By Alyce Eaton
This Sunday, J. Montgomery Roper, Anthropology, clocked in at 3:52:31 at the Chicago Marathon. This was his first marathon and dedicated as a fundraising effort to the Social Entrepreneurs of Grinnell (SEG), a student microfinance group. Roper’s run grossed at least $7,710 for the group, according to Co-Managing Director Noah Most ’13.
SEG’s international loan program, one of many programs that will benefit from these funds, is being revamped this year. Andres Cambronero Sanchez ’15, SEG member and Project Manager for international loans, explained the beginnings of international loans through SEG.
“[At first,] we donated money through a site called Kiva, and that was very impersonal—we didn’t really have a lot of contact with the loan recipients,” Cambronero said. “A couple years ago, we started getting applications from people around the world that students knew [who were] starting a business and needed money. … Through that, we established a more personal connection.”
Now, after a few years of experience with the international loan program, students want to find more organizations to partner with and maintain better contact with those loan partners.
“My new idea is to establish a partnership with this church I know in Peru, and they have this community service program with students who are also in business classes,” said Cesar Cabezas Gamarra ’14, a member of SEG. “What I’m going to try to do is link up the students, who have this knowledge of business, with poor communities in Peru so they can help them to develop a business idea. Then, with that knowledge and that developed idea, they can apply for a loan.”
Those students would also serve as liaisons between SEG and the loan partner. Another component of the new plan will provide business education to those receiving loans. SEG currently partners with organizations in Nicaragua, Cambodia and Romania, and is on the lookout for more partner organizations.
“Some of our applications have come through the website, but mostly it’s through student connections.” Cambronero said. “We want to expand applications, [and] we also need a solid group of students that are committed to working with us.”
Besides accepting new students and ideas for partner organizations, the international loans committee is looking for students with foreign language skills who could help with partner contact.
Another change at SEG this semester is the addition of community financial literacy classes. These classes were developed mainly by this summer’s SEG interns, Stephanie Porter ’14 and Ellie Honan ’14.
“Basically, the idea is that there isn’t really an institutionalized way where everyone learns about finances—most people learn from their parents … and they may have incomplete knowledge,” Porter said. “The financial system right now is pretty complex and sometimes even predatory. So, the idea is to give people the skills to deal with that and act as more of a preventative measure, so that they can protect themselves from emergencies and from scams.”
These classes will be open to the public, including college students, and will be held every Tuesday in November from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. at Davis Elementary. Kyle Walters ’12, a member of SEG’s Board of Directors, will be teaching the classes alongside community members, and classes will range from budgeting and credit reports to fraud and investment.
“When I was managing the emergency loans program last year, people would come to us and … more often than I would like, it was the case that we would look at their finances and management of their finances and say, we’re not comfortable giving this person a loan,” Walters said. “Because we need to be careful with the funds, we want to make loans that we are confident will come back. We do have a mission to try to be a resource for the community that reaches out and is available to everyone. That’s in our mission statement, but no money, no mission. … I really wanted something I could say to them besides ‘Sorry, good luck.’”
Walters noted that the classes will begin right after Community Meal, so students can grab dinner beforehand. Childcare and accommodations for Spanish speakers will be provided.
“By no means am I the sort of person who thinks that money is everything. Let me make that clear,” Walters said. “But I think that keeping a good handle on your money is very important for a good quality of life, and that’s why we’re offering this class.”