A few dollars, a lot of hope

Serrano Legrand interned with a microfinance firm in the Dominican Republic. Photo by Craig Bailey

December 22, 2009

In the Dominican Republic to study microlending in poor communities, Serrano Legrand emerged from an internship with a small microfinance firm with a renewed understanding of the dimensions of struggle and poverty.

The Brooklyn, New York, native, says his field study program this past spring with the firm Esperanza (“hope” in Spanish), taught him the value of microloans in fostering an entrepreneurial mindset that can help pull communities out of poverty. Microloans are typically between $25 and $200.

Legrand, a junior finance and entrepreneurship major and Gates Millennium Scholar, traveled to the Dominican Republic through Northeastern’s Social Enterprise Institute. The Dialogue of Civilizations-based program equips students with knowledge of social entrepreneurship through courses in microfinance, social investment and impact measurement. 

As a field researcher, he and others drove through sugar cane fields, rivers, and rocky terrain to remote areas to meet with borrowers, most of whom live on $2 a day.

A highlight was seeing first hand how microloans worked to improve lives. In one case, a woman who noticed children begging obtained a microloan and eventually helped create a school for 300 children. 

“One woman changed the lives of so many children through loans, and her ability to take advantage and give them a second opportunity,” he says. “It was incredible to see the impact small amounts of money could have on these students.” 

Seeing the school, and other examples of success through microloans, cemented his belief in just how helpful the loans can be. “It was obvious that the microloans really empowered and developed peoples’ lives,” he says. “With people like the woman who created the school, and many others, it gave them a chance to create a better life for themselves.”

In Brooklyn, Legrand saw the difficulty and stress that comes when a steady paycheck cannot be counted on. He was often struck by bleak images of people on the street, struggling with poverty.

Looking toward the future, Legrand hopes one day to combine his interest in finance, entrepreneurship and microfinance to create a business plan to better aid poor people in this country.

He has developed a strong grounding in corporate finance and business strategy through his course work and through his current co-op with Dunkin’ Brands, owner of Dunkin’ Donuts.

“I want to create a business to empower families and lives through education and other opportunities,” he says. “One of the things I realized in the Dominican Republic was the universality of poverty.” 

To learn more about Dialogue of Civilizations at Northeastern, visit: http://www.northeastern.edu/internationalaffairs/learning_coop/dialogue/

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