Ethical gifts: think of others when you think of others this Christmas
The Sreepur Village charity, two hours north of the country’s capital, Dhaka, cares for up to 100 destitute women and 500 abandoned children. Started 25 years ago by former British Airways flight attendant Pat Kerr, it now helps fund itself from the sale of the cards it makes.
It’s the ethical Christmas gift that can throw a financial lifeline to people in poorer countries who are trying to improve their lives. Lendwithcare gift vouchers allow Britons to lend relatively small sums of money to people in 11 countries who are keen to start or grow their own small business – and the occupied Palestinian territories have now been added to the list of locations, meaning it is possible to lend money to individuals and families in the West Bank and Gaza. People such as Tayseer Ghanem, a 58-year-old farmer, and Walaa Shaltaf who runs a beauty salon.
Guardian Money has previously featured the vouchers, which for a limited time are available as a “buy one, get one free”. So if you are struggling for a present for a loved one, how about the gift that really does keep on giving? Alternatively, there are plenty of other ethical Christmas gifts for those looking for something that will transform people’s lives or help the planet (see below).
Lendwithcare is a peer-to-peer microfinance website set up by aid charity Care International UK, which fights poverty and injustice around the world. When you buy someone a Lendwithcare gift voucher, they then go online and choose an individual who they are going to lend the money to. It might be a rice farmer in Cambodia, a market stall holder in Zambia or a taxi driver in Ecuador. In most cases the voucher will be a contribution towards the total amount the entrepreneur is looking for. He or she will use the money to start or expand their small business, thereby helping them to feed their family and send their children to school.
The idea is that the loan will be repaid, and the voucher recipient can either keep the money or “recycle” it by lending it to another budding entrepreneur, and then another.
The vouchers are available in various amounts from £15 upwards and can be emailed to the recipient or printed out and tucked inside a Christmas card. Previous recipients of the vouchers have told the charity that it was one of their favourite gifts “because it gets the whole family gathered around the computer to pick an entrepreneur to help”.
Remember that these are loans, not handouts. The money is paid back – typically over anything from four to 36 months depending on the recipient’s plans for it – in instalments to the local microfinance institution (MFI) that has partnered with Care International in that country. The MFI then transfers these repayments to Care International, which credits them to the UK lender’s Lendwithcare account.
Since their launch in 2010, more than 33,000 people – many of them Guardian readers – have lent more than £11.5m to 46,400 entrepreneurs, helping people in Togo, Benin, Cambodia, Vietnam, Ecuador, Pakistan, Philippines, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and, now, the occupied Palestinian territories.
While Care International works extensively across the Middle East, this is Lendwithcare’s first activity in the region. It has teamed up with a local MFI called Reef Finance, which operates in the West Bank and Gaza, and specialises in providing agricultural, business, housing and personal loans to individuals – typically for things such as greenhouses and livestock.
“The Palestinian territories are within a volatile region, but more than 4.4 million people live in the West Bank and Gaza and, like everywhere, they need to earn a living,” the charity says. “We believe that in helping people to increase their income and tackle poverty, they may become less vulnerable to the effects of conflict and will be in a better position to … continue with their livelihoods during peacetime, and to be more hopeful about the future.”
The amounts being sought vary. Tayseer Ghanem, for example, is seeking a loan of ,000 (£1,600) to buy agricultural materials such as fertiliser, seeds and pesticide. A farmer all his life, the married father-of-four has a greenhouse and grows tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines and other vegetables which he sells through a co-operative.
Walaa Shaltaf, meanwhile, is looking for a ,000 loan (£2,400). Divorced and living with her parents, Shaltaf started working in salons 13 years ago when she finished her basic education, and recently opened her own, Beautiful All The Time. She feels she would boost her income if she offered more treatments and sold beauty products at the salon, so she plans to buy creams, cosmetics and other items, plus additional equipment. She also wants to hire an assistant.
Lendwithcare says that, as with all its MFI partners, the organisations it is working with in the occupied territories “have undergone rigorous research and are deemed to have met our stringent ethical criteria”. It adds: “Due to the elevated security situation in the region, our partners and entrepreneurs in the West Bank and Gaza undergo additional verification.” In most cases, the MFI partner there will buy and deliver the items requested by an entrepreneur and financed by Lendwithcare.
To date, only 10 Lendwithcare loans have ever defaulted – a pretty impressive statistic. In the case of five of these the individuals died, and the other five were made to groups in Malawi who lost their businesses or incurred difficulties because of severe floods.
This Christmas the charity’s buy one, get one free offer means that if you buy a gift voucher, you’ll also get a £15 voucher free (though this portion can’t be withdrawn after it is paid back).
More udderly different ideas …
This year’s crop of ethical Christmas gifts range from chickens and shares in a wind turbine to composting toilets for refugee camps and wash-cloths for keeping camels’ udders clean, writes Rupert Jones. The charity goat is also present and correct.
The Good Gifts website, run by the Charities Advisory Trust, has a goat for £25, or two for £45. Present Aid, which supports the work of Christian Aid, is offering a kid goat for £9 and a nanny goat for £22. Oxfam has them, too, and is offering a free milk chocolate goat with every Oxfam Unwrapped gift card order until Friday 9 December.
Some of the more offbeat gifts we found include: a kit for making banana wine, a popular drink in Malawi (£25 from Present Aid); the aforementioned wash-cloths for Kenyan camels (£15 from Good Gifts); “a pile of poo”, which is a mix of manure and organic fertiliser, plus some training in eco-friendly farming techniques (£9 from Oxfam’s online shop); and an acre of rainforest (£52 from Good Gifts – or those with deep pockets can treat someone to 25 acres for £1,300).
With some of the websites, including Present Aid, the money will go towards relevant projects rather than being used to buy that animal or item. However, sites such as Good Gifts guarantee that your money buys the described gift.
Meanwhile, the Small Wind Co-op is offering wind energy gift certificates, available in any amount from a minimum of £100. Available until 16 December, these can be exchanged for shares in the co-op which is building three wind turbines in Scotland and Wales. So far, it has attracted more than 350 members and raised more than £1.1m to fund the installation of farm-scale turbines in Wemyss Bay and Inverclyde in Scotland, and Ceredigion in Mid Wales. Projected average annual returns for shareholders are 6.5% over 20 years, says a spokeswoman.
Meanwhile, waste company London Junk is offering what it calls “the world’s first ever waste collection experience day gift package”. You might think they would pay you to get elbow-deep in the capital’s rubbish, but this comes with a £300 price-tag.
Ethical Consumer, which describes itself as the UK’s leading alternative consumer magazine, has a Christmas gift guidefor those on the hunt for present ideas. It mentions Hive.co.uk as “a great alternative to Amazon” for books, combining online shopping with support for local shops. The magazine’s best buys for perfume and aftershave include Dolma, Neal’s Yard Remedies, Florame and Pacifica. These are all vegan and not tested on animals. On the clothing front, People Tree is described as a stand-out best buy, and on the high street H&M, Marks & Spencer and New Look are all recommended.
Charity cards with 100% returns
If you are still to buy your Christmas cards this year, writes Miles Brignall, we recommend as a Guardian Money best-buy the handmade cards from Sreepur in Bangladesh, from which 100% of the purchase price goes to charity.
The Sreepur Village charity, two hours north of the country’s capital, Dhaka, cares for up to 100 destitute women and 500 abandoned children. Started 25 years ago by former British Airways flight attendant Pat Kerr, it now helps fund itself from the sale of the cards it makes. You can hand over your money safe in the knowledge that the organisation has made a real difference: in 2009 we visited the project and were so impressed that we have promoted the cards ever since. A pack of 16 costs £14.75, delivered in the UK.
At the heart of the project is a paper-making facility. Women from the local community have been trained to produce it from locally grown jute, and the cards are decorated in return for a living wage – money that makes a huge difference to their lives. British Airways flies the cards to the UK for free, while volunteers collect and distribute them here. This ensures all the money spent on the cards goes directly to Sreepur.
For more info and to buy the cards go to sreepurcards.org. Cards are sent within 24 hours of an order being placed.
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