10 Questions for Niels Lund, founder of Microloans for Mothers

Niels Lund is the founder and executive director of Microloans for Mothers, a program of the nonprofit Class-ACT, which he founded in 1998. He holds teaching credentials and two university degrees in education administration, and has wide knowledge and experience in many areas of special events administration and marketing. He is an active volunteer in local community organizations, including the Encinitas Rotary Club, and is well known in the local business, education and social service communities of San Diego.

Initial contact with Cambodia was made in summer 2008. Planning for the Microloans for Mothers program started in spring 2010, after a visit to a small school (October 2009) that was being supported by Class-ACT, and where it was conducting its Children’s Global Art Exchange program.

Board members were inspired to assist the families of the school by issuing small loans to the mothers, enabling them to start simple businesses that would generate extra income for their families. The program enables low-income women to take an active role in creating a more promising future for themselves and their families.

The Microloans For Mothers program issued its first five loans in November 2010. Women receive an initial loan of $100 to start or improve upon a home business. The loan is repaid over a six-month period, after which the women can apply for a larger loan. Mothers are organized in “loan groups” of five members that meet weekly for business training, fellowship, payment of loan installments, and deposits to their individual savings accounts. Staff in Cambodia prepare a monthly progress report on each mother’s business. As of September 2014, $19,750 had been issued in loan principal. This represents 157 loans with a repayment rate of 94 percent.

In four extended visits to Cambodia since 2009, Lund has coordinated the education and lending programs. He also initiated a Sanitation Program that provides latrines for needy families. Sanitation and decent toilet facilities are big issues in most rural areas, including the Kos Khel region where the Microloans program operates. Old habits of poor hygiene, of using open fields to eliminate body waste, are still widespread.

The result is the contamination of streams and soils, the spread of disease, high rates of infant and young child mortality, and heavy caseloads of diarrhea and other infections. The MfM latrine construction project is done through its partner NGO, Solidarity Fund For Rural Development.

Microloans for Mothers continues to expand both its lending and sanitation programs, making a real difference for many poor families in Cambodia.

What brought you to Encinitas?

We’re from one of the coldest parts of Canada, Winnipeg. It’s right in the middle of the country just north of North Dakota. We escaped the winter to live in a smaller community in the San Diego area — amazing weather. Encinitas was perfect. When we moved here in 1986, it was much smaller — a population of around 20K. Encinitas had just incorporated, so every year on Encinitas Days it’s kind of a “relocation” anniversary for us.

If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, subtract or improve in Encinitas?

Well, there are a few obvious ones: More rain. Fewer bars along Highway 101. Fewer people (yes, we’re getting crowded). City policy that carves out a budget line item for supporting a performing arts center and public art. That is, an automatic percentage of the budget devoted to art with which to curate public art, fund a performing arts center and manage it. That is, oversee the production of events with quality artists. The City Arts Coordinator, Jim Gilliam, is already doing amazing work in this area — but with a very limited budget. He’s placed Encinitas on the map as a destination for performing arts. Imagine what he could do with healthy ongoing financial support from the city budget. And — our city is a community with very little ethnic diversity. We could be much more representative of our country if we had more people of non-Caucasian origin. We all look too much alike.

Who or what inspires you?

The City Arts Coordinator, Jim Gilliam (see above). Our City Council — in particular, Lisa Shaffer, Catherine Blakespear and Tony Kranz. Their energies are moving us in the right direction when it comes to the arts.

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, who (living or deceased) would you invite?

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Albert Einstein, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Muhammad Yunus, Nelson Mandela, John F. Kennedy, President Obama, Niels Bohr.

What are your favorite movies?

“Fargo,” “The Cooler,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Love Actually,” “Thelma and Louise.”

What is your most prized possession?

My house.

What do you do for fun?

Travel, go to live theater, nature hikes, movies at home.

What is it that you most dislike?

Older adults who have not acquired a sense of wisdom — who cannot mature and age with dignity.

What would be your dream vacation?

A tropical island getaway.

What is your motto or philosophy of life?

Nurture the freedom to pursue varied interests as they present themselves through life, and stay in touch with activities that make a positive difference for others.