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THE STAR - Racing to empower the poor through small loans

THE STAR - April 2010. Racing to empower the poor through small loans.

Businessman Steven Funk uses his hobby, rally driving, to educate people on the importance of using credit to boost business.

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The Star - Racing to empower the poor through small loans

Canadian in race to empower the poor

Canadian real estate magnate-cum-microfinancier Steven Funk. Photo/FILE

Canadian real estate magnate-cum-microfinancier, Steven Funk.

By STEPHEN MBURU

It is not common for successful businessmen living comfortable lives to leave home to embark on risky and high-energy adventures to help people escape from poverty. But a Canadian dentist-cum-financier-cum-real estate investor was recently in Kenya to do just that.

Dr Steven Funk may not be well known in the auto rally world. Although he loves to drive race cars, he rarely competes. But when a Kenyan crusader against poverty, Ms Ingrid Munro, approached him last year for help with Jamii Bora Trust, a microfinance project, Dr Funk had an idea: he would realise his dream and enter a safari rally under the banner of Race4Change and raise funds at the same time.

Unlike most of the drivers who took part in last year’s Kenya Airways East African Safari Classic Rally to win – or at least have fun – Dr Funk, 59, was on a different mission: to drive the 4,500-kilometre route through Kenya and Tanzania and create awareness among people along the way through his Race4Change initiative of how microcredit institutions could help them improve their lives.

“I was here to literally race to promote microfinance, which is a vehicle of global revolution that defeats poverty by empowering the poorest of the poor to make a brighter future for themselves, their families, and generations to come,” Dr Funk told Lifestyle at a Nairobi hotel soon after the 10-day rally ended in Mombasa on December 1.

“I grew up in a poor family by American standards,” he said. “My parents were farmers, and we were so poor that when I was six years old, my father asked me not to use too much toilet paper because he did not have enough money. He worked very hard to raise us and give us a good education and health care. He started off by taking a small loan.”

Funk was hardly the focus of attention when he took off with his co-driver and French financier Jean-Louis Juchault in Car 20, a 1975 Peugeot 504 coupe. Apart from his support team, the only other people following him were sons Nathan and Trevor – both film producers – who were shooting a documentary on their father. Car 20 finished 33 among 37 entries. And the two drivers survived even after their car crashed into a tree.

Race4Change is an NGO set up by the two financiers to raise awareness of microcredit as well as funds to support the Jamii Bora Trust in Kenya and the Microcredit Summit Campaign, a global effort to reach the world’s poorest families, especially women, with credit and other financial services. Dr Funk calls them “two of the world’s most important poverty fighting machines”.

“Microfinance is my passion because I feel I have been born and raised as a product of it in the United States. I was here not so much to win but to create awareness about microfinance. My parents depended on small loans, working to create something of value,” he said, describing his years growing up on a 160-acre farm outside Osage, Iowa, as the eldest of Bud and Shirley Funk’s four children.

“That is why I am committed to helping the poor get out of poverty,” he said. “In microfinance, I give you the fishing pole and teach you how to fish. By doing that, I make you responsible to pay back ... I hate handouts. I dedicate my time, expertise and financial resources to expand microcredit worldwide.”

Dr Funk was also trying to raise funds for the Microcredit Campaign Summit, which he calls the Davos of the microfinance industry – called so after the annual meeting in the Swiss mountain town of the world’s leading financiers and politicians. Scheduled to be held in Nairobi in April, the microfinance summit brings together leading practitioners and seeks to reach 175 million families worldwide with micro-loans.

His campaign has so far raised more than $100,000 (about Sh7.5 million). “We are now transitioning to Race2Prosperity, which I think has a much better connotation ...  In this initial effort, I think money may not be the biggest factor to measure, and it may not be fully measurable until well into the future,” Dr Funk said last Thursday.

He said the exposure and interest generated during the race should be invaluable to help Jamii Bora bring microcredit services to the poor. Dr Funk first came to Africa in 2001 when he and elder son Nathan visited several countries and topped off the trip with a game safari in Kenya.

But it took a meeting about seven years ago in New York with Jamii Bora director Ingrid Munro to shift his interests to Africa and Kenya in particular. “I became exposed to Jamii Bora during a Mirocredit Summit in New York in 2002. It doesn’t take long sitting in the presence of Ingrid Munro to realise you are sitting in front of a giant of a woman.

You would be amazed by the respect she commands outside Kenya. She is one of the greatest women of our time,” said Dr Funk, who is a founding member of the respected World Presidents’ Organisation, a group of some 4,600 business leaders and chief executives. “In June 2009, she asked me if we could work together to raise funds for Jamii Bora and the Microcredit Summit,” he said.

“I thought of combining racing with fighting poverty. I knew the least I could do was to drive 4,500 kilometres around East Africa and make people around the world aware of Jamii Bora and support it. People back in Canada became interested. We all need help.”

Dr Funk, whose poor background and generosity of his underprivileged father inspired him to become a philanthropist, is a fitness and life experience enthusiast. As a boy, he would collect nails and damaged timber pieces from demolished houses in the town and take them to his father to build a family house.

Today, the former farm boy is chairman of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Directors Advisory Group. He remembers his father’s chastisements to be thrifty but he says he doesn’t recall his refusing to give a helping hand to anyone. “It was really a great way to grow up. My passion is to make a positive difference in the world in everything I do,” he said.

“If you’re given a chance to succeed in life when you have the means, you should pass that chance on to someone else.” He urges the government to empower people, mainly through microfinance to help fight poverty and crime. “Microcredit is loaning money to individuals who want to work, and who are therefore by definition entrepreneurs in a segment of society we call poverty.

The more a society’s workforce is empowered, the more likely it is going to be peaceful. When people have something to lose, they’re less likely to be involved in conflict,” he said. He offers hope to poor families who may think the world has collapsed on them: “Don’t give up. If you believe in what you are doing, you can get out of poverty. If you believe you can make a better life for you and your children, you will do it.

“But you don’t just have to believe; you have to think. And you can go borrow money from microfinance institutions.” After completing his education at Purdue University in Indiana and the University of Iowa and becoming a dentist, he spent only one year on the job before he quit to become a messenger running errands for a Canadian real estate magnate.

He knew his father had struggled to put him through school with hopes that he would become a lawyer or a doctor – or at least a dentist – and he tried to please him. But he had other interests. Funk had moved to Canada to do his residency at Vancouver General Hospital where he earned about 1,500 Canadian dollars a month.

He met Nelson Skalbania through his landlord and left dentistry for 3,500 Canadian dollars a month to become the magnate’s private messenger. His father thought he had gone crazy. “My father was surprised after I told him I had quit my profession and become a gofer, which is a polite word for messenger,” he said. “But I told him oral surgery wasn’t for me. I wanted something exciting.”

Mr Skalbania would mentor his employee so well that by the time they parted ways after the tycoon’s empire Skalbania Enterprises collapsed in the early 1980s, Funk would use the skills learnt to start his own business and become not only a top-flight international real estate investor but a microcredit financier as well.

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Race4Change and Jamii Bora Press conference in Nairobi, Kenya

 

WHEN: Monday, November 16, 2009, 10AM Nairobi time

 

WHERE: Serena Hotel – For more information please contact: Denise Hughes at +1-917-549-2621 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

WHAT: PRESS CONFERENCE TO KICK OFF RACE 4 CHANGE & EAST AFRICAN SAFARI CLASSIC

Race4Change (www.race4change.org) is a highly charged campaign to rev up the race to end poverty on this planet through microfinance.  Our mission is to drive a movement amongst road, rally, sports enthusiasts, and socially responsible people and organizations to move masses of people to make change happen.  We are racing towards a revolution that will unleash economic and creative innovation in the lives of millions powered by the engine of microfinance. It is a vital poverty fighting tool that improves healthcare, education, and the environment and moves the world from conflict and need to peace and prosperity.  Smalls microloans are creating great change. Micro-entrepreneurs are empowered socially, economically and filled with dignity.  They repay their loans with interest, which allows microfinance to re-lend and reach even more people.

Race4Change donates all of the money they receive to two of the world’s most important poverty fighting machines, the Microcredit Summit Campaign (www.microcreditsummit.org) and the Kenyan Microfinance program Jamii Bora. (www.jamiibora.org)

Who

Dr. Steven Funk, racecar driver, successful private equity investor, built three operat­ing businesses over a 20 year period, Cana­dian Maple Leaf Funds, Imperial Parking, and the CBD office commercial real estate business, Aspen Properties, each becoming one of the largest in their sectors. Steven is a founder of the Dignity Fund, chair of the Advisory Board of the Microcredit Summit Campaign, and a microfinance expert.

Jean-Louis Juchault, racecar driver, co-founder and former CEO, of billion-dollar hedge fund Systeia Capital Management

Ingrid Munro is Kenyan Microfinance Institution, Jamii Bora, Founder and a Micro­finance ECO-Pioneer.  She has built the first African Microfinance ECO-Village just 36 km outside of Nairobi called Kaputiei. Jamii Bora was started ten years ago and in that time has reached more than 250,000 Kenyans with access to opportunity through microloans, life insurance, health insurance, Jamii Bora Business Academy, counseling for those in need, and a chance to own a home in a safe, clean new eco-community.  People travel from all over the world to learn more about the innovations Jamii Bora is bringing to microfinance and the fight against poverty.

Why

25,000 children die everyday from poverty. (UNICEF).  Race 4 Change is racing to save the lives of those children.  100% of the money raised will benefit the Kenyan Microfinance Institution, Jamii Bora Trust, one of the fastest microfinance programs in Kenya and the upcoming Africa-Middle East Region Microcredit Summit a meeting being held next April in Kenya.  The meeting is being organized by the U.S. based Microcredit Summit Campaign.  The Campaign brings together microcredit practitioners, advocates, educational institutions, donor agencies, international financial institutions, non-governmental organizations and others involved with microcredit to promote best practices in the field, to stimulate the interchanging of knowledge, and to work towards reaching its poverty fighting goals.

Nine-time X Games Gold Medalist and Rally legend, Travis Pastrana, recently joined Race4Change in the race to erase poverty from the planet.  He is ahead of the pack of world famous racers and is working with Race4Change to raise the public profile of microfinance as a unique tool in the fight against poverty.  Pastrana is a living legend when it comes to performance motor sports and says, “Having been fortunate enough to travel to far off places, I’ve seen poverty firsthand and am glad to be able to lend a hand in the crusade to end it. What I do is sometimes considered dangerous, but let me tell you that there is nothing more dangerous to an individual, a country, or our world than poverty.”

Pastrana, who is already a Rally Racing Champ in America, has entered his endorsement of car #20, Race4Change (www.race4change.org), in the East African Safari Classic - one of the toughest rallies in the world.


Speakers

Steven Funk, Race4Change

Ingrid Munro, Founder and Managing Trustee Jamii Bora Trust
Chair of the Host organizing committee for the Africa-Middle East Regional Microcredit Summit 7-10 April 2010

Microfinance clients

Lydia Koros, Managing Director Faulu
Chair of Association of Micro Finance Institutions AMFI

 

Subject
1. Introducing Race4Change its purpose, targets and the event just ahead - the East Africa Safari rally
2. Introducing the Africa-Middle East Microcredit summit to be held 7-10 April 2010 in Nairobi and why Race for Change is supporting this major African event

Press inquires: Please contact Denise Hughes This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Travis Pastrana Joins 2009 Race4Change

 

For more information contact:

Denise Hughes @ +1.917.549.2621

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Travis Pastrana Joins Race 4 Change in Drive to End Poverty!

November 9, 2009, New York, New York—Nine-time X Games Gold Medalist and Rally legend, Travis Pastrana, is ready to rev up the movement to race to end poverty on this planet. Pastrana, who is already a Rally Racing Champ in America, has entered his endorsement of car #20, Race4Change (www.race4change.org), in the East African Safari Classic - one of the toughest rallies in the world.  He joins the efforts of Race4Change in raising awareness, on an international level, about microcredit and is encouraging people to donate money to two of the worlds leading poverty fighting organizations the Microcredit Summit Campaign (www.microcreditsummit.org) and the on-the-ground Kenyan microfinance legend, Jamii Bora, lead by microfinance eco-pioneer Ingrid Munro.

Microfinance is one of the most powerful tools being used to fight poverty. It is finding greater support as a viable, ethical, and socially responsible business model serving the very poor.  Since the birth of the movement in the 1970s many poor families have moved across the poverty line proving microfinance to be one of the greatest innovations for social good ever conceived!

Microfinance continues to surge as a massive movement to increase human dignity by providing a tangible means for more than 100 million of the world's poorest families to empower themselves economically. With access to financial services they couldn't get anywhere else, the poorest of the poor have proven themselves to be some of the most creditworthy entrepreneurs in life.

"We couldn't be more pumped up to have Pastrana join us in our efforts to promote Microcredit," said Steven Funk, an American-born Canadian, founder of Race4Change, Co-Founder of the Dignity Fund, and Chair of the Advisory Board to the Microcredit Summit Campaign.  “Our mission is to drive a movement amongst road, rally, sports enthusiasts, and socially responsible people and organizations so that masses of people can unite, individually, to make change happen.  We are racing towards a revolution that will unleash economic and creative innovation in the lives of millions powered by the engine of microfinance. It is a vital poverty fighting tool that improves healthcare, education, and the environment and moves the world from conflict and need to a more secure place of peace and prosperity.  The prosperity brought by just a $45 loan is profound.  Micro-entrepreneurs are empowered socially, economically and filled with dignity, one of the most powerful and rewarding human emotions.  Better still, they repay their loans with interest, which allows microfinance to re-lend and be the gift that keeps on giving.” As President Barak Obama has so aptly said, “change comes from the bottom up.”  Funk is a co-driver of car #20 in the race.

Pastrana is a living legend when it comes to performance motor sports and we've all seen his fearlessness on his MTV show, Nitro Circus. He lives life to the fullest, planning to set a new world record for a car jump on New Year’s Eve and says, “having been fortunate enough to travel to far off places, I’ve seen poverty firsthand and am glad to be able to lend a hand in the crusade to end it. What I do is sometimes considered dangerous, but let me tell you that there is nothing more dangerous to an individual, a country, or our world than poverty.”

“I can't think of a more perfect superstar for this race and this cause,” says Funk. "His involvement will drive awareness among a younger generation, showing our youth that they collectively have the opportunity to do something HUGE right now – they can lead our children to only know poverty by studying it in history books."

This rally event was first held from May to June, 1953 as a celebration of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on terrain through Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika. It was later renamed the East African Safari Rally. The event was part of the World Rally Championship (WRC) calendar for many years.  The Kenyan Government and many supporters have now united together in an effort to restore the Rally's rightful WRC status.

With such tremendous philanthropic involvement from fresh supporters like Race4Change and Travis Pastrana, the Kenyan government and its people stand to benefit significantly from the positive attention that will accompany such a highly charged race and cause. The race sets the stage for the April 2010 Microcredit Summit being hosted in Nairobi.

Top supporters of Race4Change have the opportunity to win two fully paid round trip tickets to Kenya, with lodging and Microcredit Summit VIP tickets.   The Summit has been described as the "Davos" of the movement and will bring several thousand advocates, supporters, and dignitaries from more than 60 countries, including Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the Queen of Spain, Queen Rania of Jordon, and many more longtime microfinance advocates to Kenya in April of 2010. Maybe even an American President will bestow dignity to the impoverished with an appearance.

Join www.race4change.org today as a co-driver, a pit crew member and a supporter of microfinance as this world class Rally runs over American Thanksgiving and help race for the end of poverty.  Give a little of your support and thanks and rally together as a force to make a positive impact in the lives of hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest families.  Create a better world.

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USAID MicroLINKS: Race4Change

Race4Change - Racing for the End of Poverty

Date Posted: October 30, 2009
A team consisting of Dr. Steven Funk and Jean-Louis Juchalt will participate in the 2009 East African Safari Rally from November 22 - December 1, 2009 to bring attention to the Africa-Middle East Regional Microcredit Summit to be held April 7-10, 2010 in Nairobi, Kenya.  They also aim to bring support to Jamii Bora Trust and the Microcredit Summit Campaign. The Race4Change website allows participants to register as co-drivers, build pit crew teams and raise funds for the cause. The individual co-driver garnering the greatest number of points in their Race4Change involvement will be rewarded with two round trip airfares to Kenya in April of 2010 to coincide with the 2010 Microcredit Summit in Africa. The prize winner will also be granted hotel accommodations, two fully paid VIP registrations to the Summit, and an up close and personal tour of Jamii Bora. More prizes will be announced in coming days for leading co-drivers and a special award for the winning pit crew.  Visit the Race4Change website to learn more about this race for the end of poverty.  

Read the original article at the MicroLINKS website:
http://www.microlinks.org/ev.php?ID=6783_201&ID2=DO_TOPIC

Sarah McLachlan and Peter Buffet voice support

Sarah McLachlan and Peter Buffet join Steven C. Funk in their support of Race4Change!