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SEG attends microfinance summit

Grinnell students are known for their commitment to social justice and community outreach, and that is exactly the type of work that the members of Social Entrepreneurs of Grinnell (SEG) do. SEG is a microfinance non-profit organization providing services internationally and locally.

SEG operates internationally, but also locally, working with members of the Grinnell community, offering entrepreneurial or emergency loans. Over the weekend of Oct. 12-13, members Josh Vernazza ’15, Nicole Paiz ’14, Tina Chen ’16 and Hellen Barroso ’15 went to the University of Pennsylvania for a microfinance summit hosted by Lend for America, an organization that describes itself as “a national platform designed for students to learn how to practice microfinance in the United States.”

The summit connected university campus microfinance organizations from all over the United States with professional loaning consultants. The four members who attended the summit spent the weekend learning about various microfinance services. Vernazza, in particular, attended meetings that he felt could improve SEG.

“I went to the risk management talks because we’re always working on lowering our default rate. I also attended a meeting about staff turnovers because as a college organization, we’re always having old members leaving and new members coming in each year. The meeting could help us make the transition to new leaders much easier,” Vernazza said.

The event proved especially beneficial for Vernazza, as Lend for America reached out to him, asking if he and another student from a different college would be willing to teach a seminar there.

SEG has only been attending annual Lend for America summits for two years, but the campus group has already found them extremely useful to the future direction of SEG.

“This summit is a great training session for our members to learn about microfinance. Lend for America also helps us network with other campus microfinance groups. We’ve had a couple emails from groups who are just starting up and who want to learn how to turn their campus club into a nonprofit organization” said Ellie Honan ’14, co-leader of SEG.

The four SEG members also had the chance to observe how other campus microfinance organizations were run. Chen attended a spotlight meeting on Yale University’s microfinance group and noticed how influential the conditions of a campus’ community are to an organization’s success.

“Yale’s microfinance organization is pretty prodigious. But their community is different from ours. They only give business loans to individuals of a higher class. Their entrepreneurs are usually more successful because they start up at a higher socioeconomic status and with a larger loan,” Chen said.

Chen compares the success of other campus groups to the success of SEG’s group to see how SEG can be improved.

“Most of these campus groups not only provide a loan, but also offer classes so that their community members [can] manage and improve their own financial situation in the future. I feel that Grinnell can definitely provide skills and knowledge to our own community members, but we’re a small community and we don’t have the resources to provide all of these services,” she said.

The club received the funding for the trip through the Wilson Wilson. The Program is currently headed by Doug Caulkins, Anthropology, who serves as the Interim Director. As he also happens to be the faculty advisor of SEG and the President of SEG’s Board of Directors, Caulkins excused himself from SEG’s application review for the Lend for America conference.

“After the [Wilson Committee] board receives an application, they will ask the group some clarification questions. When we provide funding for a project, we make sure that it will allow the greatest possible outcome for the greatest number of people,” Caulkins said.

Students interested in joining the SEG can email [socentre].

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