Stanford Microfinance Seminar Brought to CMC

On Monday, September 24, the Claremont International Relations Society hosted the first of an eleven-session weekly seminar on microfinance in Kravis Center L62. Though Professor Sean Foote physically teaches the seminar at Stanford University, over 75 colleges around the globe join via videoconference. The seminar, titled “Impact Finance: Microfinance and Impact Investing,” explores how and why the emerging field of microfinance has grown to sustain those in low-income communities. Foote, who envisioned this simulcast class a few years ago as a “new way to teach education,” aims to foster an intellectual curiosity in students to solve problems as drastic in the world as poverty.

While the seminar has been conducted for the past two years on several college campuses, it is brought to CMC with a new structure and scope from previous years. In collaboration with Living on One Co-Founders Chris Temple '12 and Zach Ingrasci '12, Foote reshaped the structure of the class to feature "impact investing" or for-profit microfinance. A central element of the seminar is Temple and Ingrasci’s documentary, Living on One Dollar, which traces the journey of four university students who spent one summer living on one dollar a day in Guatemala to replicate the conditions of poverty. Temple and Ingrasci envisioned the documentary when they were sophomores at CMC and have since expanded the vision to an inspiring non-profit organization.

As one of the organizers of the seminar, Xinzhu Nancy Li '15 feels the opportunity is an incredible channel through which to introduce students interested in microfinance to the field, while showing the inspiring work of CMC alumni. Though two-thirds of those in attendance on Monday were from CMC, the seminar was open to all students in the Claremont Colleges.

“The goal is to allow all 5C students to know what microfinance is, since Chris and Zach’s documentary is so popular on campus,” said Li.

In addition to Foote providing an introduction to microfinance, the seminar will bring together best practice tips from successful practitioners including heads of The Grameen Foundation, KIVA, ACCION, Prisma Microfinance, and Freedom From Hunger.

If inspiring guest speakers and curiosity aren’t enough of incentives, Li is currently collaborating with administration “to make [the seminar] a for-credit opportunity so students can actually put this on their transcript.” The seminar is currently driven by the individual. “We are not going to grade you or check if you read the assigned readings,” said Li.

The first session attracted students from varied backgrounds in microfinance. Julian Perez '16, for instance, wrote his senior project in high school on microfinance. “I was super interested in the topic, which is why I chose to focus on it for my research project and attended the seminar. I think the idea of being able to help others while still making a profit is very cool,” he said.

On the other hand, Hannah Oh '16 is new to microfinance and attended the session “to learn how to create social change and alleviate poverty in a way that’s different than donating to charities. You’re actually being proactive [in microfinance] by helping small business owners get loans and start their businesses.”

In the first session, Perez learned that “the preconceived notion that poor people are bad to lend to because they cannot pay back [is false] when, in fact, they have a higher payback rate than wealthy people.”

Why is now the best time to get involved with microfinance? Oh noted that “microfinance is being institutionalized [right now], and being part of that as its growing and expanding is a huge opportunity for us to make a difference globally.”

Li still hopes to “attract attendance” to future seminars, for this presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend an MBA-level course as an undergraduate student.

Maybe next Monday, you can trek the Claremont mile up to the Kravis Center to experience the seminar yourself – and learn the secrets of solving poverty.