Judge Jim Gray, Phu Nguyen, Micro-Loans, and tonight’s DFA meeting.

Phu Nguyen, Judge Jim Gray

What do local Libertarian celebrity Judge Jim Gray and charismatic assembly candidate Phu Nguyen have in common?  Well, first of all, they’re both appearing at tonight’s Democracy For America meeting, (Wednesday Sept 1) at Costa Mesa’s Karl Strauss Brewery near South Coast Plaza.  Judge Gray will be speaking in favor of Proposition 19, which would decriminalize and tax marijuana, and Phu will simply be giving an update on his historic campaign in Assembly District 68 (Costa Mesa, Westminster, Garden Grove & Fountain Valley.)  We’re expecting a standing-room only crowd, so show up early at 6 or 6:30 and socialize, take advantage of Karl Strauss’ great Happy Hour deals.  It’s at 901 South Coast Drive, close to Bear Street.

So, what else do Phu Nguyen and Judge Gray have in common?  Well, there’s…

Micro-Loans.

The Judge recently penned an essay on his website raving about a program that

…provides small loans to people who otherwise would not qualify for any financing, so that they can start their own small businesses and break out of the cycle of poverty.

There are several similar programs around the world that focus upon this activity, such as Technoserve and the Heifer Project, but the one that was presented at FreedomFest was started in Bangladesh by an economist named Muhammad Yunus. He observed that many people on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder had feasible ideas for starting businesses, but were totally unable to borrow any money to get started. So, 30 years ago, Yunus loaned a total of $27 of his own money to 42 different people for that purpose.

… Yunus was amazed at the results. Within six months all of the women he had loaned money to had paid it back, and all of them had a new business started of some kind.

So over time he put together the Grameen Bank that made similar small business starter loans – but just to women. No collateral was required, but the loans had to be paid back within a year, complete with interest at 7.5% per year. The program also required that groups of at least five potential borrowers get together and approve each borrower’s individual “business plan,” as well as a plan for repayment before any of the loans would be made. Then that group would be required to meet together for an hour each week, at which time they would make payments of 2%of the principal and also compare notes about how they were progressing. In a world in which there are more than 4 billion cell phones, there are only 1.5 billion bank accounts. So the Grameen Bank became a bank for the unbankable, and it has been successful… [more here]

The Judge’s interest seems theoretical, and probably based partly on a libertarian opposition to government foreign aid.  As he correctly points out, “our government throws lots of money at foreign problems that, since there is seldom much accountability in where it goes, often result in foreign government officials driving fancy cars and their Swiss bank accounts getting fatter. But for about 1% of what our government now spends, these programs actually achieve positive and lasting results. So why are we not insisting upon a fundamental change in approach?”

But if Judge Gray is so interested in microloans, he could take the opportunity tonight to talk to Juice friend Phu Nguyen, who has actually created a highly successful program that does just that:  People Empowerment through Micro-Credit and Training (PEMCT), a small NGO that provides small loans to women living in poverty in Vietnam with the purpose of encouraging these women to establish their own small businesses and lift themselves out of poverty, rather than relying on charity or government assistance:

People Empowerment through Micro-Credit and Training (PEMCT) is a microfinance institution founded in 2006 by Phu Nguyen.  The idea for forming a Micro-Credit organization began when Phu traveled to Vietnam in 2000.  On a warm summer night Phu went on a Xich Lo (cyclo) ride through Saigon and there, he witnessed homeless women and children, prostitutes, drug addicts, and all types of poor people.  Phu’s cyclo rider, Trung, was only a couple years older.  Trung was from Da Nang and had came to Saigon to become a cyclo rider hoping to make enough money so that he could send it back to Da Nang to support his family.

Trung didn’t have enough money to buy his own cyclo, so he had to rent it for 10,000 dongs a day (roughly $.65 USDollars).  Some days he made enough money to pay the daily cyclo rent.  Other days, he didn’t.  Phu knew that if Trung only had his own cyclo, he would be able to make a lot more money than he was currently making.  Phu then gave Trung 300,000 dongs ($20) so he could buy his own cyclo.  With his own cyclo, Trung would now be able to make a lot more money and help his relatives in Da Nang much more effectively.

From that night’s experience, Phu came to the realization that by giving poor members in society the proper resources, they will be able to raise their own standard of living.  Instead of giving someone money or food, which only helps them right then and there, helping them start their own business or training them with some key skills, will allow them to help themselves for the rest of their lives.   It is really as the old saying goes, “You give a man a fish, you feed him for a day.  You teach a man how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”

In other words Phu has essentially been creating an army of little capitalists in a Communist nation – surely a ballsy act of subversion (in your face, you small shrill group of  Trannies who try to red-bait him for dealing with Vietnam at all.)

So there’s Gray and Phu, and there’s me and you. Micro-loans are something almost any of us can afford, to help folks  all over the world pull themselves up out of poverty, while avoiding the corruption of third-world governments and the administrative costs of the big charities.  It’ll make you feel good too!  Check out these links:

Phu’s group:  PEMCT
The program Judge Gray mentioned: http://www.tocatchadollar.com
The Heifer Project
Technoserve
Kiva
Microplace

And don’t forget the DFA meeting tonight!


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.