In the past few weeks, my friends who were prescient enough to realize that suffering through painfully dull finance classes would one day be worth it, started to receive their signing bonuses. Payoff at last!
Suddenly burdened with a few thousand dollars, many of them sought out the sagacious and venerable advice of their hairiest friend: yours truly. "How should I spend my money, Jim?" they asked, waving a clenched-fist full of Benjamins in my face. "Should I invest it? Give it away to charity?" And I'd say, "Why not kill two birds with one stone? Invest in microfinance."
Well, not really. Anyone smart enough to get hired by a top I-Banking firm certainly has enough wits to not trust my advice with money. I recently tried to get my Visa credit limit raised and Bank of America literally laughed at me.
But I've taken four econ classes at Penn, have a subscription to The Economist, and most importantly I'm an opinion columnist for The Daily Pennsylvanian, so I believe I'm eminently qualified to offer my perspective on investing.
And that's why you should listen to me when I say that microfinance is the way to go. So what the hell does microfinance actually do?
According to Wharton senior and Penn Microfinance Club secretary Valerie Ho, "The goal of microfinance is to increase the poor's access to financial services by providing small loans, or microcredit, to them so they can accumulate income and savings. Usually, these loans are under $200 and are pooled among a group of borrowers at an interest rate of 15 to 35 percent."
Some might take a critical look at the charitable aspects of microfinance.
After all, you aren't really giving anyone anything; you're putting the poor in debt, and charging them huge rates (35 percent!), too.
But loans, unlike charity, are designed to help others help themselves. Give a me a $20 gift, and I'll blow it on booze. But if you loan me $20, I'll put it toward something constructive and profitable, like buying booze and selling it to underage kids.
That's why 12th century Jewish philosopher Maimonides ranked loans as the highest of the eight degrees of tzedaka, the Jewish concept of charitable duty. And it's the same concept Jesus espoused. Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day; teach him to fish and he'll eat for life. Microfinance teaches entrepreneurship in developing countries, providing the requisite capital to help the poor pull themselves out of poverty.
And the Penn Microfinance Club is taking this idea a step further. This summer some club members are traveling to Bali to do some hands-on work with Wahana Kria Putri Foundation (WKP), a local grass-roots organization that offers microloans to impoverished women and has an unpronounceable name (go ahead and try saying it).
What about the impoverished men - are they not worthy? According to PMC executive board member Tiger Lee, no, not really: "Women are better investments than men. Men have a tendency of using their loans to buy alcohol or gamble, whereas women will invest it in the business and use the profits on their children."
Considering the amount of money I have drunkenly lost in Atlantic City, I can't disagree. But still, it seems odd to fly half way around the world to work with a microfinance institution. What can a small cohort of Penn undergraduates accomplish?
"One of WKP's biggest challenges is its continuous struggle to provide proper training to its loan officers, as well as accurately evaluating the risk of its clients," said Ho. "Using the tools and models we have learned in class, our team will aim to solve this problem by constructing a training seminar that will teach the loan officers how to better manage their clients, financially and interpersonally."
So, young I-Bankers, let me tell you what to do with your newfound riches: Invest it in microfinance. Why not better the world while making a nice little profit? Besides, it's less illegal than selling peppermint schnapps to freshmen.
Jim Saksa is a College senior from Toms River, N.J. His e-mail address is email@example.com. You, Sir, are an Idiot appears on Mondays.Comments powered by Disqus
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