By Kelly Pyzik
Last March, six members of the Social Entrepreneurs of Grinnell (SEG) visited the White House to be recognized for their contributions to the Grinnell community and beyond. SEG placed third in a national competition called the Campus Champions of Change Challenge that was launched by the White House. After being chosen out of 1,400 applicant student groups, SEG gathered 28,777 votes online and headed east to see the president.
“We were sitting in this room waiting for the panel to start and we weren’t sure what was going to happen,” said Rebecca Mandt ’13, SEG co-managing director. “We weren’t given too much information, but we had seen the presidential seal and we were excited that maybe President Obama was going to come out.”
To the group’s surprise, the opening speaker of the discussion panel was President Barack Obama.
“It was stunning that this guy was standing right there; it was almost surreal. He gave a very powerful talk about the youth being the future, and it was inspiring,” said Noah Most ’13, SEG co-managing director.
SEG is a microfinance organization on campus that makes loans locally, in Grinnell, and internationally, in Nicaragua, Cambodia and Romania.
“We seek to establish mutually empowering connections between the developed and developing world in order to address the self-perpetuating problems of social and economic inequality,” said Most.
The Campus Champions of Change Challenge helped SEG make many improvements and changes. “When we first entered the contest, we didn’t have a very good website,” said Derek Farnam ’13, SEG co-treasurer. “We wanted to make sure we could have somewhere to refer people to, explaining what we are as an organization, because SEG is pretty complex. The old website was not fulfilling this purpose and this contest gave us the impetus to make some changes we had wanted to make for a long time.”
In addition to being recognized in Washington, D.C., SEG members were also featured on the MTV show “The Dean’s List,” which gave them national recognition. SEG has gained funding from this exposure and has an idea of what to use the extra revenue on. They will soon offer credit-building loans to help improve the credit scores of people who have either encountered credit-affecting financial misfortunes or do not yet have a credit score at all.
“Your credit score affects how much you pay on your mortgage, how much interest you pay on your car; it can be the difference of thousands of dollars a year,” said Most. “When you have had an unfortunate financial event that damages your credit score, it can be devastating for years. Credit-building loans are specifically designed to improve your credit score.”
SEG also received the Sarah Boyer Fellowship this past year, which allowed them to hire two summer interns to develop the curriculum for a financial literacy program they will soon offer in Grinnell.
“We want to not only empower people with our loans, but we want to give people the knowledge to make sound financial decisions,” said Most. “The program will be targeted at low-income residents and will cover savings and banking, one-on-one budgeting sessions, how to avoid credit scams and fraud.”
The organization has expanded greatly since its founding in 2007 and members are very proud of what they have accomplished.
“There are serious problems and serious poverty in the local community and SEG can help correct that,” said Most. “It’s empowering for us as students knowing that we are doing good, changing people’s lives.”