Friday, December 16, 2011

Borrowing Christmas

“What are you getting your family and friends this Christmas?” At this time of the year, you must have heard this question at least a thousand of times! Whereas Christmas should be all about spending time with your family and friends and, for some, to revive their faith, nowadays the holiday’s emphasis is mostly laid on the material aspect.

With the global economy staggering, the ‘giving’ aspect of Christmas because more difficult. A financial times report stated that many Britons will take on more debt to fund their Christmas expenses. However, banks remain hesitant in lending money to lower income households. This creates a situation where people find their extra 300 pounds or so they need for their holiday gifts by going to a payday lender.

These types of short-term loans have increased significantly both in the UK as well as in USA, as households need some extra cash to pay for their monthly bills, or in some cases, to fund their Christmas expenses. When they receive their next months’ pay check, they then pay back their loan and, according to several sources, a 15 percent charge. Because these payday loans are most often for small amounts of money – usually only a couple 100 dollars – borrowers don’t often realise the huge rates they pay for it. However, if payday loans are rolled over, the annual interest rate for their loans can be extremely high. 

To give you an understanding of how important this phenomenon has become, the annual US payday market is 40 billion USD and the annual UK payday market is 2 billion pounds. While these practices have been in place for a while, this year new US firms were founded aimed to entering this large market. What Symbius and other companies are trying to do is deliver small loans through employers of companies to their low-wage workers. By working closely with employers these start-up firms can look into how much the employees earn and can assess whether a loan should be granted or not. The amount plus a (lower) charge will be deducted from their next pay-check. These charges are considerably lower than a payday lender’s charges, because they operate with lower costs.

The main issue for these start-ups is to convince companies of the benefit of this service. A potential benefit could be that there is less stress in the workplace because employees know that there is now a cheaper way to get that extra cash they need than going to a pay day lender.

However, from an ethical viewpoint, are these services encouraging people to get into more debt? Shouldn’t it be better to not provide any loans and let people be more conscious about their expenses? Your expenses this month will be more or less the same the next month, so if you have to borrow money to make this month, you probably also have to borrow for next month. Especially at this time of the year, wouldn’t you rather give your loved-ones a warm welcome to your house during the festivities and know you are able to make your bills in January, than take on a new loan to fund your gifts? 

Monday, December 12, 2011

A sad tail

Tis’ the season of giving. With the multitude of charities that exist, I decided to donate to one called when I was recently introduced to a documentary film, The Cove. Released in 2009 and directed by former National Geographic photographer Louis Psihoyos, The Cove boasts an enviable number of awards and critical acclaim, namely an Academy Award for Best Documentary and audience awards at Sundance and the Directors Guild of America just to name a few.

This film follows former dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry in his quest to document and publicize the hunting and subsequent slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. The Cove received conflicting reviews to say the least. Some call it a shocking exposé of one of the biggest environmental cover-ups in the world, whereas others shrug it off as a piece of propaganda with a grossly racist portrayal of the Japanese.

Social engineering in Japan has long created the culture of nurturing obedient, hard-working factory and white-collar workers to fuel the economy. There is no doubt that eating whale and dolphin meat has been a part of Japanese culture for hundreds of years. And it is not surprisingly that some people may view this film as being critical and lacking tolerance of a more conservative culture. 

Putting the issue of racism and politics aside, we cannot deny that fisheries all around the world are being depleted rapidly, and the whale and dolphin meat being consumed by the Japanese contain unsafe levels of mercury. I will add that the Japanese are unaware of this fact, and because of this, the controversy of whaling and dolphin slaughter has become not only a humanitarian concern, but also an ecological and public health concern. 

However there is a lot of money to be made off the exploitation of dolphins and other cetaceans. One live bottlenose dolphin can be sold for more than $150,000 to any dolphinarium or exhibition center. SeaWorld alone, which owns 20 of the world’s 42 captive orcas, made $1.4 billion in profit last year. As long as these numbers keep going up, we can be sure that the problems of depleting marine life and increased numbers of mercury poisoning are only going to get worse.

We live in an era that believes that money makes the world go round. Trying my utmost to avoid sounding like a hippie environmentalist, taking a moment to look away from the glare of greens, sometimes the other things we see may shock us. Hate him or not, we’ve got to give it to Ric O’Barry. The man has a drive to fight and work for a cause he so passionately believes in, a trait lacking in our society today. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Free Water

I recently came across this video which showed me how a small simple idea can grow into a multi-million dollar non-profit organization. The video above pretty much explains the whole story. Anybody would be awestruck by such an ingenious plan to help so many people. Let me go into more depth.

Scott Harrison founded “charity: water” in 2006 when he was 31 with the motive of wanting more out of his life. Having previously been a NYC club promoter, he committed 2 years of his life studying the poverty situation through volunteer services. By tracing problems surrounding these situations, he deduced that a lack of clean water was a key factor. After which he began using his network to garner as much support for his cause as possible. As mentioned in the video, he started using the simple idea of giving up his birthday presents and asking people to give him a small sum of $20 instead.

When I first watched this video, I could only think how innovative this man was. How many people could honestly change so many people’s lives just by this simple idea? The truth is almost everyone. By creating awareness, the organization has raised over 40 million dollars as of July 1 2011 and this number continues to rise. The idea has struck so many people over the last 5 years that donations have been received from over 50,000 individuals and served about 19 countries in the world. People’s attention was captured since it was founded. So ask yourself, how do you start from scratch and grow to a multi-million dollar organization in such a short span of time?

Obviously if I had the answer to that above question, I wouldn’t be talking about it but rather getting on with the answer. The truth is that it’s easier said that done. However this example here shows us the importance of drive and passion when you’re trying to grow your company. Scott Harrison found a cause he believed in and it pushed him to “never stop” contributing to his organization. By aligning thousands of peoples interests with his own, he managed to do something huge for the people who require that simple resource that we take for granted everyday.

Inspiring don’t you think?