Fairfield University seniors leave legacy of micro-lending project,


Inspired by Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus' revolutionary Grameen banking system that has extended credit to millions of the world's poor, nine Fairfield University seniors are leaving a legacy at Fairfield that will allow them - and students that follow them - to help poor women in global south regions to become self-sustaining. The student project, which grew out of a Women's Studies capstone seminar they took this spring with Dr. Gita Rajan, professor of English, is called, "Sustainable Equity for Women: Impacting the Present and Building the Future," (SEW).

The seminar emphasizes the relationship between theory and practice and in studying women in developing countries who barely survive economically, the students realized there was a practical way in which they could be part of the solution. The students raised money to invest through KIVA (kiva.org), the world's first person-to-person microlending website. By establishing a bank account for their funds and registering as an organization with KIVA, they will be lending $50 each to some 40 women at a time who will use the money for projects like a small grocery business in the Dominican Republic, selling fish in Uganda, farming in Bolivia or running a small supermarket in Nigeria.

Lauren Campbell of Cardiff, Calif., a member of Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society, and captain of the Varsity Volleyball team, said, "I have always been interested in globalization and the effects it is having on the world's wealth gap." The group is especially interested in making loans to women, she said. "Research supports that once a woman has the ability to meet her family's basic needs, with food and housing, the children are more likely to attend school. In a sense, micro-lending rebuilds communities from the bottom up."

KIVA has had an astounding rate of return on the money invested to women, with nearly all of the investment being repaid in 14 to 18 months. Once a loan is repaid, that money can then be lent to another woman and so the number of people who are helped in the program is always growing.

Maeghan McLoughlin from Goshen, N.Y., who will be studying social justice issues in law school, said she was attracted to the micro-lending concept "by the real application of the ideas and issues discussed in class. We are not just writing papers, we are actually impacting human beings." She would like the group to "allocate a larger sum of money to a woman who is starting a business or a farm so she has a fighting chance of becoming sustainable."

Kristie Davida of Closter, N.J., is a communications major with a focus on the human condition and was the recipient of the AHANA Award of Academic Excellence. She plans to return to Fairfield in the fall to speak with the Capstone Class of 2009 to "motivate them to take part in this legacy. Creating a just future means educating young men and women, and knowing that they will teach their children the values that build sustainability on all levels."

The students' faculty advisor, Dr. Rajan, said the students would like to make the loans to women in Central and South America, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa. "Each student took on assigned tasks based upon their disciplinary knowledge to move the project forward, so it was a fully coordinated effort. We worked all semester long, arriving at this final project after deliberations, to make sure that every student's voice and ideas were incorporated into SEW."

J. Farrell Lewis of Chatham, N.J., a marketing major, is planning to spend the next few months in Ethiopia, working on building projects that benefit children. She said the capstone course with Dr. Rajan brought her education at Fairfield "to a successful completion."

The Women's Studies minor was introduced at Fairfield in 1993. Now in its 15th year, Dr. Mary Frances Malone, associate academic vice president, said this year's capstone project "demonstrates a deep awareness of Fairfield's mission to use our intellectual gifts to design and create sustainable projects to assist those in need."

Other students involved in the project are: Kathryn Barry of Seaford, N.Y., the recipient of the Passarelli-Guinta Award for Excellence in Politics, who will be attending law school; Michelle Holmberg of Oak Bluffs, Mass., honored for her Distinguished Work in the Social and Behavioral Sciences and with the Rev. Thomas A. McGrath, S.J., Psychology Award; Stephanie Lauto of Brooklyn, N.Y., an English/journalism major who was executive editor of the student newspaper, "The Mirror," and received the Mariann S. Regan Award for Outstanding Achievement in English; Brett Maron of Billerica, Mass., a sociology and anthropology major who is pursuing a career in professional soccer; and Caitlin Rose of North Haven, Conn., an English major, who during her college career was an intern with Vital Voices Global Partnership.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on May 14, 2008

Vol. 40, No. 264