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Soup – changing communities over dinner

Soup - changing communities over dinner

It’s Bob and his tale of Gateshead kids shaming parents into litter picking; mixing leftover paint donated from sheds to cover up graffiti and motivating a local community to get together, that wins over the crowd this evening. But everyone at this Soup gathering is lending their support to small actions that lead to positive change.

It’s a simple idea. Turn up and pay £4 on the door. Listen to four people pitch an idea to improve the local or wider community. Presentations are a maximum of four minutes, and the audience can ask up to four questions. Then, as you enjoy some warming soup, decide which of the four causes gets your vote. The winners get the evening’s takings to help fund their project.

Soup, this community crowdfunding initiative, is a global event that started in Detroit. Newcastle’s version is hosted by Ernest, the Ouseburn based independent cafe/bar. They not only generously provide free soup, but also the space to host the event, plus staff to promote it on social media and help out on the night.

When I started my freelance business, I quickly became aware of the brilliant, supportive and largely hidden community of local entrepreneurs who were going it alone, getting out there and getting things done. It’s more than apparent that this positive spirit expands beyond the commercial world into doing good in the community too.

On a November evening I get to hear from:

  • Love Your Avenues who are tackling some of the visible issues around Saltwell, Gateshead to regenerate the area using a combination of creative ideas and people power
  • Acorn who take action to help tenants with housing issues
  • Mindful Therapies who offer donation based mindfulness and counselling services
  • Lendwithcare a crowdfunding initiative to provide loans for people in the developing world, to help them establish or expand a small business and work their way out of poverty.

Okay, so I’m there to support the Lendwithcare team. It’s an initiative I support and I’ve been privileged to see first-hand the difference that it makes to people’s lives when I travelled to Cambodia and Vietnam.

What’s in Soup?

For the speakers at Soup it’s not only a chance to attract money to help fund a project, but an opportunity to speak about a cause they care about to a room of like-minded people.

Our cause may not have won the pot, but plenty of people came to ask more about Lendwithcare, and I think we may have solved a few of those ‘difficult to buy for’ Christmas present dilemmas by suggesting Lendwithcare gift vouchers.

Having by chance stumbled upon the Love Your Avenues team in action, painting street furniture in their local area, I was glad to see them win a small fund that will make a big difference in helping them spread the word to bring a sense of pride to their local community.

For the Soup audience, it’s a relatively cheap night out, with food, entertainment, a chance to learn something and the warm satisfaction of contributing to some positive local action. There are local versions all over the UK, so give it a try.

Visiting Cambodia with Lendwithcare

Caring hands
One hand belongs to a project manager from a prestigious international law firm. The other to an 81-year-old villager and survivor of the most brutal, insidious civil war.

We are in Cambodia. We have cycled from Paksé in nearby Laos, to a small village community near Battambang to see the difference that CARE International is making to people’s lives through its micro-finance initiative Lendwithcare.

The 25 cyclists are a range of ages and fitness levels and we come from different backgrounds, but we are all Lendwithcare supporters, helping people in 10 developing countries around the world to work their way out of poverty through small loans.

On the Lendwithcare website we choose businesses to invest in, from grocery stalls to hairdressers, garment making to vehicle repairs. We see the people, learn about their lives and challenges, and now we have the chance to meet some of them in person.

We have pedalled our way through days of 100km rides; powered up red, dusty dirt tracks and negotiated busy villages to thousands of shouts of hello, waves, smiles and some bemused looks. Sweaty and lycra-clad, we make rather odd house guests, and yet we here we are, being warmly welcomed by the family of Khloerb Bou.

A warm welcome

Like most buildings in this rural area, the house appears somewhat ramshackle, made from wood and tin, propped up on stilt posts to provide an open lower area that children and the occasional chicken wander through; while sleeping accommodation is on an upper platform.

Lenders meeting entrepreneurs

Khloerb Bou is out fishing, but we are ushered in by his wife and daughters, one of whom carries a small child on her hip. An elderly relative, part of the extended family, sits beside one of our party, Christine, and wordlessly takes her hand.

We ask questions through our interpreters and learn how a loan from CCSF, supported by Lendwithcare, has helped this family ensure a good crop of jasmine rice, providing both food and income for the year. They also used part of the loan to invest in a new business for their daughter and her husband, who now make iron goods, such as doors, fences and roofing, in another village around 20km away.


Micro-finance is a popular business here in Cambodia, and we have seen evidence of several different institutions on our travels. From Khloerb Bou’s family we learn that not all micro-finance institutions (MFIs) are created equal. His wife tells us that without the loan from their local CCSF office, they would have had to borrow from another institution with interest rates of around 10% per month, compared to just 1-2%.

It’s not uncommon for people to request loans, repay them and then request another. When your main income depends on a rice crop that you harvest once or twice a year, you are at the mercy of a changing climate and under threat from pests and disease. What you earn depends on the fluctuations of a competitive market and with income at around $1-5 dollars a day, there’s little room for error. Like many businesses, a loan helps with cash flow.

CARE International began with packages sent by American families to people in Europe, recovering from the devastation of World War II. Nowadays the care packages take the form of materials and expertise designed to provide immediate and longer term relief and reconstruction after disasters such as floods and earthquakes.

The personal family to family connection continues through Lendwithcare, where, individuals and organisations can support people by investing in their business and helping them work their way out of poverty.

Hopes and dreams

Every entrepreneur we met wanted to grow their business. Some sought to improve their rice yield through buying more land, harvesting more quickly by using a tractor, or hiring more help; while others diversified, buying cows, fishing, growing cassava or operating small stalls. Ultimately these improvements are about making life better for them and their families – sending their children to school, buying a moped, improving their homes.

Lenders meeting entrepreneursOnce we’ve asked all our questions, the family want to know about us. They ask about our brothers sisters, parents. They are not so much interested in what we do, as who we are. There are more smiles and laughter at the crazy Westerners who have cycled all this way.

Our Khmer is limited to ‘thank you’ and their English to ‘hello’, but the connection forged through smiles, eyes and all enveloping hugs is richer and deeper than words.

The interlinked fingers of two women, represent two startlingly different life experiences. Here they are linked together, through the simple action of people helping others. It’s a powerful illustration of the openness and generosity that’s at the heart of Lendwithcare.

If you’ve been inspired to find out more about Lendwithcare, please visit their website. They are currently offering gift vouchers which make a great and thoughtful Christmas gift and for a limited period, you can buy one and get another free.

This is a charity that I am very proud and happy to support. They did not ask me to write this post and I funded my trip to Laos and Cambodia myself.

Who are you and what do you care about?

Man driving an ox cart in Cambodia
I’ve recently returned from an amazing trip to Cambodia with Lendwithcare – a charity that supports people working their way out of poverty.

I learned many things from the experience of travelling through the country and meeting the local people – things that I’ll write about here in future. But one of the most striking has got me thinking about how we talk about who we are and what we do.

So I was very proud to be invited to write a guest post for The Table on the subject of purpose in business and in writing. I enjoy reading Rob Self Pierson’s blog and feel that it reflects many of my own values about writing for business and pleasure.

Take a look: http://welcometothetable.co.uk/who-are-you-and-what-do-you-…