The other night I was talking with a friend about what we'd like to do if we weren't writers. There isn't much. I love what I do.
But I did mention that I used to know someone in Indonesia who had the greatest job that I ever heard of.
I met Ann Sutoro when I was working for Asian Business magazine and interviewing people for a cover story on what the private sector can do to help alleviate poverty. She was an economic anthropologist working for Bank Rakyat Indonesia, the rural development bank of the country. She was in charge of the bank's microfinance program.
From her office in Jakarta, Ann would pick out an impoverished village somewhere in the country. She'd travel there, spend several weeks getting to know the place, getting to know the movers and shakers in the village, who had the brightest entrepreneurial spirit, the best ideas. About 95% of the time the people she came up with were women. Then she'd go back to Jakarta and write up a report.
Loaning this woman US$70 would enable her to get a small refrigerator for her food stall, and among other things she could then stock medicine for curing river blindness in kids. Another woman could use 40 bucks to buy some equipment to better husk rice, so there'd be less waste and she could build up her business. For 65, yet another woman could get a second loom for weaving cloth and expand her business. It was all little loans, but it meant big improvements in the lives of whole villages. (And the default rates on the loans was much lower than it was on the big loans other banks made to corporations or wealthy individuals.)
Ann would write up her report, get the money from the bank, then return to the village to dispense the loans. She got to play fairy godmother to hundreds, maybe thousands of people. And best of all it wasn't charity. She was simply helping them to help themselves.
I liked her, a lot, the moment I met her. We became friendly and for several years, whenever I was in Jakarta I'd give her a call. We'd have a drink, a meal, hang out talking in her beautiful house in Jakarta. She had a great, quirky, sense of humor, was kind and decent to a fault and was just plain whip smart, one of the sharpest people I've ever known. I envied her her job, admired her tremendously and always looked forward to seeing her.
She died of cancer in 1995 and it was a tremendous loss. I've thought of her often over the years. Whenever the subject of great things to do with one's life comes up, I always trot out the story of Ann Sutoro. Because of her, if I ever went back to school, it would be to study economic anthropology. (Easy to say, though, not much real risk of that.)
Today, I was trying to think up a subject for this blog entry and I was thinking about my conversation of the other night. I thought I'd write about a few of the world's best jobs, so Ann immediately popped into my head. Just for the hell of it, I googled her, not really expecting to find much, if anything. What I found out is that she was Barack Obama's mother.
There's much that I like and admire about Obama. But, as with all politicians, there is also much about him that makes me suspicious and nervous. But I do know one thing for sure. He comes from a very good family. At least on his mother's side.