A stroke of kindness
June 8, 2010
Danielle Palmer isn’t in the business of handouts.
After graduating from the University of Utah with degrees in criminal psychology and sociology at just 19, she first visited Kenya in 2006 as part of a master’s degree program in diplomacy and international affairs from Vermont’s Norwich University. It was that experience that demonstrated the wisdom behind the age-old proverb: "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime."
That’s the driving concept behind the second annual Kenya Kup at Park City Municipal Golf Course on Saturday, June 12, a charitable event benefitting a microenterprise program in Kenya. Microenterprise is a relatively novel approach to philanthropy, promoting self-sufficiency by loaning small amounts of capital and supplying business training to women in Third World countries.
"What I’ve observed is that charitable donations only go so far," Palmer said. "Once the money dries up, it’s gone. This is a pay-it-forward program. Our first set of loans has been paid back in full, giving us money to loan to new businesses. It’s an exponential growth factor."
Palmer and her cadre of volunteer high school and college students are sponsored by YouthLINC, a nonprofit which aims to mentor teenagers and young adults at effective charity practices.
Rather than just building a shelter or distributing aid that will only provide a temporary fix in poverty-stricken areas, the new jobs created from microenterprise loans allow Kenyans to pay for secondary education, visit the doctor, and invest in the sustained development of their communities.
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"They’re very creative," Palmer said of the loan recipients. "They know what their community needs better than we do."
Most of the loans from this year’s Kenya Kup will be directed toward agricultural endeavors. One past loan came in the form of a bicycle for patrolling farmers’ irrigation services, which will be repaid after the next harvest.
Some of the more unique businesses started with credit include a donut stand which has hired local employees from the area, a dried bananas company, fruit stands, and a gas generator used to charge cell phones in a village with no power source. The common thread among these businesses: They would almost certainly not occur to a well-meaning western philanthropist.
"That is the biggest factor," Palmer said. "They can take it into their own hands and see direct results from their own effort. You see these women’s whole demeanor change. They start out shy and reserved and end up being very confident."
Palmer, a Minnesota native who moved to Utah in elementary school and recently returned to live in her Midwestern home, said business lessons and information about basic bookkeeping help the Kenyans with their start-ups. Their immense willpower is more than enough to take it from there – more than 98 percent of worldwide microenterprise loans have been paid back in full.
The model for microcredit and microfinance was developed by Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi economist who decided that women were the ideal recipients for the aid after early attempts showed that men tended to squander cash on ill-advised investment gambits.
"It’s a safer bet, knowing that you’ll get the repayments back with women," Palmer said. A local board of directors, composed of self-sufficient landholders with no stake in the money, ensures that the resources are allocated justly. The women bring in small repayments on their loans on a weekly basis.
In the past, Park City locals have raised money for microenterprise loans through personal donations, car washes, bake sales and a bowling tournament in 2008. Park City Golf Course assistant pro and manager David Wintzer suggested taking the effort to the links, and in 2009, the Kenya Kup collected $4,000 for microfinance operations.
Saturday’s two-man scramble will offer prizes donated by local businesses. On-site registration is available at 8 a.m. on Saturday, with a shotgun start beginning at 9 a.m. Cost is $150 per team, with all proceeds going to YouthLINC. For an additional $5, golfers can take part in closest-to-the-hole, long putt and long-drive competitions. A complete schedule of events is available at http://www.youthLINC.org.
After the Kenya Kup, volunteers serve in their own communities, raising funds and planning projects, then they will embark on two-week humanitarian trips to Mexico, Peru, Thailand and Kenya. There they will work with the communities on business, education, health and structural needs.
Palmer is also starting a new venture this year, connecting Kenyan artisans with interior-design companies in North America. The for-profit business will ship aloe vera soaps, handmade leather sandals, canvas paintings, etchings and wood carvings to the mainland, with Palmer serving as middleman.