Lehigh University
Lehigh University


Lehigh’s Microcredit Fund aims to empower Kenya’s poor

The Lehigh Microcredit Fund has partnered with Reach the Children, Inc., a non-profit organization operating throughout Africa.

Kenya is a turbulent nation, an area whose rich wildlife and panoramic vistas hide the troubles of an indigenous population battered by AIDS and drought. Unfortunately, political turmoil and the global economic downturn have only made living more difficult for Kenyans, half of whom now live on less than one dollar a day.

Today, soaring prices on everyday necessities—cooking oil, charcoal, fish, corn—have economically handcuffed most people. And to make matters worse, the Kenya Meteorological Department is forecasting depressed rainfall for the season across the country.

It’s a troubling scenario for those living in Kenya’s Western Region, tucked in the far corner of the nation. Graphically diverse with fertile land, the area boasts tea plantations, rainforests and plains that lead to Lake Victoria, the world’s second largest lake. The lands surroundings Mount Elgon, the country’s second largest mountain, are among the most successful agricultural regions in Africa.

But in the towns and villages in the Inaya area of the Western Region, the economic crisis that has devastated much of the third-world community has struck there, too. It’s why a team of Lehigh students, led by the Microfinance Club, is raising money to assist small business owners and local entrepreneurs.

“What we’re really trying to do is empower the poor, give them a chance to succeed at a time when resources and funding options have started drying up,” says Colin Sloand ’09, a finance major and president of Lehigh’s Microfinance Club.

Alleviating poverty in western Kenya

Under the new Lehigh Microcredit Fund, the university community can make charitable donations to help the people of western Kenya. It’s part of an aggressive effort by the microfinance club to put the spotlight on Africa’s poor while raising the awareness of microfinance, the lending of small loans in the world’s poor and underserved communities.

Sloand says the microfinance club has started accepting charitable donations for the Lehigh Microcredit Fund, having already raised $2,085 for their cause. Now they’re hoping to spread the word about the fund across campus, handing out brochures and promoting their Web site as often as possible.

(To download a brochure and contribution form, visit the Microfinance Club’s Web site
or contact Chris Tadeu or the Martindale Center's Rosemary Krauss).

The fund was developed through a partnership with Reach the Children, Inc., a non-profit organization operating in over a dozen countries throughout Africa. The group is seeking to alleviate poverty across the continent by focusing on such things as AIDS prevention, education, microenterprise, orphan care, and water and agriculture.

The fund is structured so that donors will receive periodic updates on what their loans are being used for, repayment rates, and financial snapshots of the recipients and their communities.

“The Lehigh Microcredit Fund is really about engaging the friends and family of the university community, so that they become invested in helping others that are less fortunate than we are,” says Sloand. “It’s about giving Kenyans the tools and resources that encourage innovation and create economic growth.”

Research that makes an impact

The fund will also be designed to allow undergraduate students to use the results for research.

The level of research activity that Sloand and his peers are able to pursue ultimately depends upon how many donations the club is able to raise. Possible research interests include analyzing the different business models of successful microentrepreneurs and comparing the impact of different lending methods.

“This is really a multifaceted program that the microfinance club is pursuing,” says Todd Watkins, director of Lehigh’s microfinance program at the Martindale Center for the Study of Private Enterprise.

"Rarely do undergraduates get to measure and report on the success of a program they helped build, much less follow the impact in a few towns and villages in Kenya over time. It’s truly an ambitious effort with real potential benefits for people's lives,” he says.

Donations to the Lehigh Microcredit Fund are fully tax deductible and should be in the form of a check made payable to Reach the Children, Inc. The average size of a microcredit loan in Kenya is $200, but Sloand says contributions of any size are appreciated. Donations should then be mailed to the following address:

Microfinance Program
The Martindale Center
Lehigh University
621 Taylor Street
Bethlehem, PA 18015

-Tom Yencho

Photo courtesy of Reach the Children, Inc.

Posted on Friday, April 03, 2009

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