I’m startled to find that someone has been reading my blog enough to make my their official Friend (inside LiveJournal)! I’m guessing that Neil, now living in Madrid, and I somehow met indirectly via the Oxfam Collegiate Click Drive on PovertyFighters.com.

While I still maintain the PovertyFighters.com website, I no longer attempt to focus on it. The student activist network Oxfam CHANGE uses it most actively, and I’ve provided them complete back-end access now for several years. Child’s Play Touring Theatre also still uses it for their Writing Our World tour into elementary schools. Because the site was originally designed to be jointly operated by microlenders around the world, it’s suited for this sort of shared management. And the original programmers, Madhavi and Praveen Patil, have been contributing their trouble-shooting and seasonal involvement pro bono to the site’s upkeep.

Most significant is that Calvert Fund and Calvert Foundation continue to enact the transfer of funds that the click-to-lend mechanism requires. Without their involvement and support I would have had to shut down long ago: finding committed advertisers was brutal. But Calvert Foundation, being an offshoot of the for-profit Calvert Fund, has been able to keep Calvert Fund involved in the project. Calvert Foundation now has tens of millions of dollars of private investors’ money invested in microfinance. The amount PovertyFighters has helped attract is much less than that — not more than a few hundred thousand dollars total. But Calvert Foundation values PovertyFighters more as a sort of promotional/educational vehicle. They see us as attracting more private investment into microfinance in the long term, simply be aggressively working to alert individuals to the incredible breakthrough power offering credit to groups of poor businesspeople unleashes. Stunningly, anyone can put a thousand bucks into a Note at Calvert Foundation, earn 3% interest, withdraw the money after as little as one year, and DURING THAT YEAR the money will have been loaned out several times, in amounts of $50 or $100 each time, to people to whom such TINY amounts of credit permit to escape from the brutal local moneylenders who are charging the poorest outrageous interest rates (100% per week, or, per DAY!!).

Well — umm — long paragraph. And — this blog isn’t a PovertyFighters/microfinance locus.

The point, overall, is that PovertyFighters effectively belongs to the people who are really utilizing it, and I personally have moved back — for the time being — into focusing on the crisis surrounding Books, Bookseller, Access to Art, Freedom of Thought, etc.

Interestingly, though, when I was in Nigeria in 2000 documenting a microcredit program there for posting on PovertyFighters, my host, Offia Nwali, when he learned I was a bookseller in “real life” turned out to be MUCH more interested in how I could help him get books to African students. He felt that this was a huge problem — book distribution in Africa.

Of course, my own perspective is that indie bookseller and microfinance are very closely related. My book Rebel Bookseller documents how the COLLABORATIVE work of thousands of indie booksellers transformed bookselling in America between 1983 and 1998. We came up with ALL the ideas that Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon etc. then implemented on corporate/imperial scales (with the illegal complicity of the big publishers).

It’s the collaborative aspect of microfinance — the fact that the GROUP borrows TOGETHER from the microlender, and that the GROUP then encourages, advises, assists the individual businesspeople, as they all repay, and share the capital back and forth — THIS seems to me to have powerfully important lessons for booksellers and publishers — Indies — in America.

Enough. Thanks Neil for spurring this line of thought. I don’t always allow the fragmented parts of my persona to talk to each other!

Andy

 

2 Responses to Someone is my friend!

  1. Friends are always useful

    Hey Andy!

    Yeah, as a future entrepreneur and long-term poverty fighter, your experiences and line of work totally interest me!

    I want to learn a lot more about how to become an indie bookseller, how it can help allieviate poverty, and how to distribute books to Africa.

    Let us collaborate and be friends.

    Do you have any other livejournals? How many people read this blog? Where can I get a copy of Rebel Bookseller in Colorado? OK, enough with the questions for now. :)

    • admin says:

      Re: Friends are always useful

      Neil,

      My book comes out in early June — we’ll send it to the printer next week! So — you can’t get one in Colorado yet. However, Tattered Cover has ordered some copies, and I’m friends with the owner and the general manager, so I expect they’ll keep it in stock. Hopefully more Colorado bookstores will carry it as well, but so far Tattered Cover is the only one that’s ordered it in advance there.

      I’m amazed to find that I actually have a simple piece of advice for anyone who asks me how to become an indie bookseller, which is: Read My Book. Since I’ve been taking such inquiries for 20 years, this is so great to be able to say! My ideas are totally unconventional, counterintuitive, irrational, etc. Therefore I’ve always had trouble answering what seems like a simple question! In particular I strongly believe that following a “straightforward” path into business is a terrible mistake. Fortunately this wasn’t an option for me anyway, since I was a children’s theatre actor at the time my wife and I opened our first store (although she’d worked in bookstores for 10 years). So — my own initial set of instincts was to look at the bookstores around me and say, “Why aren’t these storefronts run the way storefront theatres are??”

      Storefront theatres of course are full of dynamic people making art and throwing themselves into it, and putting home-made posters on lampposts, and SHOUTING their message to the world.

      Storefront bookstores are so damned QUIET!!!

      So — our bookstore was LOUD — and this turned out to be revolutionary, and caught on big-time. And now, it’s fairly normal for people to think of bookstores as moderately in-your-face. But — STILL — I think bookstores are way too quiet and uninvolved in their communities.

      So — I’d say that if you take the life you’ve been leading — traveling, working, immersing yourself — and translate it into a vigorous, insistent, beautful, mind-expanding message, that this, then IS your bookstore.

      Actually, I don’t know if you’ve checked out the website of my publisher, Sander Hicks — his new bookstore/publishing-company in Brooklyn — is in this way an expression of his own radical-political/punk-rock persona. http://www.voxpopnet.net He’s been running some amazing events there.

      As far as book distribution in Africa — this is a different topic! I do have a bunch of ideas. However, I’d say the principal issue is ensuring that your activity is in partnership with credible local people.

      One thought, totally off the top: in December of 2000 I was invited to the Carter Center and had a long conversation with Phil Wise, the Exec Director (he was Jimmy Carter’s White House Communications Director, previously). Carter Center has offices in 30-some African countries. They specialize in disease/public-health issues, as well as Peace & Justice problems, in Africa. They seemed to be maintaining relatively small offices: they were trying to do their work by leveraging/supporting the work of a variety of local organizations. I wonder if there’s a way to get involved with them, as far as book distribution goes.

      Random access memory.

      Andy

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