By Julia Grippe
Students involved with Spartan Global at MSU have impacted the lives of entrepreneurs in developing countries by making microloans to help sustain their businesses.
Starting off as a student club in 2009, Spartan Global has now turned into a successful non-profit organization here at MSU as of May 2011.
According to the Spartan Global website, the organization is made up of a “collection of students, professors and alumni dedicated to the social and financial betterment of people around the globe.”
Economics senior Dan Zaharia is the current president of the organization. He said Spartan Global is an organization that gives microloans to small entrepreneurs around the world who need it via Kiva.org.
Kiva allows Spartan Global and other loaners to read about the individual circumstances of the people in developing countries who need loans in order to be lifted from poverty, Zaharia said. Once a person is chosen, donators can lend money in increments of $25 to help chosen recipients sustain their businesses, families and lives.
However, Zaharia said Spartan Global wants to move beyond Kiva because it does not reach the people who don’t have access to the internet.
The founder of Spartan Global, Michael Thelen, graduated from MSU in December 2009.
“My passion for global poverty related issues was born when I spent one-on-one time working with young orphaned boys in Guatemala City and I experienced in a very visceral way, how the difficulties these boys were destined to face in their lives as the result of inaction by those with the ability to do something,” Thelen said.
“I realized I had a choice to do something, or do nothing,” he added. “When I give a speech, or a start to get passionate about microfinance or other issues, I’m still thinking about Franscisco, one of the boys who I worked with in the winter of 2006.”
Like Thelen, Paulette Stenzel, a professor of international business law at MSU and the advisor of Spartan Global, is very passionate about the organization.
“I am totally committed to sustainability projects,” she said.
Stenzel said Spartan Global started out with four loans in July of 2009. Since then the organization has made 349 loans to date.
“In micro-loaning, the repayment rate is higher than any other type of loan in any advanced western country,” Zaharia said. This means people are more likely and able to pay back their loans when they receive a microloan.
The types of people that receive micro loans from Spartan Global basically have nothing, Zaharia said. With a little bit of money and intuition in the form of business training, they are able to provide for their family and keep their businesses going.
“By financially empowering them, they can lift themselves from poverty in a dignified manner,” Zaharia said. “Usually, ready-made solutions fail because there is a lack of cultural understanding.”
For instance, if an organization tries to stop hunger in a country by simply donating food, it can actually do damage, Zaharia said. For example, it can run farmers out of business and isn’t generally sustainable because the country is not receiving tools or methods to stop hunger by itself.
Spartan Global is excited to have obtained their non-profit status in May 2011, Stenzel said, adding that people are more likely make donations to a non-profit organzation because the donor can receive tax deductions by donating.
Spartan Global also signed a contract with Esperanza en Acción (Hope in Action), a fair trade organization based in Nicaragua that has strong ties in the Lansing area, Stenzel said.
According to the Esperanza en Acción website, the organization provides “Nicaraguan artisans with the tools to lift themselves out of poverty by offering technical assistance and quality consultation in addition to education and practice in calculating a fair wage.”
Fair trade is a social movement to make fair wages, to give more money to the producers and to promote respect for cultural identity, Stenzel said.
The Esperanza en Acción website states that fair trade is “specifically focused on people in third world countries, who have traditionally been exploited through trade agreements that seek to maximize retailers and intermediaries profits at the expense of the artisans.”
“Microfinance and fair trade are companion tools,” Stenzel said. Therefore, by working together, Spartan Global and Esperanza en Acción can create a more powerful impact.
“Education and access to finance are huge in influencing people’s standards of living,” Zaharia said. “We are extremely grateful for Esperanza.”
“I really like breaking the paradigm that no matter what you do, your efforts are ineffective,” he added. “With a little bit of work, networking and intuition, we have helped a lot of people that need it.”
Spartan Global meets every other Tuesday in 110 Berkey Hall, and the organization is looking to expand membership and find people for the next executive board.