For the poor in the developing world, poverty isn't just living below some proverbial “poverty line” — it’s a reality. It pulls at the hearts of the destitute, and brings about barriers to dignity and opportunity.
In 2008, Jason Williams traveled to Haiti and the Dominican Republic as an executive intern with HOPE International to witness the poverty 10 million people experience daily in those nations. While there, he learned how HOPE works to alleviate physical and spiritual poverty by providing small loans — sometimes as little as $50 — to hard-working entrepreneurs who otherwise have little access to banking services.
“I saw how small loans can fuel small business and transform lives,” Williams says. “Tiny loans can make a big difference!”
The practice of using small loans to combat poverty is known as microfinance. And the real beauty of microfinance, says Williams, is its sustainable approach to helping the poor. As clients pay back their loans, more capital is created to provide more loans to other entrepreneurs — effectively recycling the money over time.
Hooked on the practical power of microfinance, Williams partnered with SPU Professor of Business Ethics Kenman Wong and with John Terrill of SPU’s Center for Integrity in Business to host the first-ever Pacific Northwest Microfinance Conference, held on SPU’s campus in May 2009.
“Nearly every major microfinance organization based in the Pacific Northwest was involved,” Wong says. “We’re especially excited that both faith-based and non-faith-based organizations came together to address an important humanitarian issue.”
Looking back, the presidential citation award winner says he’s learned a lot through his time at SPU. And looking ahead?
“I want to use my business skills to help the poor,” Williams says. “But first, some friends and I are starting a social venture called Olive Only . We’ll strive to produce and deliver a national line of food products that uses olive oil as its foundational ingredient — to help reduce obesity and improve cardiac health.”