Wokai, or “I start”, is a new(ish) Web site offering microfinancing to China’s poor.
There are few things that make me tingle like the principle of microfinancing does. I’d like to think I have a philanthropist’s heart (if not the wallet), and as much as I believe “give it and forget it” charities unarguably do amazing things for this world, microfinancing is just way cooler than traditional charity models.
It brings “charity” down to a more even level, where “givers” become lenders and “the poor” become borrowers. Not only is it financially empowering, but it is emotionally empowering as well. That Courtney McColgan and Casey Wilson (Wokai’s co-founders) have taken this and applied it to China’s impoverished deserves not applause, but ovations.
How it works
With China recently beating out Germany for the bronze-medal spot of world economies, and with it projected to scoop Japan’s #2 position in the next three years, an obvious question is why China? or, more specifically, why shouldn’t China solve its own problems?.
In a recent presentation at a Google Tech Talk, Wokai co-founder and CEO Casey Wilson answered by explaining, “There’s still some huge issues facing China that I really don’t think will be solved by the natural course of economic development.”
Even with a huge economy and lightning-fast development, there are still 300 million Chinese living on less than $1 USD/day (an entire America of people below the poverty line). And though it’s true that China is going through rapid growth and working hard to elevate its people out of poverty, it’s simply not enough.
The country has a widening divide between its rich (largely east-coast) urban areas and the 737 million-strong population in its poor rural countryside.
It is that massive group of people which Wokai wishes to offer help and hope to. Finding contributors is, as might be expected, always the challenge.
As Casey explained to the crowd at Google: “No matter how good of a product we build online, we need a community of contributors to actually access our Web site. So the major question we had while we were developing Wokai was ‘how do we actually build a community of contributors online?’ We realized we really had to go offline to get that community. Unlike Expedia or Amazon, people don’t wake up in the morning thinking ‘how am I going to use this $10 in my pocket to contribute to someone?’
To date, Wokai has built chapters in San Francisco, Seattle and New York City. The chapters are generally made up of professional volunteers working in finance or law, on their PhDs, or involved in Web development – but becoming a chapter member is open to all and the organization is constantly looking for volunteers to open new chapters.
Also, be sure to check out Casey’s full Google Tech Talks presentation: