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1-07-15

Microlending Program Thrives at The Seven Hills School

Seven Hills history department chair Brian Wabler discusses microlending suggestions with students

Over the past five years, Seven Hills Upper School students have funded microloans across continents, fueling the capabilities of dozens of indigent people who have skills and talent but no financial means. Seven Hills teacher and history department chair Brian Wabler said empathy has always been at the core of his class by nature of its focus on the many devastating world events that have taken place since 1945.

“This class can be depressing. We talk about all these terrible things that happen to people all day,” said Brian. “I wanted my students to think about what we can do to help someone as opposed to simply learning about it and leaving class with this weight of helpless sadness over them.”

At the speed of a click, students in Wabler’s global issues class have been changing the lives of people who do not live like them, but with whom the students feel a connection. Five years ago the class raised about $1,000 through baked good sales at school. With the use of Kiva, a secure microlending site, the students have been able to loan out more than $1,000 each year, for five years – essentially loaning a total of 55 loans equaling about $6,000. Wabler wanted to take them a step further and allow them to use their empathy to fuel the entrepreneurial goals of others, while having the opportunity to see movement with their loan decisions.

It is one of the reasons why students typically engage in short-term loans. When the money is paid back, students in the next semester’s classes have an opportunity to loan out funds as well. The students spend a considerable amount of time researching their loan recipients. They ask questions – will it set off a positive ripple effect in a community? – and they draw from their knowledge of news in a certain area to help make their decisions. A comprehensive profile shows that 57 percent of their loans have gone to women in 15 main countries, including Bolivia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ukraine, Mexico, Pakistan, Mongolia, and El Salvador, to name a few.

Senior Mollie Rouan made a decision last fall, to loan about $150 to a computer cafe owner in Kenya. Rouan’s lending team spent considerable time determining who should receive the loan.

“We decided that not many Kenyans have facile access to computers, so we wanted to ensure his business would continue to provide this opportunity,” said Rouan. What Rouan appreciated most about her project, however, was being able to view a business opportunity through the eyes of someone across the globe, and help fund someone’s aspirations in the time it takes to tap “send” on her iPad.

“It showed me how truly significant a loan of $150 or even only $25 can be to a small business owner in a different country,” said Rouan. “Because I was able to choose who received our loan and actually see how the funds were going to be used, I felt more connected with the person we loaned to and in turn truly felt that our funds would make a tangible change in his business and life.”