Let your change do some change

Internet has enabled a lot of new business models, and one that has caused quite a lot of excitement is online microlending. The concept is simple, with a credit card, paypal or other type of payment format, you can upload money to a site and then choose specific entrepreneurs or projects in developing countries to lend that money to. The money is then funneled through to a microfinance institution (MFI) partner of the website that then takes care of the actual disbursement and later recollection of the money.

In essence, this is about providing a way for MFIs to get liquidity in order to lend to more people. The MFIs will suggest projects to the microlending website and will also submit status reports, pictures etc.

I’ve tried a couple of these services and can share my experience.

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The first and foremost of these types of services is Kiva. Kiva sparked an interest amongst non-profit everywhere to be able to get online and get massive amount of leverage for their causes, trying to emulate Kiva’s success. Few have probably succeeded as well and Kiva is probably going to proove hard to emulate – it’s a combination of a simple and direct messaging as well as a very clear way to choose specific projects to benefit. Kiva allows you to lend in $25 increments and you can easily search entrepreneurs by region, activity and more. The site and system is highly simplified and they have hidden all the detailed intricacies of microlending – no discussion of interest rates and such here. The profiles of the lenders include pictures & also links to a profile page of the partner MFI with information on default rates and more.

Lending with Kiva is done in a snap, and as soon as $25 from all your loans have been repaid you can re-lend the money to another borrower. Important to know though is that there’s no guarantee that you will get your money back, and in essence you are loosing real value since there is no interest to account for inflation.

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MyC4 takes a completely different route from Kiva. Here you are in control of the interest rate that you offer on your loan, bidding with others to offer certain amounts at a certain interest. Essentially, the lenders on the page bid on who can offer the lowest interest to the entrepreneur, and the cheapest way of funding the loan will eventually be chosen from all those that offered credit. This means that if the loan is €100 and you have 5 people offering to lend €25, one at 17% interest, two at 15% and three at 12%. Only the five people offering 15% and 12% will in the end be giving the loan. Furthermore you as the lender will be charged any currency related costs and transaction costs. This site can be much more engaging for those who are interested in the intricacies of microlending, however if you’re looking for a simple way to contribute this is not – the process of lending is far much more complicated.

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The final one I am going to touch upon here is Micro Place. Sadly, I haven’t been able to try out MicroPlace as it’s limited to US lenders only, however I would like to share their model as it’s an interesting comparison to the other two.

This was a company that recently got bought by microfinance eBay and is now part of the big online company. The website is probably the best designed of the three, and clearly focuses more on the person new to the subject of (unlike MyC4). You can receive a financial return which is here set at between 0-6% (at MyC4 the rates can be anything but generally are between 10-16%). The search is the best of all three and allows you to specify multiple regions, issues, rate and time of return and so on. What I lack however is sorting by type of activity (such as farming, storekeeping, manufacturing and so on).

Micro Place takes a middle road approach to Kiva and MyC4. Where Kiva has a more philanthropic feel and MyC4 a focused capitalist viewpoint MicoPlace combines a simple aim with a possibility to also look at the financials of the loan.

Saying that, however, I have most money active on Kiva and this is also the site that I have been recommending to friends & family (lately all my gifts have been Kiva gift certificates). Mostly this is because the interface is simple and smooth, and that MyC4 simply takes too much time to work with for the average person.

Whatever you do, I recommend you to try these out instead of making a donation next time. Even though your money might loose slight real value you will still be able to re-lend over and over again. This means that a $100 investment to Kiva can continue to be lent as many times as you wish, creating several hundreds of dollars of value.

Acting Consistently

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One of the discussions I have had with some people in AIESEC during the past few weeks with some people have been around acting consistently or at being least aware of inconsistencies in your life. To take a very practical example, a very common inconsistency would be to talk about how you really, really want to quit smoking and how you realize all the adverse health benefits of smoking – but still not taking any practical action to achieve that.

So how do you relate to inconsistencies in your life? A lot of the people here that I have spoke to here talks about being brutally honest about them – probably you simply don’t want to quit smoking and that’s why you haven’t worked for it yet – well then admit that to yourself and realize that “right now I don’t want to quit smoking”. By admitting to your inconsistencies in this way you can not only free yourself from your frustration of not achieving them but also stand more clearly for the choices that you make.

Overall, all the people I spoke to about this shared that they had a higher amount of respect for people who consistently admitted habits and behavior that they realize might be negative or unwanted but that they at this point in time have no motivation or the strength to change.

Sure, sometime you won’t feel that you have the strength or the tools to achieve a consistency between what you think and what you do – and that can be fine, as long as you admit there is an inconsistency and decide to live with it. The key is to be truthful to yourself.

A more consistent approach would to my example would therefor be to admit that fact that “no, I’m not able to quit smoking right now even though I understand all the risks” or “no, I currently don’t want to quit to smoke”.

So, look across your life and your everyday routines, habits & behaviors and try to spot those inconsistencies between what you think and say and how you act. Write them down and think about why this inconsistency is there? Is it because you lack the motivation? Or, maybe that you simply don’t have the energy available right now? Whichever, come to terms with either accepting the inconsistency and taking a conscious choice not to straighten it out – or find the tools to change.

One tool that’s really useful is a 30-day challenge. Commit to something for 30-days and only 30-days. Say that you’re not going to smoke for 30-days, after that you’re free to start again. For each day, keep a tick mark on a flip-chart in your home, in an excel sheet or in your notebook – tick each day that you kept with your 30-day challenge. You’ll see that it’s much easier to simply commit for 30-days than trying to change for your whole life, after 30-days you might just choose to stick with the change.

Having these types of conversations are one big reason why AIESEC’s network is so powerful for me – both at our conferences, in the teams we work with and in the virtual communication we have. Getting input and challenge from a diverse group of people on issues related to your personal development is one of the key driver of my own growth.

Photo by: Annamatic3000

Video blog: Getting complete control over your INBOX

This is my first video blog post ! I’ll share my (and many others) way of getting and staying on top of your email:

As said in the video it’s really about having your e-mail as an incoming area, and then using your task manager as the one and only place to store tasks. Use the task manager for all the tasks that you have – both those that comes from your e-mail and those that you get from other sources like phone calls or meetings that you attend.

For e-mails you process all the incoming mails according to the different steps I outline: delete, archive, do, delegate or defer. Use the “Archive” feature in Gmail a lot – this is your best friend when trying to get in control. By writing all the action steps in your task manager you make sure that you don’t forget anything – this is essentially your second memory!

For those of you who want to dig into where I get these ideas from (they aren’t mine!) check out:

The first five steps for personal efficiency

Over the past years I have been working step by step on my personal efficiency, towards having better control over my activities, better order in my life and to feel calmer and less stressed.

My road really started when I almost experienced a burnout out a couple of years ago. Working too hard and too much, wanting to achieve more than was humanly possible within a certain time frame, I would completely ignore things like health, mental balance, bills, love and other things I felt was irrelevant to what I was passionate about.

I recovered from that and in the process got more aware about what I really wanted to do. And I found new avenues to live my passion, such as AIESEC, and once again I found myself with a huge workload. However, this time I had some experience and also a support network of growth minded individuals who could give me the push and guide on how to handle my passion sustainably this time.

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What I have realized is that the first steps to focus on when you’re an ambitious, passionate person with high goals is to get your personal efficiency under control. Otherwise you’ll just constantly find your energy and time stolen (and time can never be regained – it’s lost forever!) by an overwhelming workload. So, where to start on that? Well I’d like to share a couple of steps I’ve taken to get in control:

  • Identify all your INBOXes – where does things come into your life?
    You really need to start identifying the sources of actions, material . This is almost certainly your e-mail, your voicemail, your notebook, mail coming to your home and work. It can also be downloaded files (I store them in a folder on my computer), SMS, Facebook – anything!

  • Combine & Collect
    Combine all the inboxes you can. Use technology! You can use your Gmail for all your mail inboxes, get your voicemail forwarded to your e-mail and so on. Get a physical inbox for paper (they’re €2 at your local store). Put all online files you download in one folder until you have time to decide where to store them. The important part is just making sure EVERYTHING comes into a specified place.

  • Get a task manager
    You need to have a central place to store all your tasks. This can be a notebook, an online tool or a software. I’d recommend getting started with something like Gmail’s tasks or Outlook’s task manager. Pick something simple and practical that you don’t have to learn and that fits you. If you change in the future that’s fine, just find something that works now.

  • Process regularly – but not every 5 minutes
    Checking your e-mail or Facebook every 5 minutes is probably the biggest time waster. Want to know how much? Run RescueTime for a week and you’ll see the scary truth. First step, turn off auto-notifiers on your computer. If it’s really urgent, people will call you. Second step, decide for each inbox how often you will check it (three times per day, once per day, once per week and so on).

  • Always empty
    Once you got this far, make sure you always empty any inbox you process. This means that your e-mail should be empty three times per day if that’s how often you check it. Don’t keep e-mail as task reminders – that’s what your task manager is for.

    If the e-mail means you need to perform some task – then put it in the task manager or if it’s a short one just do it immediately. If not, then archive it if you need to find it later or delete it. Take this same type of decision for every SMS, every e-mail, every voicemail, every Facebook poke.

Getting these things in place will probably take you a good 2-3 months, but once you do, you’ll be happy you invested the time. Give it time, and stick with it and share your challenges!

For those who wants to dig deeper, this is mostly based on Getting Things Done and other great sources such as the blogs Zenhabits and 9rules productivity blogroll – so if this makes sense to you those are good places to start.

Also, I have written previously about making peace with your e-mail. Today I don’t work quite like this, I’ve removed all labels and I use a separate task manager – so I don’t do step 6 any more. Instead I have a separate task manager (and Gmail has it now too) for handling tasks that arise from my mail.

Photo by Morton Fox.

My message vs. My medium

I have on and off over several months been reading “Personal development for smart people” by Steve Pavlina. It’s a great book, and it contains some profound insights, so if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend you do.

I wanted to share with you something he writes about in the book, and also on his blog, which is about your message vs. your medium. Your message is essentially your life’s purpose where as your medium is the way you (currently) express this message.

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What many of us do mistakenly, according to Steve, is that we identify ourselves with our medium rather than our message. We identify ourselves as “programmers”, “doctors” or “sales people”. However, such an identification means that we limit ourselves in the opportunities we seek and the solutions we find – we only look within the limited domain set by our message. Rather, if we’re clear about our message we can be open to find new, better, more enjoyable, effective ways of expressing it.

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For me, I had an aha moment regarding my purpose at an AIESEC conference about two years ago. I realized that I wanted to work with stimulating sustainable entrepreneurship to support economic development in the places that needed it most. When I think about this I fill with passion and energy.

However, when I was reading about Pavlina’s discussion of message vs. medium I realized that entrepreneurship, starting businesses, for me was just one medium, albeit one medium that seems to suit me very well. The core of my message (as far as I have discovered it so far) is really that want to create is sustainable prosperity – sustainable not only environmentally but in every aspect – meaning inclusive, adaptable to change, dynamic and growing.

Blogging, starting businesses, stimulating investments, running NGOs, hosting conversation, attending conferences, and so on are all mediums through which I can express this message. This is something that I need to be aware of and choose my mediums differently at different points in time.

What is your medium & message right now?

Read more at Steve Pavlina’s blog, or order his book.

Photos by Martin Le Roy and Sebastiano Pitruzzello (aka gorillaradio).

Embrace change

I spend a large part of my days talking to small business across Sweden. Essentially what I offer them is the opportunity to get access to new buying leads and they pay us a yearly fee for that. The service in itself I think is good, and I work hard to ensure that all my suppliers get good leads that will help them to make more business.

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However, I do also hear a fair chance of negative feedback. Primarily this is in the form that they feel that their industry is being “destroyed” by suppliers offering “ridiculously low prices”. Generally, these are old print houses that have seen their industry completely changed. They will say that they don’t want to engage with the internet and internet sales, and they seem to take the stance that they’ll try for as long as they can to live on their local markets – fleeing competition rather than facing it.

When I hear them telling me this I feel two things – one is frustration & the other is a slight sadness. Take printing as an example. What many printers seemingly haven’t realized is that their industry has been commoditized, as more and more people can produce their own materials less and less actual input on the part of the printer is needed. Most people just want to send a PDF and get back their prints as soon as possible and to as low cost as possible. The people who are complaining haven’t accepted this change. They are stuck in wishing that their old business model would survive, without trying to find new opportunities or challenges. My frustration might be obvious – and my sadness comes from that I know that the people who don’t adapt, who don’t accept that things have changed, well their businesses will eventually fail, and they will in that situation have an even harder to time to find their place.

So, what can you do when facing this? Well, a good start is to stop moaning and start accepting the change. Instead of seeing all the problems that new competition with new business models are bringing – start looking for new opportunities to transform your business in a completely different direction.

Sadly, this is a lesson that many people will never learn. I, for one, am happy that I get to learn from this and take the lessons of the unhappy printers or the unhappy web designers and know that for me the most important skill to learn is adaptability to change.

Removing the cruft

There’s a lot of unnecessary things that we fill up our lives with, things that we feel we need or want, but which aren’t really adding value to us or even worse might be directly harmful to us or the environment around us. Many of us will have almost addictive relationship to them. Examples are many – but to give you a few: coffee, candy, television, alcohol, meat, cigarettes, porn, electronic gadgets, clothes, money.

One of the goals I have is to remove some of all the unneccessary foods, possessions and behaviors that I have in order to make my life simpler and make me feel better. At first I thought that scaling back would make me feel that I was not enjoying life as much, or that I was withholding things from myself – but then I reflected back on how it has been to be a vegetarian for many years and realized that it very seldom felt like that. Rather, the feeling when you choose to remove these unnecessary things from your life is a sense of freedom.

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To align with this I decided about a year ago to remove alcohol. Alcohol, in modest amounts can be good for you, but it is in no way essential to our lives. The average alcohol consumption by a Swede in their mid-twenties (that included me too!) is for sure not in the “healthy” range. Furthermore alcohol has a number of negative effects – the obvious one being hangovers, but also lower quality sleep and so on. Removing alcohol wasn’t hard, and now one year later, I feel once more a sense of freedom, rather than deprivation.

So, why exclude something completely? Why not just lower your consumption? Well, the fact of the matter is that psychologically, I noticed that I tend to engage more in the behavior than I think – if I say “I will lower my consumption” rather than quitting completely. Exceptions are easily made and easily forgotten – and therefore I find that aiming to completely abstain is much more effective. However, I also believe in being flexible, for example: during the last 6 months I have also stopped drinking coffee. I used to be a heavy coffee drinker (think 1-3 cups / hour), but I wanted to get away from the sense of “need” and the “addiction” that I had to coffee. However, this doesn’t mean that I cannot once in a while enjoy a great cup of espresso – like when I’m in Italy or at a place with a great barista. The key is just to have the policy of not drinking coffee and then only allowing in rare and well-defined exceptions.

So, what next? For the next upcoming months I’ve decided that I am continuing on the same track as with coffee and alcohol and I’m going to be only drinking tea, milk and water. Milk for the nutrients it provides and tea because I enjoy it & it has few negative effects.

Photo by: Hypergurl