Fighting poverty abroad one small loan at a time


Uche Muomah is a 32-year old Nigerian woman who, after suffering through a marriage with an abusive husband, is putting together a fresh start with the help of some St. John’s business students.

A seamstress by trade, Muomah was the recent beneficiary of a student-managed program at the Tobin College of Business which lends microloans to those in need in the developing world.

This is GLOBE (Global Loan Opportunities for Budding Entrepreneurs), a global microloan program that aims to fight poverty abroad by aiding local entrepreneurs and, in turn, their local communities.

Last semester Muomah was granted one of these GLOBE loans, allowing her to expand her sewing business and support her children independently.

Graduate student Sanya Makhani, who is a member of the GLOBE graduate affiliate program, talked about the field of microfinance that GLOBE works in.

“Microfinance is a really new field,” said Makhani. “In our program, we give out loans to people mainly in Africa right now, ranging from 50 to 500 dollars. It helps them start a business and lift themselves out of poverty.”

Microfinance involves characteristically small loans that require no collateral, and was started by Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel-Peace Prize winning economist who founded the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh twenty-five years ago.

The group is managed by juniors and seniors in the Tobin College of Business who must pass through an interview and application process before becoming official GLOBE team members. The selected students receive academic credit for their participation in the program, and a new group of undergraduates is selected for every semester.

Julia Mignone, one the graduate students who organizes much of GLOBE, said that being able to do a lot with little is a central message of microfinance.

“What makes GLOBE so special is the relation between what the students are able to accomplish with such limited resources, and what the borrowers are able to accomplish with a tiny sum and life-changing ideas,” said Mignone.”The fact that the students are able to make such a difference, with so little as well, is what has made a lasting impression on me.”

GLOBE most recently lent one woman approximately 180 American dollars that helped her buy an oven. According to Makhani, the oven will help this woman bake bread and other goods that she can sell and support her family and dependents with.

Mankani said the process of handing out GLOBE microloans involves an intermediary group called the Daughters of Charity, a Vincentian order of holy women dedicated to service and the poor.

“Since we are a Vincentian school, we have access to the Daughters of Charity,” said Makhani. “They bring the loan applications to us, and then we transfer the money to them and they bring the money to the borrowers.”

At the moment, all of GLOBE’s money is raised through donations to the program. Makhani told the Torch there’s a 5 percent flat charge on all the loans that are given out, which comes back and goes straight into the program’s funds.

Makhani explained that the structure of the GLOBE program organizes accepted students into four different teams: marketing, accounting, finance, or information technology.

Rahel Solomon, who graduated last spring and participated in the GLOBE program on the finance and risk assessment team, says the experience helps improve the lives of others while enabling students to apply skills learned in the classroom.

“As a class, we read and watched popular books and videos on the subject of microfinance and eliminating world poverty,” said Solomon. “We reviewed loan applications from potential borrowers and evaluated the proposed business plans.”

Meanwhile, Makhani and Mignone are both a part of the GLOBE Graduate Affiliates program which is comprised of nine graduate students who work more closely with the program’s director, Dr. Linda Sama. Unlike the undergraduates, the graduate affiliates are strictly volunteers and do not receive academic credit.

“We help with higher level decisions and any structure or long term plans,” said Makhani, “stuff that the undergrads don’t have time for.”

Though the program has been exclusively for students in the Tobin College of Business, Makhani noted that this year the program accepted a student from the St. John’s College of Professional studies.

For Mignone, GLOBE has given her education meaning and dimension.

“Being part of the Graduate Affiliate Program and being able to witness such close ties between the students’ environments and the borrowers’ environments has made me proud to be part of St. John’s,” said Mignone.

“Our ideas may be ambitious to some, but they are more than possible with a little bit of grit and drive.”