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The MicroConsignment Model: Creating Dignified Opportunity From Uncertainty

This week’s #GLOVicariously webinar featured Greg Van Kirk, founder of the GESI Guatemala partner organization, Social Entrepreneur Corps (SEC). In this webinar, Van Kirk shared the principles and foundations of the micro-consignment model.

While working in finance, Van Kirk was inspired by Mohammad Yunus and the microfinance model, leading him to join the Peace Corps in the highlands of Guatemala. After working with various communities throughout Guatemala, Van Kirk developed a micro consignment and social entrepreneurship model. 

The working definition that Van Kirk and his team use for social entrepreneurship is a combination of empowering, systems changing, social impact, and scale.

Micro consignment is a model of development that focuses on human capital. “It’s about giving people things up front, and they pay for it later rather than in the beginning. What if instead of you taking out a loan, all you invest is your time and energy?” shares Van Kirk.

Social Entrepreneur Corps uses the micro consignment model to focus on income generating opportunities like water filtration systems, cookstoves and eyeglasses. The model works to empower community members to become entrepreneurs without going into debt first.  

“We’re in this gray area of economic development. We’re closer to donations than to an efficient marketplace. We convert uncertainty into risk by saying ‘put in what you’re able, like time, energy, and local knowledge, and I will put in money and ideas. With consignment, we bear the financial risk. If it doesn’t work out, they are no worse off financially,” says Van Kirk.

Van Kirk explained that in the field of development, five core values have guided his strategy:

  • Empathy: “Empathy is a muscle that needs to be sparked and practiced,” explained Van Kirk. “It’s no wonder that people from communities are the most powerful advocates in them. They have empathy.”
  • Empowerment: “You can’t empower someone else, but you can play a basic role in someone becoming more empowered. I think of the equation A+I+M, ability + incentive +means. Without one of these things, you are disempowered.”
  • Dignity: “Often, development failures get down to a simple reason. Human dignity. Ask yourself in anything you’re doing, am I willing to DO or use what I’m asking others to do? If the answer is no, they’re not dignified solutions.”
  • Trust: “I believe that when you give trust, you get trust. It is better to fail with later with trust and understand what happened, than fail because of mistrust and never know what went wrong.”
  • With, not for: “It gets back to trust and empowerment. Build in mechanisms to create relationships so it’s a co-creative effort.”

Van Kirk summarized by sharing that the micro consignment model offers dignified solutions to combat poverty. With a market, there’s a choice. Often, his work focuses on what he refers to as a “trim tab.”

“To turn a ship, it takes an incredible amount of energy. You can’t change a system by trying to change a system. There’s rudder, and within that rudder, there’s a trim tab. In social innovation, can you find that trim tab? That turns something bigger, that turns something bigger. In our case, it was taking uncertainty and turning it into risk, saying you can pay for things after you’ve sold them, not before. That was the little thing that empowered everything else, it made everything else tick.”

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About #GLOVicariously Webinar Series: 

Amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing anti-racism protests, global engagement across difference and development of intercultural skills are critically needed to build a more just and peaceful world. We want to continue fostering global learning opportunities for students throughout this summer 2020 through our virtual webinar series, #GLOVicariously. #GLOVicariously webinars feature speakers involved in GLO programs who have expertise on a variety of critical global issues. View upcoming #GLOVicariously webinars.