I present my latest piece for TNGG.
It all started with six men with six things in common. They’re all recent college grads, they’ve got time on their hands, a sense of adventure, good hearts, a love of biking and they’re all looking for a little more out of life.
The group, consisting of high school classmates and Bentley University swimmers, graduated college in 2008, and decided to take on an adventure most people wouldn’t dream of. They biked across America, partnered with ACCION International, to spread the word about how valuable microfinance is to fighting poverty.
For the non-business minded folk, you are probably asking yourself, what is microfinance? It is a way to give the poor an opportunity to help themselves and promote human rights and human dignity.
As Keith Kolakowski, 25, of Orlando, FL describes it, microfinance is “a fantastic means of progress” for the developing world. “The cool thing is that microfinance isn’t the only sustainable means of helping the poor.” Kolakowski thinks the model is translatable to other forms of generosity and charity. It values empowerment and accountability and personal story, which ascribes worth to people; it acknowledges the universal dignity of being human.
While most of the developing world does not have access to a banking system as we know it, it still have entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs are trying to make money to support their families and communities, but don’t necessarily have the startup capital to do so.
In today’s economy, anyone studying economics or the effects of micro finance can understand just how valuable the concept can be. When the boys graduated from college in May, 2008, they didn’t realize just how soon it would become a necessity to help keep the global economy alive.
After college graduations wrapped up, Mike Belorenzo, Tyler Heishamn, Keith Kolakowski, Fred Piumelli, Bryan Stinchfield and James Watson departed Darien, CT, headed for San Francisco, CA. As they prepared to bike, they raised $34,000 for an ACCION project in Ghana. Their journey lasted only 63 days.
All six knew they shared the same passion to help bring an end to poverty. What they didn’t know was how this ride would change their outlook on life. (And as any good Millennial would do, they blogged their experience along the way.)
As the guys planned their nine -week adventure across the good ol’ U.S. of A., Heishman, 25, recalled that “it seemed selfish to not connect our plans to a broader goal.” They brainstormed ideas and decided on “searching for a charitable cause that we could relate to and thought would have the greatest potential.” Enter microfinance. “The fact that it was fairly unheard of motivated us to become advocates for the cause,” he said.
A group of six guys biking across the country with just the packs on their backs and not even a help van seems, well, “ludicrous,” as Kolakowski puts it. While he was looking for a ludicrous adventure, Kolakowski also wanted “to do it for the very poor of the earth, who deserve a dignified helping hand.”
While Kolakowski set out peddling for an adventure, he got an experience that taught him so much more. “We received an amazing experiential education in American culture, American hospitality, and American spirit of people when we would tell them what we were doing, and they instantly wanted to be part of it.”
Kolakowski isn’t as active with the cause today, but he’s excited that microfinance is gaining in popularity in the mainstream.
It’s becoming such a mainstream thing that Bryan Stinchfield, 25, has recently left the states, and his job, to join the Peace Corps in Madagascar as a Small Enterprise Development Volunteer. Stinchfield now works “with small groups of fisherman, weavers and farmers trying to educate them on money management and entrepreneurship while encouraging the use of [micro-finance] if, and only if, they understand the terms of the agreement upfront.”
Looking back, Stinchfield sees the trip as “a chance to reflect on our lives, when up to that point the only thing we had been accustomed to doing was being a sponge within the great educational system of America. We finally had an opportunity to give back in term of begin a teacher instead of a student on the journey.”
The bikers’ journey didn’t end in San Francisco. Not only has Stinchfield taken to keeping the cause alive, but so has MicroBike USA. Today, just as the original crew put together their ride, anyone can take on a ride of their choice of length to ride for the cause.
These guys wanted an adventure. They began a movement.
What have you done to make an impact on today’s society?
Photos by MicroBikeUSA, Michael Kuhn.