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OutofCharacter / Giving

December 03 2008 - BOB's Musings


Last night I had an interesting conversation with a friend about how people reacted to a story about Kiva that was posted over on For those that are not familiar with what Kiva does they are a micro-loan website. You donate $25 to a person somewhere in the world that needs funding for something. Others also donate and that person gets the loan of $400 or $1200 dollars to help with what ever. It is something small on the givers end that turns into something powerful and good on the receivers end. I have been part of Kiva for a while and our group has a team over on Kiva to help everyone connect.

So a friend who knows I do this saw an article and commented on it to me.

I will post the orignal here first:

Cupcake Kings Go Global, With a Little Help From Joel
By Joel Stein

Anyone can lend money; I am able to lend genius. So when I started making small loans to Third World entrepreneurs through the nonprofit website I felt as though I wasn't doing enough. That's why a few weeks after I sent $25 to a baker in Nicaragua, I decided I needed to stop being a silent partner and start calling him all the time with my ideas.

Unfortunately, Freddy Antonio Castillo Luna doesn't have e-mail or a phone in his bakery-home outside Managua. So I had to get a Kiva volunteer to go there with a cell phone and translate. My first suggestion was to change the name of the place from the Little Mango Bakery to the far more compelling Joel and Freddy's Extreme Cupcakery. I thought the bakery should switch its focus from empanadas and breadsticks to extreme cupcakes, for which we would charge $4 apiece. I would have my loan repaid in five cupcakes, assuming generous tipping.

Freddy, who proved to be a far smarter businessman than I had expected, was way into the new plan. "It's always a good idea to come up with new products," he said. He thought, however, that we should bring the price down to 16 córdobas, which is about 80˘. But Freddy assured me that in his neighborhood, that price would still make our cupcakes obnoxious luxury items. He also suggested that we tweak the name of the shop to Freddy and Joel's Extreme Cupcakery, since Freddy claims he's better known than I am in Managua, which I pretended to believe. When we started to talk about cupcake flavors, Freddy suggested vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, pineapple and banana. From my experiences in cupcake-eating, I told him he might want to start off with red velvet and chai. "Those flavors would be new to Nicaragua," he said, "and therefore there'd be a great demand for them." I could not have imagined finding a business partner who thinks so much like me.

Then Freddy suggested that we sell our cupcakes to the local supermarkets. "I'm happy to be thinking big," he said. His plan involved transporting them on his bicycle, which I feared might smear some of the pretty designs I was planning for the buttercream frosting. But Freddy said he couldn't afford a car yet. He also needed cement to cover his dirt floor and major roof repairs. I decided I was more the flavor-idea guy.

Before I got off the phone, I asked the translator to quietly try one of Freddy's pastries to make sure I didn't have to bring in a new head chef. "It's delicious," she said. "It's like a crunchy flattened glazed doughnut." I asked if it could possibly be as good as a fresh chai cupcake. "For pastries that don't have icing, this might be a topper," she said.

I realized that Freddy y Joel's Muy Cupcakery should co-brand and partner with a large baking conglomerate, since co-brand and partner with are terms I've heard my friends in Silicon Valley use. So I contacted Candace Nelson, who co-owns Sprinkles Cupcakes, a chain that Oprah Winfrey says is one of her favorites. When I mentioned the opportunity to take her five-store chain global, she became very interested. "Once we're up to the top 20 cities in America, we'd think about going to Mexico," she said. "We'd love some market research. It's possible that Nicaraguans will try cupcakes and say, 'What is this crap?'" This scared me until I realized that everyone likes cupcakes. Cupcakes are way better than democracy.

So Sprinkles agreed to give Freddy y Joel's $750 and a strawberry-cupcake recipe in exchange for regular reports on sales of that cupcake as well as a list of our three best-selling flavors. We agreed not to open a Freddy y Joel's in California, and in return Sprinkles would stay out of our section of Managua. Nelson will consult for Freddy y Joel's and serve on our board, and we will name our cupcake line Pedacitos, which may or may not mean sprinkles in Spanish. I told Nelson she could have 2% of the company if we go public on the Nicaraguan stock exchange. I did not, however, tell Freddy this or check to see if there's a Nicaraguan stock exchange, so Nelson shouldn't get too excited. Freddy did like the rest of the plan, though I needed, to my great surprise, to explain who Oprah Winfrey is. Once I did, though, he was right there with me. "Of course I think it's very cool that the American Cristina would be interested in this kind of product," he said. More Related

Now that Freddy y Joel's is thriving, I'm going to step back and let Freddy start baking at 5 a.m. and close his shop at 9 p.m., while I get involved with other loans in my portfolio. I'm also going to give gift certificates to all my consultant and business-school friends, so they too can annoy hardworking people around the globe. By the end of next year, I predict the developing world will not only be economically thriving and significantly more diabetic but also regret ever getting involved with microloans.

Now this may or may not be your cup of tea. Humor is definately a topic where you either get it or don't a lot of times. But I was amazed at the reactions over on a kiva fan site to this article.

"This is a completely idiotic excuse for humor. "

I'm amazed that gave space to this inane dross, this truly pathetic excuse for wit.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that some people will consider any topic or activity as fair game for their so-called humor.

But I think Kiva should ask for a retraction to his assertion that a Kiva volunteer was complicit to his tom foolery.

Joel Stein's exploitation of a real Kiva borrower's identity purely to parade his own shallow cleverness seemed to me a noteworthy breach of the basic respect we all owe as Kiva lenders to the people we lend to. If that's being politically correct, then OK, I stand convicted.

I was more thinking of those who wanted Kiva to react and tried watch out for Kiva's reputation

''Fiona, is this what Kiva calls 'due diligence'? Is this 'good advertising'? I suppose advertising is about getting your name in print - doesn't matter where? Oh My Goodness. ''

''Maybe it's a generational thing, appreciation of Joel Stein's brand of facile, shallow, amoral "punk" journalism. There is obviously something preventing me from noticing that the TIME article was an embodiment of towering comic genius, and I'm completely missing the bigger picture when along with Dan, Jan, Jane and others, I see only a clever egocentric exhibitionist who has publicly exploited a real Kiva borrower for his own amusement, and for the large fee that TIME presumably saw fit to pay him.

Another thing... how come it's OK for a "comic" journalist like arrogant, solipsistic, attention-needy freak Joel Stein to exploit a real Kiva borrower like this, but Kiva will not lift a finger to enable Kiva Friends to use borrowers' images and stories in a wholly respectful way in a calendar? I think we should have it carefully explained to us, because right now I'm having trouble formulating an explanation that doesn't involve the word "hypocrisy".''

I did not include names because they may or may not realize that posting on a public forum gives others the right to use their commentary.

And to be fair not everyone felt this way.

I wasn't all that offended by the article. In fact, parts of it, I found humorous.

and one posted a chart showing an increase in new donors on Kiva after the article.

What amazed me most about this outrage was the heavy tilting towards the insulting the article and how they thought that this was a horrible thing. This after the official post on the official Kiva site was very positive about the article.

''Kiva Entrepreneur Freddy Antonio Castillo Luna became famous over the weekend when TIME columnist Joel Stein wrote about taking his business support to the next level.

I'm not sure that Joel's cupcakes will take off in Nicaragua, but you can read about the venture here.

Special thanks to Kiva Fellow Whitney who translated the phone conversation on the ground in Nicaragua, Kiva Field Partner AFODENIC who is facilitating this loan on the ground and helped us track down Freddy, and of course to Freddy who clearly demonstrates the business savvy of entrepreneurs using microloans to build businesses.

-- posted by Fiona Ramsey at 01:12 pm PDT ''

Clearly the point of the article was to have fun with the idea of buying a controlling interest in someone's business. It was a cute story I thought, I smiled as I read it. I also get that people would not understand the joke. But to be soo insulted and to over react just seems way out of place. "The sanctity of the recipient" was so over the top.

This is a chance for us to do something good for someone else. I don't do this to get noticed. I don't donate because someone else or some organization tells me I need to or should. I do it because we all should do what we can to help each other out.

Where does doing the right thing give anyone the right to tell other's how to act or force them to do something in a particular way? I would never want someone to feel that I was preaching to them about how to live their life, or what they need to do or be a certain way. Just act the way you want to act, treat others the way you want to be treated.

As the person who pointed the story out to me said, "if I join Kiva do I have to give up my sense of humor?"

I know that most people who find this posting will agree with me that this is a silly tempest in a teacup. I just wanted to get it off my chest how stupid I thought those comments were. It really did turn me off from being part of that fan group. I do hope that anyone who stumbles upon this posting here is inspired to at least investigate Kiva and perhaps decide to help out someone else in the world. Maybe someday I will talk about how I choose who I decide to give to.

The rest of the story

Then an update to this story appeared over on the Kiva blogs. I am very glad to see that the people involved in this from the Kiva end seem to really get it. I liked the ending for the blog post where she points out the difference in micro-lending in a controlled setting and just dumping charity into a spot with no plan.

And for those who like thing in video form, here is A link to a fun look at how this all works.