Innovation in Social Entrepreneurship Courses – 10 questions with Linda Sama from St. John’s University (Part 2)

A few weeks ago, we looked at the work being done by the PRME Working Group on Poverty (part 1 and part 2). One of the members of the Working Group, Linda Sama from St. John’s University in the United States, recently won the 2012 Innovation in Entrepreneurship Pedagogy Award from the Academy of Management Entrepreneurship Division. The award is given in recognition of the development and implementation of a social entrepreneurship course. The course she developed, called GLOBE, engages students in managing a global microloan business.

Here is part 2 of my conversation with Linda about the GLOBE programme. To read part 1 click here.

5. How does GLOBE operate? Is it self-sustaining?

GLOBE is a microloan program and all loan funds are sourced through donations. We do not seek to be self-sustaining as do many of the MFIs operating in developing countries, because our reality is a bit different. First, we are managed by students, whose experience is limited, although their motivation is strikingly strong! Second, our field agents are Daughters of Charity, many of whom have little to no experience in microlending. And third, our borrowers are truly the poorest of the poor, so we expect them to experience defaults at a greater rate than for the industry at large. Since our program objectives are two-fold – namely, helping those in poverty help themselves AND educating students, we are not as concerned with self-sustainability. This means, however, that for the program to survive, we must constantly be raising funds for the loans. Also, we use the GLOBE funds to help promote the program through various events and promotional materials, and need money for that as well. We want to be able to tell our donors that at least 95 cents of every dollar donated goes directly to making a loan. So far, we have been able to meet that goal.

6. What have been some of the ways you have fundraised?

In terms of fundraising, the students, assisted by a volunteer group of graduate students called GLOBE G.A.P. (GLOBE Graduate Affiliate Program), came up with an idea for fundraising at Halloween called “Treat for Change”. Students fashioned “super-hero” capes with the faces of our borrowers stitched on the back of the cape along with the words “The Real Super-heroes — our borrowers!” They walk around campus with the capes and bags of candy treats asking for change in exchange for a treat. Last spring, students had an International Buffet featuring foods for sale from their countries and made dishes from Bulgaria, Russia, Mexico, India, Korea, Jamaica, Trinidad, Brazil, Italy, Haiti and Guyana. It was a huge success!

We did a letter campaign to alumni, the cost of which was underwritten by our University Institutional Advancement Office (two members of that office serve on my GLOBE Steering Committee). It was very successful in terms of raising the visibility of GLOBE and it brought in hundreds of dollars from people who hadn’t known about us before. We also held a Microfinance Fair – featuring informational tables, speakers, a slide show and food, to bring the entire campus up to speed on the topic of microfinance and more specifically GLOBE. We raised close to $1000 and we believe that the program’s visibility was significantly heightened by this event.

7. What are your tips for others about fundraising?

Fundraising is time consuming and efforts do not always yield results. It requires patience, and a true belief in your cause as that belief, or value attached to what you are doing, is often what keeps you going in the face of obstacles or setbacks. I also advise to have a wide portfolio of fundraising methods. Getting in-kind gifts (free printing of brochures, free food or discounted food for an event, raffle prizes, and the like) can be just as valuable as a straight donation. Further, small donations can be as important as big ones. To get started, it is critical to have a few supporters willing to put up the big bucks so the program is seeded, and others are motivated to follow suit. But most follow-on fundraising for a program of this size is focused on smaller donations and from students and others in the University community. Finally, remember to thank your donors and keep them informed of program progress. Beyond thank you letters in response to donations or support, it is worthwhile to spend a little money for a thank you event so that more money can be raised in the future – this is not merely reactive, but a “proactive” initiative to offer thanks. Nurturing relationships is key to fundraising. This fall, we are having an “Appreciation Luncheon” the week before Thanksgiving to express our gratitude to donors and supporters of GLOBE.

8. How has the GLOBE program been received?

The program has been very well received by faculty, students, administrators, alumni and others outside the university as an innovation in entrepreneurship and a means of actively engaging students in their own education about challenging, seemingly intractable issues of the day. We have had tremendous successes in fundraising, in attracting other schools to think about replicating our model, in broadening student perspectives, and in changing lives in the field. Our fundraising efforts have resulted in a restricted fund that has grown to about $80,000, of which about $15,000 have been distributed in loans. We keep our operating and promotional expenses down through the efforts of students and generous friends of GLOBE, who provide in-kind gifts and services.

Importantly, students have changed their world view from their work in this class. I have countless examples of students who revised their career goals directly as a result of what they learned about poverty and business approaches to addressing this and other social issues in GLOBE. Many GLOBE alums stay in touch and still speak, years later, about the impact the class has had on their lives and priorities. And in terms of the field, we have borrowers who send us their blessings every semester for making a positive change in their lives and the lives of their families.

9.What are your plans/hopes for the course moving forward?

I started something called the GLOBE Student Fellows Program, that would allow two GLOBE students each year to receive a fellowship and travel with me to a place in the world where either GLOBE or some other MFI operates. This offers them a first-hand glimpse of poverty and to see how a social business model can work to help alleviate poverty’s grip on borrowers’ lives. Those who have participated have learned so much, and I hope to expand this program in the future through targeted donations or a grant.

I also hope to open up collaboration with other colleges within the University to develop and implement peripheral social programs that will improve the effectiveness of GLOBE in addressing poverty in developing regions of the world. These might include teaming up with Pharmacy students to help us provide low-cost medicines (a healthy borrower is a better borrower); Education students to help us develop financial literacy programs (an educated borrower is a better borrower); Language students to help us communicate with more borrower communities in their own language and to translate some of our documents (I have already had some Vietnamese students translate our loan application into Vietnamese for our borrowing community there); and Law students to help us understand legal and regulatory statutes governing our program going forward.

Finally, I have ambitions to install a graduate level GLOBE course as well and am in the process of working with the Law School to develop a team-taught course in microfinance with a focus on Ghana, where they have some connections in the field.

10. What would you recommend to other schools thinking of putting in place a similar course?

I would recommend that you plan carefully in advance – there will still be unforeseen obstacles and challenges to overcome, but a thoughtful plan will help you anticipate many of them. Be willing to accept that, unlike “real” MFIs, you will suffer defaults in greater numbers and this will only improve with experience. And remember the dual objectives of such a program – to help those living in poverty help themselves, yes; but, also to educate students. We cannot forget our prime purpose as a University. Systemic change will come from changing the way students approach these kinds of issues as they graduate from programs like this.


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