every minute I spent talking to the winners, sharing their pleasure, and hearing first hand about their work.

Thanks to eHomemakers for organising such a great event and to Nestle and many other sponsors who made it such a special day and a particular thanks to all these wonderful women who give so much to Malaysia. You can read all the stories of the winners here.

Author: Margaret Rickmann

Winners of Rural Champion Moms Unite 2010

1st Prize Winner - Raini Mapura
2nd Prize Winner - Maria William Peter
3rd Prize Winner - Anihar Ishak

Consolation Prize Winners (in no particular ranking order)
Gendoi Samah Seman
Lapu Sakai
Malina Soning
Regina Bruno
Rusnita Ngah
Dr. Lee Lee Loh Ludher
Selvarani Nadesan

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It All Depends On How You Look At It

You know the saying, two people can look at a glass of water, one will say the cup is half full while the other will see the cup as half empty? In other words, two people can look at the same thing but have different perceptions on the same thing. The optimist will see the good in things while the pessimist will see the bad in things.

Well, I choose to be an optimist. Even though I have SLE and am now undergoing dialysis three times a week, I choose to see myself as blessed. I may not be working full-time and I may not earn as much as some of my friends, but I have a pretty nice life. I live with my family and I earn enough for my own expenses. Right now, I'm trying to save as much money as possible, so I try to spend less most days.

Lot's of people will say someone is my situation has to be either depressed or suicidal but not me. I used to be depressed and negative about my situation but not anymore! What's the point of constantly comparing yourself with people more fortunate than you and whining and complaining all the time? You'll only drag yourself down and make yourself even more depressed.

I choose to be happy. I choose to be content with my lot in life. After all, this isn't our permanent home, Heaven is. I choose to live life the best I can, so I'll go the Heaven when I die. Because in Heaven, there is no Death, Sickness, Pain or Sadness. It's my choice.

Consider this:  I may be on dialysis but I still have the gift of sight, for which I thank God daily. I can still read, watch TV, cross-stitch, crochet, or other needlework. I still have two arms and two legs. I have three square meals a day and the occasional snack. There are people in this world who don't even have one meal a day.

Now, don't get me wrong : I'm not comparing myself the those less fortunate than me to make myself feel better. I'm just trying to put things into the proper perspective. In any situation you're in, you can choose to be miserable, or you can choose to be happy. I choose to be happy and full of joy despite everything! What about you?

Author: eowyn

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Communication Is The Big Secret

“She only ordered my products a year after I had met her,” explained the young entrepreneur.

“He didn’t need my services. But he did recommend them to his network of contacts,” declared another lady who had ventured out into the catering services on a small scale.

That’s what a couple of persons have told me over the past few months. You must be wondering what their secret to attracting customers is.

These are hardworking individuals who are passionate about their products and services. There is one other thing that I’ve noticed about them.

The way they communicate with people.

When they take up a booth at a small bazaar, they don’t just focus on a one-off sale. Its not just a “What is in it for me right now?” attitude.  

Instead they communicate well with buyers and those who are obviously just window-shopping for the day. These smart entrepreneurs ask the right questions, they offer suggestions and help, and take criticism with a smile.

Home entrepreneurs seem to be born with the skills to do all of these effortlessly. For others, they have to work hard at it. In reality, it is quite simple, if you follow a few basic steps.

In the past when I used to walk through Amcorp Mall during the weekends, I had often thought that some of the individuals taking care of the stalls could do with lessons on these basic steps. And that’s what I’m going to do next week. Start off with some basic steps that I know entrepreneurs will find useful.

See you next week!