SOM group joins global partnership

While students at the Yale School of Management have provided pro bono consulting services to New Haven businesses for years, some are now collaborating with students at other schools to assist entrepreneurs in more distant locales.

Global Social Enterprise, a recently-formed group of twelve SOM students, is working with students from Harvard Business School and other schools to promote the Global Microfinance Awards. The awards, part of the United Nations Capital Development Fund’s International Year of Microcredit, recognize those in developing countries who have received small loans and used the money to generate economic activity in their communities. Judges in Afghanistan, Cambodia, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Mexico, Mozambique, Pakistan and Rwanda will choose to recognize between four and six entrepreneurs in each country next month.

According to the United Nations Capital Development Fund Web site, public and private institutions have provided microcredit to over 28 million poor people worldwide since the mid-1970s, but these are estimated to be only 6 percent of the people who could benefit from the service.

“The basic idea around the Global Microfinance Awards is to generate awareness about microfinance and to celebrate microentrepreneurs in these underdeveloped nations,” Global Social Enterprise founder Natasha Walji SOM ’05 said.

Those selected for the awards will ring the opening bells at major stock exchanges around the world, including Bombay, the Netherlands and Zurich, Walji said.

Walji said the SOM students are working in teams to help attract contestants and recruit high-profile judges in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Mexico and Rwanda. They are also conducting an international publicity effort, she said.

“I thought this was a good opportunity to work with other business schools,” Global Social Enterprise member Shanthi Divakaran SOM ’05 said.

Santiago Suarez ’07, who is not officially a member of the SOM team, recently formed the Student Microfinance Initiative and is also collaborating with Global Social Enterprise to promote the GMAs.

“It’s about changing people’s mindset from seeing the poor as needing help to seeing them as needing opportunities,” he said.

Suarez is a former member of the Yale Daily News business staff.

Both Walji and Suarez said the competition aims to change the business practices of institutions that participate in microfinance. Walji said they hope that as a result of their efforts more large commercial banks will become involved in providing financial services to microentrepreneurs.

The contest may be conducted differently in each country, and microfinance itself must be tailored to local cultures in order to be effective, Suarez said. He and Walji also said they hope the GMAs will be awarded to participants in more countries next year.

“The hope is to expand [the contest] to an additional 17 countries to make it 25 countries that have this running next year,” Walji said.

Suarez said he hopes more undergraduates will become involved in assisting with the GMAs, and his organization is working to educate students about microfinance.

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