In the western Mongolian province of Govi-Altai, a 55-year-old woman needs to replace the styling tools and equipment in her hairdressing salon. A mother of three, she lives in a traditional nomadic tent, supporting herself with earnings from the salon.
Thousands of miles away, a 35-year-old Lebanese man has run out of paint and other materials to use in the car painting shop he has operated since 1994. There is great demand for his work, but without materials, his business will not survive.
Both business owners have received a jolt of financial support in recent weeks, thanks in part to a class project at Franklin & Marshall College—a world away from the underdeveloped areas in which they live.
Led by Osaore Aideyan, visiting assistant professor of government, a group of 10 students in Comparative Politics of Developing Countries completed a semester-long microfinancing project to help fulfill the needs of underprivileged entrepreneurs around the world. The project, which was not a required part of the course, attempted to give meaning to the part of the College's mission statement that encourages students to contribute meaningfully to their communities and their world.
"It's been a wonderful, student-driven process," Aideyan says. "The whole idea is that students can make an impact, and they don't have to study abroad to do it. The Internet is a very powerful tool, and you can do a lot from your desk to make a difference."
Microfinance delivers credit, savings and other financial services to people who are too poor to be served by regular banks. The concept is based on the premise that microcredits give poor people more opportunities at reduced risk.
"In most poor countries, the states themselves are not good engines to spark development," Aideyan says. "They are weak, and have very little economic capacity."
Aideyan came up with the microfinancing idea after learning about the Lancaster Sustainable Enterprise Stock Exchange from Trexler Proffitt, assistant professor of organization studies. He received broad support from faculty and administrators before launching the project in September.
The class partnered with KIVA, the world's first person-to-person microlending Web site, to deliver the funds to 20 entrepreneurs around the world. They employed a variety of fundraising efforts, including a bake sale; a presentation at the dedication of the Patricia E. Harris Center for Business, Government & Public Policy; and a presentation at an alumni leadership meeting.
Students raised approximately $1,000 throughout the semester, sending packages between $25 and $150 through KIVA to their chosen business owners.
"It was so rewarding to have a professor really push his students to immediately apply what they learned in class, and Professor Aideyan deserves a lot of credit for doing that," says Anna Oltman '11. "After only a few months, I know what good I've done on an individual level…I am very aware of how big changes are always the product of grassroots movements."
Kit McCavitt '12, another student in the class, knows he has the ability to help those in the developing world.
"Though the big blocks of aid that governments give each other can and do work, the money doesn't always reach those in need," McCavitt says. "Instead, it can get scooped up by corrupt officials or mired in bureaucracy. What we have succeeded in doing this semester is loan money to someone in need whose life will visibly change."