Jason Williams’ Story –– In His Own Words
Imagine falling asleep every night hungry or without proper shelter. Imagine the heartbreak of being unable to send your children to school, or being financially incapable of visiting a doctor to help your ailing newborn. For the poor in the developing world, poverty isn’t just living below some proverbial “poverty line” — it is a reality. It pulls at the hearts of the destitute, and brings about barriers to dignity and opportunity.
I am an economics and political science major at Seattle Pacific University. Last summer, I traveled to Haiti and the Dominican Republic to see the poverty experienced by nearly 10 million people every day, while serving as an executive intern with HOPE International. HOPE is a Christian organization that helps alleviate physical and spiritual poverty by providing small loans — sometimes as little as $50 — to hard-working entrepreneurs who otherwise have little access to banking services.
This practice is called microfinance, and I first became interested in it during SPU Professor Kenman Wong’s “Microfinance” course. One of the first such undergraduate courses in the nation –– and part of a brand new “social enterprise” concentration at Seattle Pacific –– it introduces students to the principles of microfinance, and discusses how (and why) it’s different than traditional aid.
During my travels, I was impressed by the ingenuity of these entrepreneurs. Have you ever wondered how salt is made? Meet Eva, a successful Haitian entrepreneur who used a loan from HOPE to buy the necessary tools to produce salt. Here are her procedures: dig canals to connect the ocean with small pools near her village; allow the pools to fill with saltwater; then collect the salt deposits left over from the evaporated saltwater. The best part about Eva’s story is that it impacted the greater community. Since taking her first loan eight months ago, she has expanded her business and employed more than 30 people to fuel the production process. This is what access to capital can produce.
To me, the beauty of microfinance is found in its sustainable approach to helping the poor. As clients pay back their loans, more capital is created to then turn around and provide more loans to other entrepreneurs — effectively recycling the money over time.
Tiny loans can make a big difference in people’s lives!
Read about the School of Business and Economics’ new social enterprise concentration in Response magazine, Winter 2009.