Students in an international service-learning program run by the College of Business Administration (CBA) have offered microfinance loans to two women-run startup businesses in Kenya. The loans are funded with profits from a fair trade campus business the students have been running for more than three years.
The students traveled to Kenya last month to help the women establish their businesses by designing marketing plans and other necessary aspects of a startup.
It is the culmination of more than three years of work by students and Katherine Combellick, Ph.D., assistant professor and director of international service learning (ISL).
“Banks in Kenya seem to have a blind spot when lending to the poor, so we studied microfinance credit and designed the two loans. I gave them out over Christmas break, and our team of eight students visited the recipients, along with our Fair Trade business partners in Kenya, during spring break,” Combellick said.
Microfinance is an economic model by which loans of a few hundred dollars and other monetary services are provided to impoverished people who have virtually no collateral.
Along with Combellick, six students traveled to Kenya in 2006 and toured Fair Trade businesses on the outskirts of Nairobi, the capital city, and Nyabigena. They set out to help women in these villages start new enterprises through microfinance.
The group met with women who were interested in starting a sewing collective, and others who were willing to start a small bead-making enterprise. While visiting a soap-stone collective in Nyabigena run mostly by men, the group quickly realized how difficult it is for women to start even the smallest business in Kenya, where they are not allowed to inherit land or money.
So the students devised another way to help. They bought thousands of dollars of soapstone goods, including artfully prepared handmade crucifixes and chess sets, which they sell at Fordham and continue to reorder.
“With the money we paid to buy our initial soapstone, the carvers created a school for their children,” Combellick said. “The profits from the soapstone collective sometimes are given to the school to pay teachers’ salaries, so I feel we have sparked a beneficial business and educational endeavor.