The Center for Microfinance at the Dolan School of Business
The Microfinance movement has spread rapidly in the developing world over the past ten years. The concept is appealing to a broad spectrum of people in the developed world as a means to empower the poor in a market based economic system. Typically participating borrowers get small loans of $50-80 to several hundred dollars. First-time borrowers must be repay within a few months. There are many success stories in many countries, of people rising out of abject poverty into a more dignified existence.
In keeping with the mission statement of Fairfield University, DSB faculty and students, through CMAC, share resources and expertise for the betterment of the local and global community. One of the goals of CMAC is to foster self-sustaining businesses and provide advice at critical junctures. CMAC consults with groups engaged in microfinance both locally as well as throughout the world with the express purpose of assisting them to attain best business and microfinance practices. Moving towards a best practices goal facilitates more efficient and effective operations, greater access to capital, and the ability to provide assets to more people empowering them to help themselves. Also, in keeping with the university mission to increase social awareness and educating for greater social responsibility, CMAC involves students. Both graduate and undergraduate students work with CMAC at the university, onsite locally and in other countries on a project basis. Proposals for assistance are welcome.
An example of CMAC activity was the Haitian Bakery project that won the "Model Project" award given by the Jesuit Social and International Ministries in 2001. It is a self-sustaining bakery financed by Fonkoze microbank run locally and profitably since 1998.
Current and Past Activity
Faculty at Fairfield University have worked with Fonkoze, a microfinance institution in Haiti and one of its client shareholders, APF of Fondwa. Work with Fonkoze has consisted of assistance in making projections to obtain grant and loan financing. Work with Fondwa involved creating a business plan for what is now a successful rural bakery which was financed by Fonkoze in what was at the time one of its largest capital commitments. Winston Tellis (Information Systems Professor) traveled to Haiti several times assisting in setting up the computer network functioning for Fonkoze. Michael Tucker (Professor of Finance) introduced the idea of working with Fondwa into an undergraduate class and then into an MBA class where the initial bakery business plan was written. Tellis and Tucker presented the case study with a 30-minute video at the National Association of Case Research in San Antonio, Texas in October 2000 and it is now a published business school case.
CMAC was approached about assisting a group of villagers who were interested in starting a mango drying business in two Haitian villages. One of the CMAC staff traveled to Haiti to gather information and evaluate the viability of the sites to support the proposed activity. The result was beneficial to the villagers as they were able to improve existing businesses, and the US group did not have to start a new business. There were viable existing ventures that were functional but needed advice on best business practices
Michael Tucker has worked with Sostenica, a microfinance institution in Leon, Nicaragua that is financed by the Sister City Project of New Haven. He has worked with Vivas Leon, a start-up microfinance mortgage institution that is not only financing but also building earthquake safe state-of-the-art housing in Leon. CMAC has consulted with other microfinance organizations in Nicaragua and Kenya.
Currently CMAC is working with Jesuit Refugee Services seeking to establish a microfinance partnership with a local South African MFI with the goal of financing refugee businesses. The UN High Commissioner on Refugees is providing funding. We anticipate that the South African project will be a model that can be expanded to other countries with large refugee populations.
CMAC was involved in the recently signed partnership between Fairfield University and the Universidad CentroAmericana (UCA), in Managua, Nicaragua. UCA sponsors the largest microfinance institution in Nicaragua, Fondo de Desarrollo Local (FDL). Through that organization two of our students have spent part of the 2005 winter break working at the FDL's Leon branch office.
CMAC has also worked with Habitat for Humanity of Lower Fairfield County consulting on the more effective deployment of mortgage assets and is consulting with Habitat New London on their proposal to open a Re-Store.
Other projects that have been explored:
- We were approached by the Wisconsin Coordinating Council on Nicaragua (WCCN) a major lender to microfinance financial institutions (MFI) in Nicaragua for future partnering in implementing new programs and working with existing programs in both an oversight capacity and in a hands-on capacity in Nicaragua.
- A group of individuals interested in encouraging local small business development in Milot, Haiti.
- Establishing a small business and microfinance facility in Bridgeport, Connecticut at the suggestion of the Homeless Shelter.
An Episcopal Church organization in Bridgeport sought the advice of CMAC staff in their proposed international venture "Flowers for Peace." They wanted to import flower arrangements from Colombia, via a sister organization there, and deliver orders to member churches in Fairfield County. Faculty and administrators who are involved with the CMAC:
- Dr. Dina Franceschi, Associate Professor of Economics.
- Dr. Joy Gordon, Associate Professor of Philosophy (attorney) is on the board of New Haven/Leon Sister City Project and is chair of Sostenica oversight committee.
- Dr. Winston Tellis, Camille and Stephen Schramm Professor of Information Systems and Operations Management
- Dr. Cheryl Tromley, Professor of Management.
- Dr. Michael Tucker, Professor of Finance.
This entails trips to microfinance institutions in Haiti, Nicaragua, Africaand possibly other sites as well as trips to conferences and sites in the US where advising activity may be underway.
Students, faculty and in-country consultants are needed periodically to perform microfinance audits on MFIs.
Students work periodically with faculty to prepare reports, make onsite visits and keep up to date on microfinance practices.
Service Learning is an important part of several courses. Project proposals that involve student teams supervised by professors involving microfinance institutions or the writing and preparation of small business plans for ventures seeking funding are welcome for consideration.