With almost three quarters of British adults unable to remember some or all of the gifts they were bought last Christmas, I am joining CARE International UK's campaign to stop people squandering their hard earned cash on last minute throw away buys. Rather than the usual deluge of socks, soap and chocolate we're urging people to consider a lasting and memorable gift idea by giving vouchers for the micro-lending charity site, lendwithcare.org.
The site enables people in the UK to lend small sums of money (from £15) to poor entrepreneurs in developing countries, helping them start or expand their small business, feed their families and send their children to school. When the money is paid back, it can be withdrawn or re-lent to person after person. Over 70% of the entrepreneurs are women: the catalysts for change in their homes and communities.
I have seen first-hand how the project works, having visited entrepreneurs in Cambodia. I was staggered by the impact a small amount of capital can have on someone's life. It's not uncommon for their income to increase five-fold, and they invest this money back in their business but also in their family and community.
A wonderful example is La Morm, a seamstress I met in a small village near Battambang. She used her loan to buy five sewing machines. Now local girls pay her small sums to teach them to sew. La Morm makes a small profit, and the girls leave with their own sewing machine and the skills they need to start their own business. She then reinvests in more machines, and teaches more girls. Her enterprise benefits the whole community. What incredible growth, from such a small seed of opportunity.
What about return on investment? My time in Cambodia gave me chance to reflect on the meaning of the word 'profit'. It confirmed to me what I'd long thought: that the success of an endeavour mustn't be measured solely in financial terms, but in in terms of intended outcome. These people don't want to be millionaires; their intended outcome is to improve life for themselves and their families, and to make positive changes in their communities. And the businesses I saw in Cambodia were extremely successful. Their 'profit' was a better future for their children.
New research on consumer spending habits conducted by CARE and YouGov found that collectively, people in Britain will waste more than £240million on unwanted presents, with one in four people saying that they panic buy gifts.
Too many people feel an obligation to waste money on useless gifts they cannot afford for people who won't use it. Presents can be memorable without breaking the bank, I hate the feeling of panic-buying a present, knowing it's not quite right, isn't memorable and may even go to waste. If not enough thought is invested in a gift, it shows. Yet we all do it, every year. A lending gift voucher is an inspired present that puts an end to last-minute panic-buying and you can download a voucher right up to Christmas day morning.
Unlike a lot of charity initiatives becoming an investor in someone's business in the developing world really is the 'gift that keeps on giving', not only because the money can be endlessly recycled, but the benefits spread down the generations and throughout communities. What a marvellous idea for the person who has everything: a gift from them to a person who has virtually nothing.
Join me and do something different this year, lend it, don't spend it - gift vouchers range from £15 and are available at www.lendwithcare.org/gifts.