College Students Support Microfinance

Last week, I made a presentation on microfinance at Bellevue Community College to a group of about 50 college students and a few faculty. The room was packed! Most of the students were 18-22 age group and were very ethnically diverse which I was excited about (having presented to mostly middle-age+, white audiences previously). The Business Leadership Club sponsored the event and has done a fantastic job of setting up and promoting a fundraiser for Unitus microfinance throughout the campus. To make it fun and to lower the barrier to entry, they are running a raffle with some great prizes that they secured as donations from businesses.

I led off with some of the stark facts of global poverty – 4 billion people living on < $4/day. We then watched the Unitus Introduction to Microfinance video which helps the audience connect with individual humans struggling to overcome poverty. Then we discussed the big problem with microfinance – it works to defeat extreme poverty, but less than 15% of the people who could benefit from microfinance actually have access to it. And, finally, the innovative approach which Unitus is taking to dramatically accelerate access to microfinance for the unserved 85%.

Here are a few observations and takeaways:

  • I was surprised at how few people in the room knew that Muhammad Yunus had just received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in microfinance. I guess a lot of younger people just don’t watch or read international news. I thought the Nobel Peace Prize might have more resonance/interest with younger people.
  • Microfinance requires multiple layers of explanation – ranging from the personal impact that access to financial services has on individuals, their families, their extended families up through to their community/village and even regions and countries. That is, microfinance has both micro and, over time, macro economic impacts. This is hard to explain concisely!

Overall, I was excited to see the interest and engagement of this age group in learning about microfinance … what’s working, what the challenges are and how they might participate. These are our future leaders!

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