School of Business Changes Lives

Students take microfinance to developing countries

By: Becky St. Clair

Walla Walla University’s School of Business has started yet another unique program for WWU.  It’s called a microfinance program, and its goal is twofold: First, the idea is to join the fight against world poverty.  Secondly,  the program will allow students to serve as missionaries in capacities other than simply teaching English, all the while being very involved in the community they serve.

Microfinance plays a major role in the economic development of many countries.  It is the practice of providing small loans – less than US $100 – to people living in poverty with no access to traditional banking services or credit programs.  These loans impact a community by increasing household income, promoting entrepreneurial opportunities, and developing life skills.

“The intangible benefit of a program like this,” says Janelle Walikonis, senior international business major, “is that the people receive an education.  So not only are they being given the means to make a living, but they’re being given the tools to know how to use that money for their best interest.”

Students from WWU will be taking this microfinance program to the world for the first time next school year.  The first student to participate in this program will go to Zambia, a country in desperate need of what this microfinance program will provide.

“Last time I visited Zambia,” observes Dave Thomas, dean of WWU’s School of Theology, “I thought somebody could really make a difference here by starting a venture that would provide stable employment.  It’s a wonderful place to try something like this.  One dollar a day in wages can be enough for a family since a little bit goes a long way.”

Students participating in the microfinance program will go abroad as student missionaries.  Their job will be to disburse loans, sewing machines, and gardening tools.  Then comes the education part.  In addition to English, the students will teach the loan recipients how to start and sustain a business, business principles, and basic business skills.

“Here, we call it Business 101,” says Walikonis.  “In these countries we’ll be going to, it should be called Business 001.  Things that seem simple to us are things they've never been given the chance to learn before.”

The funding for this program will come completely from fundraising done by participating students, and donations.  How far will a donation go?  One hundred dollars will provide a farmer with gardening tools.  One thousand dollars will provide a new water pump to irrigate crops.  Four thousand dollars will cover a student’s travel and living expenses while serving as a student missionary in a developing country.

The School of Business has a goal of $10,000 to start the program.  Countries currently working with WWU's microfinance program are Zambia, Mongolia, Peru, Bangladesh, and the Solomon Islands.

For more information on the WWU School of Business’ microfinance program, contact the Business Resource Center at 509-527-2437, or email brc@wallawalla.edu.

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