Applying business skills and using resources to better the world is at the heart of Spartan Global Development Fund (SGDF), one of Michigan State University’s student organizations. The group, started by a Broad College of Business student, offers microloans worldwide to assist people in developing countries.

“Microfinance is not about charity,” explained Paulette Stenzel, professor of sustainability and international business law in the Department of Finance and SGDF advisor. “It is simply a way to give small entrepreneurs access to capital that would not otherwise be available to them. It works because it is a grassroots tool that does not wait for government funding or changes in policy or law.”

SGDF began in 2009 when undergraduate Michael Thelen (BA Finance ‘09) approached Stenzel with his vision for a microlending group on campus. Since then, SGDF has made more than 500 loans in amounts ranging from $25 to $1,500, formed a nonprofit organization, and involved dozens of students each year from across campus – particularly business students.

Members of the UPC Coffee Cooperative in Guatemala

A microloan from Spartan Global Development Fund assisted the farmers of the UPC Coffee Cooperative in Guatemala in purchasing a coffee roaster and earning more income from the coffee they grow.

“Having real money at our members’ disposal is what gives Spartan Global punch behind its desire to do good, and it’s that differentiating factor that has drawn class after class of the most passionate and motivated Spartans whose sole focus is to use the resources and membership of the organization to leave a small footprint of goodwill somewhere in the world,” said Thelen.

In proper green fashion, that goodwill has been recycled to reach many more. As loans are repaid—and greater than 99 percent of funds are—the money is lent again to assist other entrepreneurs.

“Perhaps just as important as the impact Spartan Global’s microloans have on the people they reach are the lessons learned by the group’s members,” said Dan Zaharia, a member of the nonprofit’s board of directors and past student leader. “It’s the hands-on experience gained from experimenting with sustainability concepts in the ‘real world’ that sets the group apart.”

Current member and officer Diego Lopez (BA Finance ‘15) agreed. “I have and continue to receive so much from this experience, from knowledge on microfinance to managing a nonprofit organization and many other topics. I find that I am much more motivated now. It has helped me grow as a person, putting life into perspective, making me thankful for all the opportunities that are before me.”

He also noted that the group provides a place to apply concepts from the business classroom, “from formulating strategies to managing projects, even the way we manage our funds.”

“Our College of Business namesake Eli Broad has influenced the culture of giving back, and the SGDF is how I give back,” Lopez added.