In a tough economy, a little bit can go a long way, especially for small businesses. That’s where Lehigh’s Microfinance Club comes in.
The student group hosted the third annual Lehigh Valley Microenterprise Expo on Wednesday, bringing small businesses from around the Lehigh Valley together with purchasing agents and potential customers.
About 60 businesses set up in Rauch Business Center, including restaurants, a professional organizer, a pest control company and a local photographer.
The event was sponsored by The Morning Call and WLVR and organized in partnership with Lehigh’s Small Business Development Center and the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley.
The expo is one of the Microfinance Club’s biggest initiatives. In addition to planning events, the club also visits microfinance organizations, raises funds for microfinance institutions and brings expert speakers to campus.
It’s affiliated with the Microfinance Program in the Martindale Center for the Study of Private Enterprise.
“The club is very active and puts on a lot of great events that make a social impact,” says Puja Parekh ’11, who is majoring in global studies and psychology, with a minor in economics.
Parekh first joined after attending a club fundraiser selling jewelry made by blind women in Kenya that raised more than $700.
“After that event, I began to learn more about microfinance and how the industry helps people and empowers them to help themselves,” says Parekh.
“I really like that the club takes on so many social causes each semester. We are motivated to make a difference in our community and in the world.”
Microfinance is the practice of providing financial services, such as loans, savings accounts and insurance, to low-income people who don’t have access to banks. It has existed for centuries but came to prominence in the 1970s with the support of economists like Muhammad Yunus, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.
When many people think of microfinance, they think of the developing world, and several of the club’s events focus on helping people in third-world countries. For example, every year, they bring Ten Thousand Villages to campus to sell fair-trade arts and crafts made by people in Asia, Africa and South America.
But microfinance exists in the United States as well.
“Microfinance can alleviate poverty, but it can also help small businesses, too,” says Fred Graves ’11, the club president and an accounting major. “We want to make sure that we not only have influence abroad but are also involved in our local community.”