John Ledford is one of the new breed of philanthropists, in that he loans money directly to poor people in emerging-market countries. Lending entrepreneurs money may not sound so philanthropic, but it actually is in developing countries where, very often, people live in poverty with no access to capital, much less an education.
Ledford practices what's called micro-lending, where $150 may be enough to help an aspiring baked goods maker get started in, say, the Dominican Republic. Contributions can go as low as $25 if pooled with other lenders. At first, Ledford found entrepreneurs through Kiva (kiva.org), a micro-lending website enabling individuals to lend directly to entrepreneurs in the developing world. In 2007, Ledford established a formal program with his firm, Ledford Financial, in which 1 percent of monthly revenues would be allocated to business owners featured on Kiva. In 2008, he launched his own organization, the Change Micro Fund (changemicrofund.org), a tax-deductible micro-lending program. His mission is to bring economic change and a solid infrastructure to developing countries through the use of micro-loans. The organization is staffed entirely by volunteers and 100 percent of the contributions go toward the work of alleviating poverty in the world's poorest areas. In the last 12 months, Ledford has donated more than $20,000 of personal money to micro-lending organizations and is a frequent guest speaker at entrepreneurial networking events, where he offers entrepreneurs the opportunity to contribute. The Change Fund aims to raise $1 million in contributions by the end of 2009; aside from Ledford's personal contributions, the fund has already raised $100,000 in the last three months. So far, recipients have repaid 100 percent of their debts.
Change currently dedicates 60 percent of its resources to a single country, the Dominican Republic. On a recent visit to the country, Ledford got to see firsthand how loans given through Change and other micro-lending programs have positively affected individuals and communities. He met a 60-year-old grandmother who had used a micro-loan to start a pig farm. As a result, the woman now supports her orphaned grandchildren and has upgraded her home.
Change staff will vist Nicaragua next to do research on that country's needs and Ledford hopes to start a sister organization in the U.S. in 2010. “If we measure philanthropy by life change, I can't imagine of a better one [than micro-lending],” Ledford says. “Instead of just giving somebody some goods and services, the loans really do help people change their lives forever.”
Firm: Ledford Financial (Commonwealth Financial Network)
City: Orlando, FL
Years as a rep: 13
Years with current firm: 8
AUM: $100 million
Product Mix: Insurance 10%; Stocks 5%; Bonds 5%; Managed accounts 80%
Specialty: Investment management and holistic planning
Licenses: Series 6, 7, 24, 30, 63, 65