Sunday, January 5, 2014

Feedback: Comments to the Blogger

No pictures specifically relating to this blog, so random shots of us!  :)
I love getting feedback on my blogs.  As much as each weekend I scratch my head over what to put out on Monday morning, I look forward with anticipation to see the response once it is out.  And all of you are so kind.  The feedback is almost always kind and encouraging.  And I'm getting a feel for who will respond to which kinds of other words, I'm learning about you as well!  For example, my blogs tend to center around three themes:  faith, work, and personal.  There are groups of you that I can almost predict now will respond to something about one of those themes, but not the others!  I love that I'm getting to know you even as you accompany me on this journey.  This blog has been a powerful tool to me (and to us as a family) over the years, and I so appreciate those of you who take the time to read it.

Most of the time, the comments I receive are short and sweet.  But sometimes I get thoughtful, reflective comments, and sometimes even some push back.  I have asked permission from three people to publish their comments here, as I learned something from them and thought you might too.

The first is in relation to my blog two weeks ago about access to capital (click here to reread).  Karl Westerhof is a staff person with World Renew, the development arm of the Christian Reformed Church.  Karl is one who responds with encouragement almost every week, regardless of the theme.  :)  Here is an exert from his response last week:

Now the second thought.  It's vague and general and I can't really put it into words.   I hear you wrestling with the vexing issue of loans, and the cultural realities that make loans especially vexing in your situation.  There's something that just doesn't quite sit right about all this.  The issues you raise are familiar ones, and they do need to be addressed.  But....   here's where I am vague and tentative....  it "feels" to me as though you are way too skittish about the subject of capital.  You name all the complexities; you say the right things about the importance of capital; you acknowledge its vital importance...   and at the same time you see it as the weak point or the "necessary evil" in a Kingdom approach to business.  Or at best as the point most vulnerable to sabotage by the dimensions of culture in a "warm" climate.  
         Of course you know the basic development stuff better than I do.... start small and slow and build the group's strength and trust and habits.  And use the strength of the Kingdom community group accountability.  And you know there are poverty loan programs that achieve excellent repayment rates.  So can you.  So I want to say, Don't be skittish or ambivalent about this!   This is the very key to whether Africa will rise or not!  It's not at all certain that Africa can get to a place of economic health, but programs like yours are a vital part of the bigger movement toward development of healthy economies on the continent.  You have something vitally important to contribute, and you need to grab hold of that and embrace it without ambivalence.  And your donors need this education desperately too!  We over here need to be shown ways to conquer our stereotypes about Africa.  
     Your program of training is so biblical, and so community based, and so eagerly used, that consequently you have a great base to build on to develop a strong loan program.  Go for it.  Tough and loving discipline, careful attention to how the culture of relationships can strengthen loan paybacks rather than weaken them, start small and lean and slow....   Here is an area where you need to discern so carefully which strengths of the existing culture you want to keep and value, and how those strengths can be USED to support a really excellent loan program.  
         OK, I'm embarrassed because you know all this, and all I'm doing is trying to explain my dis-ease with some of the tone of your blog.  Hardly a message for Christmas week.    But I hope you know I only dare to write this way because I am so appreciative of the work you do.
     So consider this a "for what it's worth" email, and if it's not helpful.......   just discard it.  I promise I won't be offended!
I thanked Karl for his words, acknowledged that he was right, received his permission to quote him, and will try to move forward without ambivalence!!

I also received these questions about the same blog from my Pastor at Madison Square Church, Rev. David Beelen:
I have a question for you: You said 127 people received loans and 90 of that number were women.
My question.....does it seem to you that in Africa the women are more likely these days to get access to education and capital than men?
I have noticed a trend here in the US: boys are dropping out of high school at a much higher rate then girls and most colleges nowadays have more women than men in them...the cultural trend is that men are in decline....and the cultural narrative is that men have been advantaged and it is time for the women to become dominant....and in my view that is happening and with very negative results.
We are fast becoming a culture of women achievers and men slackers.
What do you think?
Hannah, winning the love of Laventer, Pastor Ashivaga's daughter.
These are great questions and I love how my pastor pays attention to the big picture in the world.  My response to him stated that it is true that most microfinance institutions pursue women - in fact, they recommend that the portfolio be 95% women and only 5% men.  The reasons for that are that women are typically better at repayment but also women in developing countries are still under-served (both in education and in capital yet).  In fact, Kenya rates as one of the top countries in terms of being patriarchal - it was just last year that the law changed to allow women to own land (which is often needed to secure collateral for access to capital).  I agree, however, that we must be balanced with opportunities to men so that we don't participate in reverse discrimination.  We did not target women in this program; we only took who came.  And when you look at the amount of money given to men versus women, men did get more because their businesses were stronger, they had more savings, and their need for capital was higher. This is a very brief answer to a complex question - one that may beg to be addressed on its own in a future blog.

The third quote is a response to a blog that I posted in October, called "Inspiration from the field" (can be seen here).  The respondent is Joe Rodriguez, a fellow member of Madison Square Church.  He has been an elder to me, a counselor to me, a friend to me, and someone whom I consider to be very wise.  So his comments in response to my blog resonated with me and I appreciated his honesty.  Here is what he said (again, used with permission):
Renita -
This posting is having an effect on my perspective about others in the world. I would ordinarily presume that people who are poor are in need of a financial handout. I am struck by the innate creativity of my fellow human beings. Although I would acknowledge this to be so, I believe my thoughts were conceptual out of some sense of an obligatory respect for others. I feel a bit ashamed to admit this. However, your posting here seems to make it feel real for me. It feels true that people in developing areas of the world are in deed very creative. They just need safety, predictability, and access to viable markets. I would think that the local government and the local church have legitimate roles in nurturing this God-given wealth of creativity and advocating for what the business person needs in order to thrive. Renita, thank you for helping me appreciate more what God has planted in people and is doing to bring it forth.
- Joe Rodriguez
Noah, wowing everyone with his sharp suits...

I love the phrase, "I believe my thoughts were conceptual out of some sense of an obligatory respect for others."   
If only all of us were so self-aware of our assumptions and presumptions.  I will probably do a blog on that in the next couple of weeks as it is something I have been struggling with as well, but for now, I appreciate again Joe's honesty and believe that he speaks not only for himself, but also for me, as well as many others in the world as we look at other people, other cultures, other countries with assumptions that can be benign at best and cancerous at worst.

So again, thank you for accompanying me on this journey, for reading, for praying, for encouraging, but also for sharing your thoughts, your heart, and your mind!