Jason Williams landed a coveted internship with HOPE International after taking SPU's microfinance class. Photo by Nick Onken
Sustainable Economics: Why tiny loans make a big difference

Imagine falling asleep every night hungry or without proper shelter. Imagine the heartbreak of being unable to send your children to school, or being financially incapable of visiting a doctor to help your ailing newborn. For the poor in the developing world, poverty isn’t just living below some proverbial “poverty line” — it is a reality. It pulls at the hearts of the destitute, and brings about barriers to dignity and opportunity.

 

A Visit With HOPE


Last summer, I traveled to Haiti and the Dominican Republic to see the poverty experienced by more than 2.5 billion people every day, while serving as an executive intern with HOPE International. HOPE is a Christian organization that helps 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. This practice is called microfinance, and I first became interested in it during Seattle Pacific University Professor Kenman Wong’s “Microfinance” course. One of the first such undergraduate courses in the nation, it introduces students to the principles of microfinance, and discusses how (and why) it’s different than traditional aid.

A Salty Solution


During my travels, I was impressed by the ingenuity of these entrepreneurs. Have you ever wondered how salt is made? Meet Eva, a successful Haitian entrepreneur who used a loan from HOPE to buy the necessary tools to produce salt. Here are her procedures: dig canals to connect the ocean with small pools near her village; allow the pools to fill with saltwater; then collect the salt deposits left over from the evaporated saltwater. The best part about Eva’s story is that it impacted the greater community. Since taking her first loan eight months ago, she has expanded her business and employed more than 30 people to fuel the production process! This is what access to capital can produce.


To me, the beauty of microfinance is found in its sustainable approach to helping the poor. As clients pay back their loans, more capital is created to then turn around and provide more loans to other entrepreneurs — effectively recycling the money over time.
Interested in finding a sustainable approach to helping the poor? Don’t miss out on Professor Wong’s “Microfinance” class!



Kenman Wong: "Microfinance" Professor

Business is a means to solve social problems, according to SPU’s School of Business and Economics. That’s why Professor
of Business Ethics Kenman Wong started a “Microfinance” course last winter. Students were so interested that a core group of them have banded together to bring a microfinance conference to SPU in May. “Microloans are more dignifying than traditional aid,” Wong explains. “It builds on what the poor are already doing.”

By SENIOR JASON WILLIAMS, Economics and Political Science Double Major, Photos By Nick Onken AND mIKE sIEGEL
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