April 30, 2010
WOOSTER, Ohio - An enterprising group of students from The College of Wooster has developed an innovative way for young people to support the entrepreneurial aspirations of youth in developing nations, and the concept is drawing rave reviews - on and off campus.
Global Youth Connection (GYC) is a microfinance initiative that connects youth around the world through a web platform and mobile technologies for the purpose of direct lending. The idea, according to Wooster senior Olivia Parsons (co-executive director and one of seven founding members of the organization), is to enable young people in developing countries who would normally have difficulty securing a loan to access money to start a business.
"Let's say a young person in Ecuador needs a loan to open a variety store or bakery, but has no money for start-up costs," explained Parsons, who researched microfinance organizations for her Senior Independent Study project. "GYC could give that person access to hundreds of young people who might want to provide money for that endeavor."
The person making the loan could commit, say, $20 or more to the venture, and while that may not seem like much to start, the total would be likely to grow quickly from loans made by other young people looking to provide support. Before long, the Ecuadorian entrepreneur would have enough money to start a business. Once up and running, the young person would repay the loan with the interest going to the microfinance organization and the principle going to the loaner, who could continue to support the project or re-invest with another young person in another country.
"It's not quite that simple, and there are risks, but it does have tremendous potential as a poverty alleviation tool," said Parsons, who is joined by juniors Chris Miller, Matthew Miller, Bilal Paracha, and Maaz Khan, and seniors Matthew McNaughton and Esther Chhakchhuak. "It really empowers youth," adds Parsons, who plans to continue to refine the idea and then encourage other colleges and universities with existing microfinance organizations to participate.
Established last September, GYC has gained considerable momentum during the past eight months by winning two competitions, presenting at three conferences, and making more than 10 contacts with renowned microfinance organizations. "At first, we started as a group that wanted to set a microfinance platform at Wooster, but after a few brainstorming sessions we realized how much opportunity we were given to start any initiative," said Parsons. "As young people, we wanted to give the same opportunity to youth everywhere, be it in developing countries or developed countries."
The fledgling organization received its first major boost when it won the $1,000 first prize in Wooster's Center for Entrepreneurship Idea Competition in November. Then the group won the $5,000 grand prize for its implementation pitch at Wooster's Center for Entrepreneurship competition on April 14. Also this month, the GYC network expanded exponentially when it presented at the University of Pennsylvania's Microfinance Conference, the Global Engagement Network Conference at Wooster, and the Oberlin College Design Symposium.
"The conferences have been particularly valuable because they have provided opportunities to engage with professionals in the microfinance field and to build a GYC network at universities and microfinance institutions," said Parsons. "At the Pennsylvania Conference, for example, we received positive feedback and interest from students and microfinance professionals. It is extremely important to develop networks with colleges and universities. As young people in this education bracket, we will be the large percentage of lenders in the GYC platform, and we have an exciting opportunity to become agents of change around the world."
Wooster’s Center for Entrepreneurship is supported by two foundations: The Burton D. Morgan Foundation, which works to strengthen the free-enterprise system by investing in organizations and institutions that foster the entrepreneurial spirit, and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which collaborates with partners to advance entrepreneurship in America and improve the education of children and youth.
“Global Youth Connection first perfectly into the mission of both foundations,” said James Levin, director of Wooster’s Center for Entrepreneurship, “further demonstrating the potential of free enterprise to enhance the quality of life.”
Questions about GYC can be sent via e-mail. People can also become a fan on facebook or visit the organization's website.
1189 Beall Avenue, Wooster, Ohio 44691. (330) 263-2000
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