By Steve Yang
If you enjoy eating pie, baking pie or providing microloans to fellow members of the Grinnell community, the Social Entrepreneurs of Grinnell (SEG) hope that you will find time to attend their pie fundraiser “Slices for SEG” at Saints Rest this Sunday, beginning at 5:30 p.m.
SEG hopes the pie fundraiser will serve two purposes: increase awareness about the group and its efforts, and raise funds that will supplement the group’s ability to provide microloans in the future. Director Jenn Latham explained that while SEG has been active for a number of years, it has been operating behind the scenes for a while and wanted to host an event that would do the tasks of marketing and fundraising simultaneously.
The pie fundraiser breaks down into two parts, those interested in submitting pies to the competition will bring in two pies of the same recipe to Saints Rest at 3:30 p.m. where they will be judged. Beginning at 5:30 p.m. the public is invited to come learn more about SEG’s work over coffee and a slice of pie, with awards being distributed at 6:15 p.m.
Although previous events have been hosted in the past like letter-writing campaigns, regular mailings and physical challenges taken on by Professor Monty Roper, anthropology, the board wanted to find a new way to expand its impact.
“The fundraiser can raise awareness of what SEG does. For a lot of our work, people find us through word of mouth,” Latham said. “Part of that is a limited amount of funds. It’s difficult to market without funds, and … we wanted something that appeals to families. … Who doesn’t like pies?”
Founded by Grinnell College students, SEG was originally an international microfinance club that raised money from around campus to put into a Kiva Microfund that provides loans to entrepreneurs requesting small start-up loans. These funds were subsequently provided in the form of direct international microloans through faculty connections, and SEG received a federal nonprofit 501 (c)(3) designation alongside recognition from the White House for the group’s efforts.
Nowadays, the group’s efforts focus primarily on emergency loans to individuals, with the explicit goal of avoiding the pitfalls of payday loans. Latham explains that these payday loans are poorly regulated and charge incredibly high interest rates that can trap borrowers in a debt spiral.
“It can get to the point where you’re paying a 300 percent interest rate. That kind of interest rate can put you under: you’ll never get out from that,” Latham said.
Latham said that SEG’s goal is to provide small emergency loans, averaging about six hundred dollars, to borrowers to insure that they are not in danger of being taken advantage of by payday loans. She mentioned that although laws are slowly being passed to protect people and raise awareness, it’s still incredibly expensive to be poor.
“If you have a bill and you write a check and you overdraw your account, you immediately get charged fees. There are plenty of people in town who do not have bank accounts. They have to go somewhere to pay a fee to cash a check … and you end up paying extra,” she explained. “We’d like to make it so that people don’t have to go for those kinds of loans.”
To make the application process as simple and straightforward as possible, the application for a microloan through SEG is only two pages long and asks for basic personal and financial information, and the reason for applying. Applicants who have even a small amount of money at the end of each month, as little as ten dollars, can work with SEG to slowly pay off the zero-interest loans. Subsequently, all donations at the pie fundraiser will go directly to helping fund these loans, as SEG is volunteers-only.
“All donations go to loans, as our … overhead is pretty much just postage and renting out a post office box,” Latham said.
But Sunday’s fundraiser is more than just an opportunity to donate: it’s a chance for everyone in the community to participate, including those who may be interested in taking out a loan in the future. Latham envisions the event as a true community gathering, not just a donation opportunity.
“It’s not something where people who might take or need our loans couldn’t come,” Latham noted. “People who are privileged to donate money to SEG are welcome, and people who might not donate are also welcome. Do we want to do something that will exclude the people we are really trying to serve?”