Philadelphia, PA (PRWEB) June 9, 2009
Speaking to the Muslim world from Cairo University, President Barack Obama recently challenged people of all nationalities to “turn dialogue into interfaith service so bridges between peoples lead to action.” A group of four University of Pennsylvania students and alumni have recently answered Obama’s call by launching LendforPeace.org, a grassroots organization that promotes economic opportunity and stability in the Middle East. The organization, founded by two Jews and two Palestinians, is a not-for-profit Internet platform that allows individuals to make small loans to specific micro-entrepreneurs in the West Bank. In doing so, LendforPeace.org allows one to help Palestinian micro-entrepreneurs lift themselves out of poverty by building sustainable businesses.
LendforPeace.org, which was recently showcased on Fox Business, has partnered with world-premier institutions to develop their international microfinance platform. The organization received grants from the Clinton Global Initiative and Ashoka, and has formalized relationships with a number of successful microfinance institutions in the Middle East. These microfinance institutions have been approved by the US Government’s humanitarian assistance agency, USAID. They are responsible for selecting creditworthy entrepreneurs, posting entrepreneur profiles to LendforPeace.org’s website, and delivering capital and support services throughout the duration of each loan. Lenders can contribute as little as $ 25 to a particular entrepreneur’s micro-loan and then receive updates as their entrepreneur’s business grows. Unlike a donation, lenders get their money back at the end of the pre-set loan period and can choose to withdraw their money or to re-loan it again and again.
LendforPeace.org aims to unite people from all parts of the political spectrum by focusing on the concrete business of economic development. The site creates financial and emotional bonds between the diverse set of lenders around the world and borrowers in the Middle East who participate. The founders of LendforPeace.org are sensitive to the power of interfaith dialogue as they themselves crossed ethnic and religious lines to bring the organization to life. “We have constant political disagreements,” said Co-Founder Sam Adelsberg, “but we recognize that in order to make progress we have to focus on the areas on which we can agree. One thing we all believe is that there is no winner in poverty.”
LendforPeace.org’s launch comes on the heels of a $ 5,000 pilot which yielded a 100% repayment rate. While the Middle East is more volatile than other regions, this success is in line with repayment rates worldwide: according to the Microcredit Summit Campaign, the average on-time repayment rate for microcredit is more than 97%. LendforPeace.org hopes to replicate the success of its pilot going forward. While economic development is central to the organization’s mission, LendforPeace.org believes the interaction facilitated on the site alone may have a positive impact. Said Co-Founder Allam Taj, “Part of our goal is to humanize the Palestinian experience, both through exposing lenders to specific individuals in the West Bank and by letting borrowers know that their loan was made possible by an organization started by young American Jews and Palestinians who care about their future.”
LendforPeace.org benefits from an accomplished Board of Advisors including Delphine Thizy, PlaNet Finance’s Director of the Palestinian Territories, and attorney Howard Finkelstein, one of the country’s pioneers in the securitization of microfinance-related obligations. LendforPeace.org is also being advised by Hanna Siniora, a member of the Palestine National Council and the chairperson of the Palestinian-American Chamber of Commerce, and David Gutelius, a Silicon Valley software entrepreneur and co-founder of Ishtirak, a technology and microeconomic development consultancy focused exclusively on the Middle East and Islamic Africa.
LendforPeace.org recently held its official launch in Philadelphia at the Wharton School’s Jon M. Huntsman Hall. The event included a presentation by the founders, an invocation from University Chaplain Chas Howard and a keynote address on active citizenship by Dr. John DiIulio, the first Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. The event culminated in a surprise video-conference with Salma Suleiman of Asala, one of LendforPeace.org’s microfinance partners in Ramallah. Salma stayed up until 3 AM local time to participate in the launch event and to encourage attendees to get involved. Said Salma, “LendforPeace.org will help us increase our microlending activities here in the West Bank. This in turn will enable us to shepherd more and more families out of poverty.”
In the words of President Obama, “Faith should bring us together. That’s why we’re forging service projects in America to bring together Christians, Muslims, and Jews.” LendforPeace.org is proud to be a part of this movement of interfaith dialogue and service.
For more information, please visit http://www.LendforPeace.org.
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