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Microfinance business thriving

Chronicle columnist, Andrew Ross, stands for a photograph inside the studio on Tuesday Jan. 27, 2008 in San Francisco,Calif. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

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Chronicle columnist, Andrew Ross, stands for a photograph inside the studio on Tuesday Jan. 27, 2008 in San Francisco,Calif.

Microfinance business thriving

One branch of the otherwise besmirched financial services industry that seems to be thriving is microfinance. Take San Francisco's Kiva. The Web-based nonprofit ( ) had its biggest month ever in February, funneling close to $4 million in loans to aspiring entrepreneurs in the developing world, be they a market vendor in Azerbaijan or a small grocery store owner in Nigeria. "Every month, we're fully funding all the applications we get," said Fiona Ramsey . Kiva's operations manager.

The funding comes from individual lenders, whose money - as little as $25 - is sent to an applicant they choose from a list on Kiva's Web site. Despite the recession, Kiva is seeing a "sharp increase" in lenders, said Ramsey, adding to the 460,000 already registered with the organization. "Perhaps it's because what we're doing is becoming more relevant to people here," she said.

So much so that Kiva is looking to add the United States to the 44 countries to which it funnels loans. Ramsey said it would be the first developed nation on Kiva's list. So far, its loan defaults have been few and far between.

Opportunity knocks: San Jose's Opportunity Fund . ( ) is one of several like-minded organizations in the Bay Area turning its attention to microfinance. The community development organization is joining forces with Kiva and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation in Mountain View to put on a Microfinance California

2009 conference at Stanford University in May. Details at .

Good news, bad news: Last week felt better than most of the recent ones, but there is more bad news to come. For example, Cisco Systems Inc. is planning to lay off another 255 employees next month in San Jose.

The California Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act - requires that companies under certain circumstances file advance notice if they plan to lay off more than 50 employees.

April will be a cruel month for workers at a number of companies in the Bay Area, according to the database. Three-figure layoffs are scheduled for Charles Schwab & Co. in San Francisco (191), Owens Corning in Napa (121), Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital (152), Community Hospital of Los Gatos (500), NetApp Inc. in Sunnyvale (251), Expo Design Center outlets in Oakland, San Jose and Roseville (295), and Elan Pharmaceuticals Inc. in South San Francisco (109).

More from the WARN database at

Who's playing lead iPhone?: Some might liken the Stanford Mobile Phone Orchestra . as one writer did, to "the chanting of state-of-the-art Tibetan monks." Others might say, "Please, stop the pain."

This music-making ensemble of mobile phones offers "types of music and music-making that the world has never heard," says creator Ge Wang . an assistant professor of music at Stanford's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics.

We're either on the brink of what Wang sees as a "mobile renaissance, maybe a new mobile revolution," or one step closer to the end of civilization as we know it.

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