Bringing Microfinance to Life for a Younger Generation
Guest post by Hannah Gallen, Development and Communications Summer Intern
Although microfinance organizations such as KivaU and YAO are beginning to take an educational focus, student microfinance initiatives—let alone high school microfinance initiatives— are few and far between. I am a rising high school senior at the Riverdale Country School in Bronx, NY and am also the Co-President of Zawadi by Youth. Zawadi by Youth is one of the only high school student-run 501(c)(3) microfinance organizations in the US. We have been in existence since 2008 and thus have nearly 6 years of experience “testing the waters” for the (momentarily) small community of high schoolers aspiring to become involved in the emerging field of microfinance and social entrepreneurship.
This also means that Zawadi members are familiar with the various setbacks that accompany the mission to promote awareness of microfinance amongst our age demographic. One of the most prominent is that out of the array of service options offered high school students, microfinance can seem the most abstract. As an emerging movement, the concept of social entrepreneurship requires an explanation that no matter how reduced always manages to seem daunting to the average high school mind. At least for the moment, it is much easier for young people to actively participate in a hands-on local service project than it is for them to actively distribute loans as part of a larger mission to advance financial inclusion.
Until recently, the closest Zawadi by Youth has been able to come to that kind of direct, hands-on involvement with microfinance has been through group Kiva lending. In December of 2013, Zawadi members traveled to Boston to meet with several MFIs as well as to present a $3,000 group loan sponsorship to the MicroLoan Foundation at their gala event.
This in itself was an incredibly exciting opportunity for us. However, months later in June of 2014, a Zawadi by Youth leadership team actually travelled to Malawi to work with the group of female microentrepreneurs whose loans we had directly sponsored (special thanks to Envoys and the MicroLoan Foundation). In the rural village of Salima, we sat down with this group of six women to hear about and witness their respective businesses in action. We also supplied each woman in the group with a mosquito net. Hearing from the women themselves about being able to send their children to school or provide a new tin roof for their home undoubtedly made microfinance come to life for our groups’ members. Their sense of personal empowerment came through so strongly in their stories of success; whatever they chose to spend their profit on had been their choice.
While this unique experience served to demonstrate the importance of taking the abstract value of microfinance and making it concrete, I believe that it is possible to make that value less abstract through education. Ideally, high schools will one day prioritize the discussion of financial identity with and among students, stressing the importance of financial inclusion. I will be teaching a course at my high school in the fall entitled Social Entrepreneurship: A Sideways Look at Capitalism. If not to exclusively spotlight microfinance and the classical Grameen model, I intend for this course to emphasize the importance of taking an innovative approach to solving any issue. Please visit at zawadibyyouth.org or find us on Facebook to learn more.