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Whittling and Weaving

Hiking in the Yosemite high sierra last month gave pause for thought, along with time to sync with the seasons, swim in waterfalls and watch friends construct simple-yet-incredible balancing rock sculptures.

We started talking about how to spend a summer afternoon in nature.  “Whittling” was immediately mentioned: whittling time, whittling wood (for a walking stick of course), whittling an idea, or even whittling one’s waistline.  It has a beautiful sound.  And it got me reflecting on favorite verbs — in English only, as a list of melodious Italian or Spanish words would go on forever.

Whittle and weave are two of my favorite, complementary verbs.  According to Merriam-Webster:

  • Whittle means “to cut or shape something by or as if by paring it with a knife; to trim or pare down.”  It also can mean “to wear oneself or another out with fretting.” (I guess I don’t like the latter definition so much.)

I also found a fun saying: He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away.

  • Weave means “to interlace especially to form a texture, fabric, or design; to produce by elaborately combining elements; to direct (as in the body) in a winding or zigzag course, especially to avoid obstacles.”

It comes from Latin for web, also related to networks, which makes perfect sense.  One can weave a story, fabric, weave through time, and weave a wonderful life rich with a network of community, experiences and friends.

Whittling is about honing in on what’s essential, meaningful and purposeful.  Weaving is about taking those essential parts and blending them together in a tapestry or mosaic or story or journey, such that the sum — and beauty — of the threads together is greater than their individual parts.

May each of us weave and whittle a better life each day!

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My dear friend Eleanor has been visiting for several days from London, as part of her North American odyssey. We’ve had a grand time together, but even more, her travel blogs are simply fantastic. Check out Urbantics here.

I have learned so much about my own backyard (like the SF Streetcar Museum), to say nothing of places like Chicago and Toronto… a real delight, and about as close to “armchair travel” as someone like me is likely to get! The only downside to our adventures was my bicycle theft — stolen in broad daylight at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market. Little did I know, as we munched happily on pluots, Asian pears and figs of all sizes, that someone was taking a pair of giant cutters to my lock. Sigh.

I miss both Eleanor and my Specialized Dolce road racer dearly now, so thank goodness for insurance — though nothing can replace a good friend! Methinks it’s time to review and re-post another one of my travelogues from the past…

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After not weeks but literally months of difficulties with Flickr uploader (including admittedly stretches of time in which I just gave up trying to trouble-shoot — even with help from the Flickr experts), several sets of photos from this year are online. Here’s the shortlist of links:

Southern India (Tamil Nadu, Karnataka — March / April 2008)

Romania and Bulgaria (July 2008)

Ella and Amelia’s SF visit (and other summertime antics)

Titles and tags will likely still take some time, but for now long live the Flickr gods — and may they continue to smile upon my laptop as they have today…

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As I am scheduled to return to India next month for the first time in seven years (my current itinerary includes Bangalore, Chennai and some time in the countryside of Tamil Nadu), it seemed appropriate to refresh my Indian memories and dust off my first travelogue from that country. In 2000 I spent a few months in northern India, focused principally on the region of Rajasthan. This trip took place before my “official” entry into the world of microfinance. Given that India represents the largest and most robust single-country microfinance market in the world today, I look forward to recombining my interests in travel and economic development and experiencing the changes and differences between north and south first-hand!

“Namaste” – warmest greetings in Hindi, whose literal meaning is “I bow before you.”

I have just completed several weeks’ travel in and around the Indian subcontinent, where my focus was primarily on the state of Rajasthan (in northwestern India). I chose to concentrate on this region for a variety of reasons – its rich history and religious and cultural diversity, its reputation for bright sarees and rich textiles, a dear friend who lives in nearby Delhi, and the fact that trying to cover more territory than that without spending several months in India would have been a nightmare. It is most definitely true that travel in India is not easy or quick, but one is amply rewarded for any inconvenience or discomfort by the sheer beauty, contrast, sensory stimuli and pace of it all.

Above all, Indian is ALIVE. The country represents life in its pure, raw, whole form. (more…)

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I spent yesterday at a microfinance conference co-sponsored by Morgan Stanley and Women’s World Banking in New York. I was pleased to find that one of the primary areas of focus and discussion was equity investment opportunities for the microfinance sector. This covered a range of topics, from MFI equity valuations to equity investor selection criteria. I can’t help but think that not even two years ago such an equity-heavy event would have been unthinkable, much less feasible for microfinance — debt and limited types of structured finance were the topics realistically within reach then. And to that end, I can only imagine with enthusiasm what an event such as this may tackle two years’ from now!

The afternoon saw a ‘competition’ among three MFIs, the Kashf Foundation from Pakistan, Share Microfin from India and Findesa from Nicaragua. Each of these MFIs had been paired with an investment analyst team from Morgan Stanley and tasked to develop a pitch related to its ideal capital structure and investor base. The presentations were, in a word, fantastic. (If I were Kashf, Share Microfin or Findesa I would want to hire my Morgan Stanley team in-house tomorrow!) The winner, Findesa, received an advisory services package from Morgan Stanley’s Microfinance Institutions Group (MFIG). The Chairman of Findesa, Gabriel Solórzano, was a class act — knowledgeable, witty and clearly had rehearsed his pitch. When asked to describe in one minute or less why one should not invest in Findesa, he replied “Either you don’t like me, you are country risk-averse, or you have a problem with a company that invests in the poor and also makes a profit.” To which there was tremendous applause.

The conference wrapped up with a re-cap of several noteworthy international microfinance capital markets transactions in 2007 and the current state of affairs. The CLO market for microfinance (and most other asset classes, to be sure) has nearly dried up in recent months, so there has been a shift into alternative forms of direct MFI investment for the time being. We learned about the first international subordinated debt issuance in the Dominican Republic, in which the MFI had to teach the regulators themselves about the regulatory approval process (and did so in record speed – taking only one month). We learned much about the post-IPO world of a Kenyan MFI, Equity Bank, its experiences as a successful public company and also about how recent events in Kenya have affected its operations. Since going public, Equity Bank has become the fifth largest company on the Nairobi Stock Exchange and a model success story. It was responsible for opening 62% of all new bank accounts in Kenya in 2007. However its success has opened it up to much greater public scrutiny and interest. For instance, both of the recent presidential candidates received approximately 4 million votes each, and Equity Bank has 2 million clients – in other words, Equity Bank’s customers theoretically could represent 25% of the entire country’s voting electorate. Wow. And finally there was a presentation on the Compartamos IPO and the IPO process in general, which is a topic that is better explained elsewhere – this CGAP report is a good place to start, as it also includes discussion of some of the continuing debates (about interest rates, investment returns and the like) in the international microfinance community today.

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As 2007 draws to a close, it is time to put a blog-stake in the sand.  In the past couple of months I have often had the best of intentions to start writing in greater earnest, only to be thwarted by what were at the time ‘more important’ concerns – international travel demands to meet, presentations to prepare and give, and most recently a job transition to manage.  But now that this year’s juggling act is no more, the same holds true for my excuses…

So in 2008, along with an exciting new job at Unitus, travels to Asia, Africa and Europe planned with IDLO, and a more visible and direct presence in the microfinance sector, I plan to have – and you can expect to see – much more activity on this website.  I look forward to it – may 2008 be another extraordinary year!

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