By Omar Sofradzija
Microfinance may have been not much more than a stuffy lecture topic in colleges just 10 or 20 years ago. But today’s Eli Broad College of Business students are not only learning the topic, they are hopping around the globe to implement microfinancing and help people pull themselves up from poverty, graduates from the past learned at the recent Alumni University event.
The two-day event May 20–21 brought Spartans from many generations back to campus to see what today’s students are learning about and working on. Broad College highlighted its student-run Spartan Global Development Fund, which helps people start and grow their own businesses in impoverished communities worldwide.
“This is a fund that is focused around microfinance and microloans,” Broad College Dean Sanjay Gupta told alumni at the start of the session. Started in 2009 and incorporated as a non-profit two years later, the fund has given out nearly $100,000 in business loans – ranging from $100 to $3,000 each – to more than 2,000 individuals and cooperatives in 71 countries.
Loans cited by the group include $300 for a fisherman to buy new nets in El Salvador; $550 for a farmer to purchase supplies in the Philippines; and $900 for Ugandans to buy salt and sugar for resale. The loans are underwritten by donations and have a repayment rate of 99 percent, according to the SGDF Web page.
Student volunteers and ambassadors who manage the fund just returned from a working trip to Peru. “They are real troopers out there, advancing the cause of what this endeavor is all about, and (they) really made a difference in the lives of many small businesses along the way,” Gupta said.
Students who manage the fund are advised by Paulette Stenzel, a professor of international business law and sustainability at Broad College. She “has been one of those faculty voices that have been a really strong advocate for … these kinds of opportunities where the students get to have an impact on a community,” Gupta said.
In general, Gupta wanted to share with alumni “some things that are going on at the Broad College that are great examples of interaction between faculty and students.”
“While you may think that is the normal thing that we do, when that interaction results in some tangible outcomes in experiential learning for the students and goals that accomplished that really make a difference in society, that ends up being just the pinnacle of all of the efforts that we have ongoing to try to get students and faculty working together,” Gupta said.
Alums were wowed by what they found at today’s MSU and the Broad College.
“I’m very impressed with MSU, always,” said Barbara Levandoski, a 1968 social science education graduate who attended the microfinance session. “It’s very well-organized. Interesting sessions. They have this at the right places at the right time, usually. It’s been very interesting. It’s not, ‘go out and do whatever you want.’ We have mindful things to do.”
Ardene Martin, a 1977 social science graduate who also stopped by the Broad College session, has two sons who graduated from the business school. “I like coming back to see how MSU is doing and how we’re progressing and how we’re going forward,” she said. “This is my second or third year attending this. I think it’s a great thing. I wish we could figure out a way to get more alumni to come back for these two days.”