Category Archives: Helping others

My charities for 2013 are…

January is the month of the year in which I take some time during a weekend to select which charities and non-profits I will donate some money (1). Let me introduce you to the 9 NGOs I have selected this year:

Kiva: this is a micro lending portal. This is the first non-profit to which I made a contribution. This is not truly a charity, as here you give loans to small entrepreneurs in developing countries. I have talked about in the blog sometimes. This year, for the 4th year in a row, I have added some more funds.

Vittana: another micro lending portal. This one is specialized on credits for education purposes, very similar to Kiva in its conception. This year, for the 3rd year in a row, I have added more funds, to help some students study nursing and engineering.

Médecins sans Frontières: I started donating cash to MSF in 2010 while still living in Spain, in 2011 I became member of the French branch. This year I learnt what you can afford with just 100€:

Oxfam: another well-known NGO. Oxfam mission is “to find lasting solutions to poverty and injustice”, this is the 3rd year I help them :-).

Anti-Slavery: Can you stand slavery today? In the XXI century? I cannot. This is why since 3 years ago I am contributing to this NGO which works to eliminate all forms of slavery around the world. 

Fundación Hombres Nuevos. My father retired in autumn 2011. In January 2012 he was packing to spend 5 months in Bolivia working in the field teaching some underprivileged children maths, language… or just helping them do their homework. I think that only my sister had such a good opportunity in the past 2 decades!

My father discovered this foundation in a TV documentary about 2 years ago:

That sparkled again a vocational aspiration he had since completing his studies and he went on to fulfil it. I’ll try to get him to write about it… stay tuned.

Brief comment about the foundation: It was founded by Nicolás Castellanos who received the prize “Premio Príncipe de Asturias a la Concordia” in 1998 along with Vicente Ferrer or Muhammad Yunus (who later received the Nobel Peace Prize and is credited with the invention of micro credits).

Wikipedia: When was the last time you checked the Wikipedia? How often do you check it? Wikipedia’s self-description:

“Wikipedia is a multilingual, web-based, free-content encyclopedia project based on an openly editable model. The name “Wikipedia” is a portmanteau of the words wiki (a technology for creating collaborative websites, from the Hawaiian word wiki, meaning “quick”) and encyclopedia.”

For the second year running I contributed to #keepitfree.

Gapminder: you might have seen some talk from Hans Rosling, its founder. Gapminder is “a non-profit venture – a modern “museum” on the Internet – promoting sustainable global development and achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals”, or better “Fighting the most devastating myths by building a fact-based world view that everyone understands”.

Have you got 13 minutes? Why don’t you check this video about “Religion and babies” and let his performance convince you?

Finally, let me introduce you to the new addition to my list of NGOs:

Fundación Khanimambo. I was introduced to it by two friends, Nacho and Alberto. I loved the message of the NGO: “¿Necesitas sonreír? Déjate ayudar (Do you need to smile? Let us help you). It’s wonderful, the children from Praia Xai Xai, Mozambique, want to donate happiness to people worried and stressed in the rich countries. To do that, they need some money to enlarge their school, buy more pencils, papers, etc… Let them convince you (less than 2 minutes):

Final reflection:

I understand that in these times of economic stress many will not have the opportunity to spare some funds needed by their own families to help others in need. For those of us who have a job, I truly recommend you to take some moments and go through some websites of different NGOs, charities, non-profits, scientific endeavours… I am sure you will find an initiative that will resonate with you. Go and direct some funds to it. You might feel a bit wary the first time. It’s OK. Spend 25$, 50€… (it’s only the cost of a dinner with your partner). You will not only help someone in need, you will feel much better after having done it.

If not for them, do it for you :-).


(1) I already published two similar posts in 2011 and 2012. In previous year I had set first 0.7% and then 0.9% of my net income as the minimum bar; this year I increased the contribution to 1.1%.


Filed under Helping others

Which NGOs will I support in 2012?

Every January I take one afternoon to direct at least 0.7% of my personal net income to different NGOs. I already explained this in a post last year. In that post I also explained the origin of the figure, 0.7%.

This year, I wondered how development aid was faring taking into account the crisis in which most of the big donor countries are in. You may check the figures at the extensive database of the OECD, or just to get the latest data on Official Development Aid you may check last year’s release announcing 2010 figures (or the report, PDF). The figures of 2011 won’t be released until April, but as far into the crisis as one year ago the fact was that development aid had actually increased, even if still far from the 0.7% committment.

Official Development Assistance in 2010 per country, source: OECD.

Evolution of Official Development Assistance through 2010, source: OECD.

Which NGOs will I support in 2012?

Last weekend I took sometime to make the numbers and select the different organizations. In previous years I directed 0.7% in January and along the year for different reasons I ended increasing this contribution. This year, I am directing already 0.9% of my income in January and again I expect that as the year goes by I will increase that figure. I take the Nordic OECD countries as an example and see the 0.7% as a minimum threshold, not as the maximum goal.

The organizations I have selected this time are:

  • Kiva: a micro lending portal, that I have talked about in the blog sometimes. I added some more funds.
  • Vittana: another micro lending portal, specialized on credits for education purposes, very similar to Kiva in its conception. I allocated some cash last year in it for the first time, and this year I have added more funds, to help some students study industrial engineering.
  • Médecins sans Frontières. I started donating cash to MSF in 2010, in 2011 I became member of the French branch. I renewed my membership.
  • Oxfam: a well-known NGO working “to find lasting solutions to poverty and injustice” to which I already contributed last year.
  • Anti-Slavery: an NGO which works to eliminate all forms of slavery around the world. I find that only the thought of people being slaves in 2012 simply devastating. I already directed some funds to this NGO last year and I was positively impressed to find information about its activities when we visited the Museum of London last year.
  • Fundación Hombres Nuevos: a Spanish NGO working in development projects in Bolivia. It was founded by Nicolás Castellanos who received the prize “Premio Príncipe de Asturias a la Concordia” in 1998 along with Vicente Ferrer or Muhammad Yunus (who later received the Nobel Peace Prize and is credited with the invention of micro credits).
  • Wikipedia: I guess this does not need any introduction, but I will make use of Wikipedia’s self-description: “Wikipedia is a multilingual, web-based, free-content encyclopedia project based on an openly editable model. The name “Wikipedia” is a portmanteau of the words wiki (a technology for creating collaborative websites, from the Hawaiian word wiki, meaning “quick”) and encyclopedia.” This is the first time that I collaborate in its sustaining.
  • Gapminder: in their words “a non-profit venture – a modern “museum” on the Internet – promoting sustainable global development and achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals”, or better “Fighting the most devastating myths by building a fact-based world view that everyone understands”. If you have the chance, take a look at any of the videos of its founder, Hans Rosling, they are truly mind-blowing.

(Free material from – mind-blowing as I said)

Before ending this post, I wanted to make two reflections.

First, why do I or why do people/corporations make this kind of  contributions? Sometimes you hear criticism towards donations like “it’s for the tax deductions”, “it’s for marketing purposes”, “to show off”, etc. My personal view is that it doesn’t matter. It might be one or many of those reasons or none. What I believe is that the people in need do need the help and whatever the reason behind a contribution, it is welcomed. I do receive some tax deductions for the contributions for MSF and Oxfam as they’re based in France, not for the others. I also believe that the real contribution is the time dedicated by individuals working in cooperation, in the field, etc., in the end all what we give is a small percentage of our income / revenues.

Second, why do I write this post? Again, someone may think it’s show off. I’m fine with that. My goal is to get at least a reader to take a look at one of those NGOs, to think about dedicating her/his 0.7% to development aid… If I manage to do that, and I am sure I will (it worked in the past :-)), this post will be worth the time spent in writing it.


Filed under Helping others

Running Toulouse marathon for a charity

As I announced back in August, today 23rd October 2011, I’m running my 4th marathon, 10 years after having run the last one. When I wrote that post, I mentioned that I would be raising funds for a charity, “Vaincre la mucoviscidose”.

With this post I wanted to thank those persons who contributed to the cause: Nacho, Jaime and Luca. Thank you for your contributions!! The people affected by the illness and I sincerely thank you for them. Together we have raised 240€ as you can see in the cheque below extended to the charity association.

Check sent to the charity "Vaincre la mucoviscidose".

Finally, in case you wake up early enough, you may follow the race live through this link. My bib number: 2329!


Filed under Helping others, Sports

One marathon, one cause

It is 10 years since I ran my last marathon. I have been running again quite often since the beginning of 2011, and a few of you know that in October 2011 I’ll be running the next Toulouse marathon if health permits.

Some months ago, following a recommendation of my brother Jaime, I watched a movie in Youtube called “The Spirit of the Marathon” based on the experiences of some beginners during their training towards running the Chicago marathon in 2007. I strongly recommend the movie to anyone willing take on such challenge.

In the movie, I especially liked the character of Lori, who apart of conveying a positive attitude all time and sharing a beautiful story behind, is running the marathon supporting a cause.

In February, when I decided to take part in the marathon in Toulouse, I thought it would be nice to do as Lori did and try to raise some funds for a cause, for a charity. However, I didn’t know which one to choose nor how exactly to set it up. In the meantime months have passed by, I have not started raising any cash, but luckily my Airbus Running club has sorted out which charity I could run for.

This year, all Airbus runners taking part in the Toulouse marathon are encouraged by the club to raise funds to help the association “Vaincre la mucoviscidose” which helps families of children suffering the illness and creates awareness about it. I think this is surely a worthy cause to run 42.195km for and raise some funds during the training period.

How can you contribute to such cause?

Easy, I have set up an ING savings account for that purpose. All contributions received in that account will be transferred to the associations bank account by 21st October.

Bank account: 1465 0100 91 2021356780 (ING Direct)
IBAN:  ES68 1465 0100 91 2021356780
Beneficiary: Javier Irastorza

Since in France, contributions to charities are deducted from taxes up to a 66% and I do not want to get any tax benefit out of possible contributions from friends, I will double any contribution that you make so as to offset possible benefits and thus contribute myself to the cause as well, i.e.: if you give 5€ for the charity, I will put another 10€, making a total of 15€ for the charity, out of which 10€ would be tax-deductible, equal to the disbursement I had made.

What’s in it for you?

Apart from contributing to a worthy cause, I will explicitly dedicate my marathon in this blog to all those who have contributed to the cause (if they haven’t requested anonymity).

What it’s more, in line with crowd funding initiatives, I have been working since January on a special project that will only be unveiled after the marathon. That project will also be dedicated to the contributors to that cause who will have the chance of enjoying it before the general public.

Summing up

I’ll do:

  • 100% of the training in these months (~1,100km in 17 weeks),
  • 100% of the running in the marathon (42.195km on October 23rd),
  • 66% of the financial contribution to the cause…

All you have to do is give some euros to make up for that 33% that we will contribute to the children suffering from mucoviscidose. Let’s do it together!

Running at "Corrida Pedrestre" in Toulouse, July 1st 2011.


Filed under France, Helping others, Sports

What charities do you support?

I got an email today from a source-of-ideas-for-blogs service called Plinky. Today’s email was a summary of the ideas for the last week. I liked 2 of those ideas; I’ll answer them, one per post.

“What charities do you support, and why?”

The first thought I had is “two: Kiva and Doctors without Borders (MSF)”. Then I developed the thought further: “Why?” The explanation that was going to follow is already written into another post, but thinking again about it made me realize that I only support one charity: MSF, as Kiva is not strictly speaking a charity.

Kiva gives a financial service, loans, to entrepreneurs that wouldn’t get them from commercial banks. The same situation happens with us: how many banks would not grant us a loan to start a company in Spain at the moment? If we found an investor, we would deem his action as an investment, a sound investment, not a charity act.

The charity act when lending money through Kiva is in fact the little donation you may choose to give to Kiva itself (to cover their operating costs) and the giving away the opportunity of earning some interest on that money… not much:

  • At the moment I put in Kiva ~250$ a year,
  • The interest I could get out of this would be ~4$ a year (if well invested may be 20$),
  • The 250$ may pay for about 12 loans of 25$ (assuming some of them will be repaid within that year and the money is re-loaned) and I generally give a 5% donation to Kiva on each loan… that is another 15$…

So out of these two concepts I give only 20$ to charities!

(Luckily I give some more to MSF… why? You can guess it)


Filed under Helping others

Bill Clinton endorsing Kiva (video)

Some months ago, I gave a loan through Kiva to Fizuli Agdjabayov, a man who has a small transport business in Azerbaijan. Yesterday I got an email with the latest post of one of Kiva’s blogs about a visit of a Kiva fellow to Azerbaijan.

I especially liked the two videos that Yelena Shuster, the fellow, had prepared about her visit. I immediately thought about sharing these with you through the blog; this is what I am doing with this post. Enjoy the video:

I believe that seeing these fellows visiting the entrepreneurs in person is the best way to gain confidence about this system. By chance, on a trip to Peru, I could visit as well an entrepreneur that had received a loan through Kiva; then I wrote about that experience in a previous post in this blog.

The second best way to gain confidence on initiatives like Kiva is by seeing Bill Clinton endorsing them in an interview. I came across the following video while watching Yelena’s, in it Bill explains how Kiva works:


Filed under Helping others, Investing

Ethical Banking

I attended yesterday a conference by Joan Melé at EOI Business School. It caught my interest by its title Dinero y conciencia: ¿A quién sirve mi dinero? (Money and conscience, who benefits from my money?), even though I didn’t know the presenter nor the bank he works for.

I want to make some reflections of yesterday’s experience:

  • The first one as a Toastmasters member: I applaud the decision of the speaker to stand up, not using notes or a power point presentation and managing to get the focus of the audience on him and his message for over an hour and half… we witness many conferences in which the experience is not so enjoyable.
  • The next reflection is to praise the move by EOI Business School towards web 2.0 made some months ago. As an alumnus of the school I must say that it’s very motivating to see the number of activities organized, the topics covered and it’s very convenient the way they are publicized in the different channels: EOI web and blogs, Facebook, streaming TV channel, Twitter… and because of that, because you can actually watch the whole of the conference or catch a glimpse of the main messages, I will just add very few ideas that I took for reflection and some sources the presenter cited.

Regarding money itself, the speaker structured his speech in the three main uses of money: to buy, to save and to donate.

  • When buying: he proposed the exercise of thinking “what”, “why” and “where” to see how our purchasing decisions affect others (low wages, pollution, exploitation…). He made the case for an economy based not so much in consumption of material things but cultural and intellectual ones: e.g. we happily pay 30 euro for a dinner, would be pay the same to be read poetry?
  • Regarding saving he noted the positive side of it: planning for future expenses. The other side of the coin being “fear of the day of tomorrow”: what will happen that we won’t be able to face? Nothing: Whatever comes, we will be able to face it. This reminds me to Charlie Munger comment on Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting when he said that he became comfortable […] after he realized he could survive hardship, “Maybe you should get your feet wet with a little more failure”. We lack some entrepreneurship…
  • The speaker did not want to go in deep about donating, except pointing that handing large inheritances to offspring can be more harmful than positive to them and society.

Some ideas to take away:

  • There are no leaders to solve our problems; it’s the turn of civil society to take action. It’s the time for the Globalisation of conscience.
  • The responsibility for what happens around us is ours, we need to first change ourselves.
  • We are the crisis of 3 billion people since dozens of years ago.
  • Need to bring back the role of banks as agents that relate people: savers with entrepreneurs in order to create wealth with profits as a by-product not as the one and only end.
  • Need to start and epidemic of courage and enthusiasm.

Finally, some reports, articles and documentaries he cited:

One final quote from Charlie Munger to end this post: “The secret to happiness is to lower your expectations.”


Filed under Books, Helping others, Investing, Movies, Toastmasters, Twitter & Media

I am an angel

Last 23rd March the three Toastmasters clubs in Madrid organized a gathering at Hard Rock Cafe. The event was a great success with over 40 people attending it. John organized it including 3 prepared speeches, a book review, some table topics and an improvised theatre!

I gave a speech which I had created over a year before. That was my 9th speech in the way to obtaining the Competent Communicator award of Toastmasters. The objective: “Persuade with Power”.

I first gave this speech titled “Angels” on the 4th of February in 2009. Then I used it again for the Area spring contest and again in the Division conference in Lisbon that same year.

With some slight modifications I gave it again in the gathering. This is its script and more or less what I said…

“Do you believe in angels? I do. I do believe in angels. What if I tell you that I am an angel? Wouldn’t you be curious? Wouldn’t you like to hear about it? You will.

I believe in what are called “business angels”.

I guess that most of you have heard the term “business angel” at some point. For those of you who haven’t: business angels are investors who invest part of their money in small and medium start-up companies, helping entrepreneurs to set up their businesses.

In this speech I want to persuade you to become business angels. You may tell me “Javier, I don’t have a spare million to invest in companies”; neither do I.

Do you think that to be an angel… to help someone to start-up with their business, a lot of money is needed?

Microcredits are small loans given to the poor, to those entrepreneurs who lack collaterals and a credit history; this makes them not eligible for the traditional credit given by banks. We are talking about someone in Vietnam who runs a grocery shop or about Mariano Choque who makes handicraft in Peru and whom I met last summer in a trip to Peru.

Microcredits are generally considered to have originated with the Grameen Bank created by Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh more than 30 years ago. It all started as a research project to examine the possibility of designing a credit delivery system to provide banking services targeted to the rural poor. For this contribution, Muhammad Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

Ok, this is the theory. Now, I told you I was an angel; do you think I am part of that Grameen Bank in Bangladesh? No, I’m not.

Today the internet has facilitated very much the process. is a US non-profit organization which links those poor entrepreneurs, in developing countries, with us, here in Europe.

Kiva presents us with a list of individuals who are requesting an amount to start or improve their business. There you choose in which project you want to invest and how much do you want to invest. Kiva was started in 2005, and now counts with over 600,000 users who have given credits worth over 120M$ to over 320.000 entrepreneurs.

What it’s more… think of this for a moment: we are talking about credits and not donations; this means that you will get the money back! Say you invested 100$; when you get them back what would you do with them? You can lend them again! Imagine how many people you can help with those same 100$. Isn’t it wonderful?

Let’s see possible concerns you may have:

  • Is Kiva profiting from it? No, as I said is a non-profit organization. Like Toastmasters. Of course, Kiva has operating costs, but these are covered with different donations than the money you lend to entrepreneurs.
  • How do we know the money reached the entrepreneur? Kiva works with several field partners who are the ones scouting the entrepreneurs, uploading the information about them and their projects and finally handing them the money.
  • What if the loan is not repaid? Indeed some loans are not repaid. Around 2% of them. To avoid this Kiva is classifying the field partners. They classify them according to the level of risk of the credits already given to entrepreneurs presented by the field partners. But then again… with investment in the stock market, what would you do to avoid losing your investment: you just diversify!
  • If you have more concerns or questions about the topic you may ask me after the other speeches.

As I said at the beginning, I believe in angels. I am an angel. And what is more important: each of one you here can give a loan that can change a life… each of you can become an angel.”


Filed under Helping others, Investing, Toastmasters

A Kiva success story

Kiva’s mission is to connect people, through lending, for the sake of alleviating poverty.

A friend recently wrote in his blog a post about Kiva, therefore I will refer you to it for a deeper explanation of what Kiva is (in Spanish), or to Kiva’s website to know about it in English.

For those of you who like statistics and facts, these are the ones shown in the latest newsletter:

  • 53 months old
  • $124,156,585 raised
  • 98% repayment rate
  • 312,345 entrepreneurs funded
  • 681,527 Kiva users
  • 193 countries represented

Kiva’s slogan is: “Loans that change lives”. I wanted to write about how it changes both borrowers and lenders lives.

I believe that the two main “selling points” that Kiva has are:

  • The fact that you are lending money instead of donating it.
  • Being able to chose one specific project to which you want to loan money.

The fact that you are lending money instead of donating it. This aspect is positive again in a twofold way: you incentivize the borrower to use the money in building a sustainable business and when you get the money back, you can lend it again, and again, etc… therefore with the same amount of money you may help many different people.

The minimum amount you can lend in Kiva is 25$. It’s obvious that if you lend only 25$ you will have to wait until this loan is fully repaid before lending these 25$ to someone else. But, if you are lending to several people the picture changes.

Let’s see an example in which you start lending 25$ to 4 different projects (e.g. handicraft in Peru, a food market in Tanzania, a grocery store in Viet Nam and a small restaurant in Nicaragua).

Let’s imagine that all four projects will repay their loans in 10 months, starting from the next month of the loan disbursal.

You can see in the graphic that since you are collecting 10$ in the first 3 months, in that third month you can already re-loan 25$; in the fifth month you will be able to re-loan other 25$… Before the end of the 10 months you’re already helping 8 different projects. From that moment on you will be always be supporting between 6 and 7 different projects at every time.

Loans repayment "money creation".

And believe me: it’s both entertaining and rewarding to read the stories of these people, trying to grasp how they’re trying to improve their business.

Being able to chose one specific project to which you want to loan money. We are attracted by this for whatever reason: we identify ourselves with the person, we find the business especially interesting, we think it’ll have a larger impact in the community… we “put a face” to the act of lending money.

Last year I went on holidays to Peru. Since I had funded some projects in Peru I thought it would be a good idea to learn from one of those business first hand and see how Kiva is making an impact.

Reynita de Belen de Ccorao is a community founded 7 years ago in the village of Ccorao, near Cusco. It is formed by more than ten people, each of them dedicated to a different business. Together they requested through Kiva 3,950$ to “purchase more supplies for their handiwork and to buy seeds and dry grains”. They would repay in the following 8 months.

Once I was in Peru I was quite flexible about the plan of whether to visit or not this community, since I didn’t know where Ccorao was and also in the Kiva description another name was given  for the name of the village, “Corroa”, which didn’t appear in any map (it seems that Ccorao is a Quechua name, being Quechua mainly used in the Altiplano region).

Ccorao in the World.

Luca and I were going to spend some days in Cusco and surroundings, with an intermediate escape to the Amazon Basin. During those days we wanted to visit the city of Cusco with a guided tour including the ruins of Sacsayhuaman, we would go to Machu Picchu, and make an excursion to the Sacred Valley ending in the fortress of Ollantaytambo, all these under continuous threats of transport strikes.

The day of the Sacred Valley excursion, on the way to Pisac we passed through a village with a sign post that read “Ccorao”; that immediately rang a bell and I told Luca: “This is the place”. That day in the afternoon I went to an internet cafe to check the names of the people that we would look for the next day.

The plan was simple: we had 3 hours in the morning before taking the flight back to Lima, we would use them. The following morning we took a taxi and went back to Ccorao, and with the help of the taxi driver we tried to find that group. Of course, the taxi driver had never heard of it.

I tend to be lucky: although the first stop we made wasn’t successful, in the second one we completely hit the target. We reached Mariano Choque Raya, “Mariano”. We introduced ourselves as what we were: a couple of tourists that had lended money to a group through Kiva. Mariano had never heard of Kiva, or if he had he didn’t recall the name, but he knew very well Arariwa, the field partner Kiva works with in that region. He not only had taken loans from Arariwa but had received certain financial education from it.

Reynita de Belen, Mariano and our way to Ccorao.

The group had taken several loans from Arariwa and from other lending institutions. This particular loan was fully repaid in November 2009.

He showed us their handicraft exhibition and went on explaining how they had grown their business. The first loans he used were employed in buying grain and feeding cuys (guinea pigs) that he would grow to later sell them to restaurants in Cusco. Then, as tourism grew, they focused on the handicraft business and he advanced in the value chain of the cuy business: he continued to grow them but instead of selling them he started running an eatery post that opened only during the weekends and there he would cook and serve his cuys, retaining more margin for himself.

With time, more and more buses filled with tourists were stopping in Ccorao in their way to Pisac. Other groups started their handicraft exhibitions along the road, so competition became fiercer (though be sure that the items we purchased came from his shop).

Thanks to Mariano’s entrepreneurship and skills, and partially to the loans offered to him, as he said: now, his children are attending to school, something his generation couldn’t afford to, and he is able to save some money for his retirement as he won’t have any pension when that moment comes.

Kiva: loans that change lives.


Filed under Helping others, Investing, Travelling