jamie-wolf-2Balance The Books!

Practice Balance, Part 6 of 6


The final installment of the series on balance actually arrived in two parts – to balance it out, so to speak! This time, as before, I ask you to challenge yourself with an exercise; practice balancing ‘accepted wisdom’, ‘standard practice,’ and ‘convention’ with free thinking, curiosity, a willingness to learn, and a results-based or performance-based approach to business and work.

Now, what do farming, gender issues, and business models have in common and what do they have to do with balance? If you read last week’s installment, you’ll have already begun reading “Why Cows Learn Dutch” and “Why Cows Need Names” by Randy James and “Go Pro” by Eric Worre. This week – no surprise – there are more books for you to balance. But first, let me recap just a bit…

In last issue’s discussion of farming, I observed that long-standing convention, our universities, our politicians, our lobbyists, and our US Department of Agriculture say we need factory farming, we need subsidies, we need tariffs, and we need corporate monopolies of our food supply. I concluded, however, that every single bit of that precept is flawed. (This is my opinion in the context of these articles. I encourage you to read Dr. James’ wonderful books to get his perspective from the field, literally!) The reality is that much of what has been customary in the last 50 years of farming could be thrown out and we could successfully do things very differently. But it’s difficult for the non-farmer to find the truth amidst the propaganda so we continue with status quo even to our detriment.

The key? Be inquisitive! Dig deeper. Challenge yourself to look for alternatives to accepted practice. Have you heard of “Slow Food”? (If not, look it up! http://www.slowfoodusa.org. “Preserve What Matters!”)

Speaking of accepted practices, how many of you know that lending has been and continues to be predominantly a male-oriented business? Don’t believe me? Here’s my next reading recommendation for you: “The Ascent of Money. A Financial History of the World” by Niall Ferguson. Before any of you groan thinking that the topic couldn’t be less interesting or that it might be far too arduous to wade through such material, let me offer two quotes about the book. Michiko Kakutanit of The New York Times says it, “shrewdly anticipates many aspects of the current financial crisis, which has toppled banks, precipitated gigantic government bailouts and upended global markets.” And an excerpt from the back cover says, “Like the stock market crash that ultimately caused the French Revolution, the latest global financial crisis is about more than merely losing money. As Ferguson traces the crisis from Memphis, the bankruptcy capital of America, to Chongqing, the fastest growing financial center on earth, he offers bold and compelling new insights into the rise – and fall – not just of money but of Western power itself.” Do I have your attention? Ready to consider giving this read a try?

I’m actually referencing the book to highlight a point the author raises. Accepted wisdom and standard practice for centuries has been that men are credit worthy, women are not. Men are business oriented, women are not. Men own property and women are property . . . Thankfully that is no longer the case in the US, although the associated norms haven’t faded enough! Unintentionally, a Bangladeshi banker, economist, and professor named Yunus (who received his PhD in economics from Vanderbilt University) made a discovery countering such custom by trying a new practice and observing results-based performance. Here’s a passage from Ferguson’s book to explain:

The founder of the microfinance movement, the Nobel prize winner Muhammad Yunus, came to understand the potential of making small loans to women when studying rural poverty in Bangladesh. His mutually owned Grameen (‘Village’) Bank . . . has made microloans to nearly seven and a half million borrowers, nearly all of them women who have no collateral. . . . Since its inception, Grameen Bank has made microloans worth more than $3 billion . . . now attracting sufficient deposits (nearly $650 billion by January 2007) to be entirely self-reliant and, indeed, profitable…. The great revelation of the microfinance movement…is that women are actually a better credit risk than men, with or without a house as security for their loans. That certainly flies in the face of the conventional image of the spendthrift female shopper. Indeed, it goes against the grain of centuries of prejudice which, until as recently as the 1970s, systematically rated women as less creditworthy than men. In the United States, for example, married women used to be denied credit, even when they were themselves employed, if their husbands were not in work. Deserted and divorced women fared even worse. When I was growing up [says Ferguson,] credit was still emphatically male. Microfinance, however, suggests that creditworthiness may in fact be a female trait.”

Yunus and Grameen Bank utilized another results-based approach, this time concerning loan administration and oversight. To ensure repayment, the bank uses a system of “solidarity groups” or “koota” comprised of five members. These small informal groups apply together for loans; the members act as co-guarantors of repayment, supporting one another’s efforts at economic self-advancement. Essentially it’s an honor system incorporating a mixture of peer pressure and team support, virtually eliminating any need for the bank to spend resources on admin while ensuring the success of each individual within the group. Interestingly network marketing parallels the format of Grameen Bank as the business model relies on teams to help support each other and teams that benefit when all benefit.

When Yunus started lending to impoverished women without collateral, microfinance transitioned from being theory to being inspiring practice adopted by leading universities, entrepreneurs, and corporations around the world. It got out of the realm of white papers and into mainstream practice, with tangible, measurable, positive results. And it blew convention sky high. And when Grameen Bank started relying on groups to self-regulate without “big brother” oversight, it shattered accepted wisdom that trust was only as good as enforcement. Once again, balance what you “know” to be true with curiosity and an openness to trying something new; you are likely to be pleasantly astonished. (And I implore you, read Ferguson’s book!)

As with all things Beaufort, just what I needed showed up; while planning this article on aspects of both farming and microfinance, I met someone who introduced me to the concept of “Slow Money.” From SlowMoney.Org:

“The Slow Money Alliance is bringing people together around a new conversation about money that is too fast, about finance that is disconnected from people and place, about how we can begin fixing our economy from the ground up… starting with food. Let us begin rebuilding our economy from the ground up, asking:
* What would the world be like if we invested 50% of our assets within 50 miles of where we live?
* What if there were a new generation of companies that gave away 50% of their profits?
* What if there were 50% more organic matter in our soil 50 years from now?
The Slow Money Alliance was created in order to enhance food security, food safety and food access; improve nutrition and health; promote cultural, ecological and economic diversity; and accelerate the transition from an economy based on extraction and consumption to an economy based on preservation and restoration.”

Slow money joins the other topics covered in these last 2 segments by going against convention, standard practice, and accepted wisdom – thank heavens! I love that right here in Beaufort there are people actively discussing this NEW concept and related ideas, especially in the context of food and farming and investment and distribution. See how it all comes full circle! Perfect balance, don’t you think?


Beaufort resident Jamie Wolf is the author of “Start Over! Start Now! Ten Keys to Success in Business and Life” available on Amazon with 10 accompanying guidebooks. She has started over a number of times and now focuses on helping people who are ready to Start Over with their health
and wealth through getting fit, feeling fabulous, and becoming financially free. She can be reached at  jamie.wolf@thestartover.com


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