Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Banker to the Poor" - the Belcher Model

It is with great excitement to say that starting July first, I will be living out this passion of mine. I have accepted a position with a Mercado Global, a non-profit in Guatemala (headquarters in New Haven, Connecticut) that specializes in artisan exports and fair trade. Santa Clara helped me find Mercado with the mutual feeling that my passion and business ideas for artisans would fit with Mercado’s model. Mercado was created by Ruth Degolia, who founded the organization from her thesis at Yale University. I spoke with Mercado last week, and they informed me that given my strong background in business that they have another program they would like me to work on. They asked me if I would be interested in setting up a micro bank in Panajachel, Guatemala (see picture below) for their network of cooperatives. I told them that it would be a privilege, and a dream-come-true. Although I have been reading about microfinance for some time now, after this phone call I began to research microfinance in a new form. Studying the models of Dr. Yunus’ Grameen Bank, among other successful MFI’s (micro-finance institutions) such as Namaste, Accion and Opportunity International, my thought is to take that which I like from each, and form my own model; a model that works for the people of Panajachel. Recently I have received many questions as how I am going to create this bank. In my next post I will give these details!
I have a strong passion for micro-finance. Microfinance is the supply of loans, savings, and other basic financial services to the poor. I have seen how microcredit is a proven poverty reduction tool, providing the necessary capital for individuals at the BOP to become entrepreneurs, think innovatively, and create wealth for themselves. I now have a sense of belief for providing aid from the bottom up, and not as much focusing on dumping money from the top down. With this tool we may provide that step-stool that will allow these nations to reach the bottom of the ladder, and hopefully begin to climb up the rungs on their own. Another way of looking, microfinance is not providing hand-outs, but providing a hand-up.
Access to credit allows poor people to take advantage of economic opportunities. While increased earnings are by no means automatic, clients have overwhelmingly demonstrated that reliable sources of credit provide a fundamental basis for planning and expanding business activities.
By reducing vulnerability and increasing earnings and savings, financial services allow poor households to make the transformation from "every-day survival" to "planning for the future." Households are able to send more children to school for longer periods and to make greater investments in their children's education. Increased earnings from financial services lead to better nutrition and better living conditions, which translates into a lower incidence of illness. Increased earnings also mean that clients may seek out and pay for health care services when needed, rather than go without or wait until their health seriously deteriorates.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Santa Clara Social Innovators (SCSI)

As social entrepreneurs may have great ideas, ideas need resources, ideas need support, and ideas need direction. I have many ideas that are focused on lifting the poor out of poverty. But it is not important this early in my journey to begin to discuss with you about these ideas. What is important is to explain the steps necessary in making these solutions reality. Although I will be graduating, and becoming alumni of SCU in two months, I do not intend to leave the opportunities and resources that are within the classrooms and currently at my fingertips.

I have recently founded an on-campus organization titled Santa Clara Social Innovators (SCSI). The organization’s mission is “to find, support, and encourage social entrepreneurship within the Santa Clara community through an environment that fosters ideas of social justice.” SCSI will encourage students to use their educational abilities and resources “to create a more humane and just world”. I put the phrase of this sentence in quotes because of a realization I had the other day. I was drinking a water bottle in class that I had purchased from the cafeteria. As I looked on the back of the water bottle I found a message: “…this Jesuit University is dedicated to academic excellence and strives to foster among its students, faculty, staff AND ALUMNI a commitment to service and leadership in promoting a more humane and just world.”

I have spoken with many students from many different majors who are very interested in getting involved with SCSI. The goal that Ryan Amante, my right hand man, and I set out for SCSI is to use my business model built for artisan fair trade as a case study for the club in better seeing how students may use the resources of the University. Being said, as I am creating my organization for artisan fair trade, it is my objective to build two headquarters, one in Central America, and the other in the United States at Santa Clara University (I will go into this more in later posts).

Finally, I want to touch on the fact that although this club operates on the participation of students and their ideas, the club however, would not exist without the resources. This is why before our first informational meeting in finding student members, Ryan and I are creating an Advisory Board (AB). The AB that we are in the process of securing will be composed of faculty, social entrepreneurs from Google and Kiva, and some of the brightest minds on campus with experience I areas ranging across the board including Management, Development Economics, Anthropology, Latin American Studies, Entrepreneurship, Engineering, Modern Languages, International Business, Food and Agribusiness, Sustainability and the Environment (just to cover some of our Advisors that have expressed interest).

I want to leave you with a fact I read today. It is inevitable that the world population (currently at 6.7 billion) will continue its historical trend and reach 9 billion by the year 2050. The fact is that 90% of this population increase will occur in the developing countries. We must begin to prepare solutions for the problems that these 3 billion people will be born into.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Welcome to My Journey

To set a foundation for the content of The Social Capitalista, I recently returned from a Business Immersion trip in El Salvador. I had the experience of a lifetime. I got to understand the problems that I have been reading about in textbooks for the past four years. It was the perfect culmination to an amazing education I have had at Santa Clara University. Recently I have developed a few business models that are geared towards helping artisans and youth create jobs, and put food on the table. After graduation I will be moving down to Central America and working with non-profit organizations to get my ideas off the ground. The following blog is a summary of my ideas, thoughts, questions, concerns, and experiences to come!

"The Journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step."