How did a senior exec­u­tive for a local life sci­ences tech­nology com­pany, and former chief legal officer of a New York Stock Exchange com­pany become an expo­nent of microlending?

My busi­ness took me around the world, including to devel­oping coun­tries, where I saw great poverty and a lack of oppor­tu­nity. My busi­ness, which focused on drug dis­covery and devel­op­ment, often could not help in these com­mu­ni­ties, where the infra­struc­ture and eco­nomic devel­op­ment simply wasn’t present. I decided that I would return some day to try to help people without oppor­tu­nity to improve their lives, through busi­ness. Cre­ating oppor­tu­nity, espe­cially through pro­viding cap­ital and teaching entre­pre­neur­ship, was my goal for a “second” career.

What is the suc­cess rate of microlending in helping the poor become self-​​sufficient?

The reported suc­cess rate is very high, in terms of repay­ment rates for microloans, which is often above 95% (meaning, a 5% or less default rate). Many con­sider micro­credit as the most sus­tain­able and effec­tive model for helping the poor and dis­en­fran­chised in devel­oping coun­tries to improve their eco­nomic lives, and in turn, enable them to feed, edu­cate and shelter their chil­dren. The great legacy of micro­fi­nance will be the impact it has on the chil­dren of bor­rowers, and the signs con­tinue to be positive.

Per­son­ally, what is it like when you hear about, or meet the recip­ient of a loan who turned his or her life around with just a few hun­dred dol­lars? Is there any one story that always stays with you?
It is always very heart­warming to hear sto­ries of self-​​improvement via micro­credit and entre­pre­neur­ship. We saw the impact of micro­credit in the town­ships, or “slums” of South Africa, where single mothers for the first time were able to meet all of the needs of their chil­dren, espe­cially to get them into school and pre­pared to create a new future for their children.

It seems that increasing num­bers of North­eastern stu­dents are learning about this area of lending, some even trav­eling to refugee camps and poor coun­tries to help the needy learn to earn a living. To what do you attribute this interest and dedication?

We have been trying to stim­u­late stu­dent interest on campus, and the addi­tion of aca­d­emic classes into our cur­riculum appears to have had a pos­i­tive impact. We started with just a one-​​credit sem­inar with 10 stu­dents, and now we offer three classes each year with more than 100 stu­dents at the under­grad­uate level. We also offer a class at the grad­uate level.

How do these classes moti­vate stu­dents?
We see the class­room as a place to stim­u­late interest in field­work, where stu­dents are greatly impacted by what they see and do, in places like Africa and right here in the dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties in Boston neigh­bor­hoods, and their sto­ries fur­ther help to expand our reach on campus.

How many stu­dents have incor­po­rated microlending into their education?

We have more than 100 under­grad­uate stu­dents who take a class in social entre­pre­neur­ship (where micro­fi­nance is a part) or micro­fi­nance each year.

Has the world of micro­fi­nance been affected by the global eco­nomic climate?

Very little, in fact micro­fi­nance has con­tinued to progress and expand during the eco­nomic down­turn. Bor­rowers in the micro­credit con­text are largely out­side of the credit mar­kets in the devel­oped world, and thus haven’t suf­fered as much of the contraction.