Behind Every Microloan is an Entrepreneur - MBA Lessons of Microfinance and Wealth Creation in Antigua, Guatemala

Monday, August 20, 2018TOPICS: International

USD students talk to a farmer in Antigua, Guatemala
begin quoteBy the conclusion of this course, students see first-hand the various aspects of microfinance, how different models are applied, the types of local businesses that utilize microloans, all in the context of the uniquely wonderful Guatemalan culture.

Professor Stephen Conroy’s summer class, Microfinance and Wealth Creation, includes the ultimate four-day study abroad experience in Antigua, Guatemala. For those who are unfamiliar with this field, “microfinance is essentially lending money to people who would otherwise not be able to get a loan except through a moneylender or loan shark,” explains Professor Conroy. The MBA class, which has been offered every other summer since 2008 starts with three lectures and coursework on campus to learn about the theoretical applications and models of microfinance, both here and abroad. Following this introduction, students take off to Antigua for a remarkable experience, getting the opportunity to immerse themselves in local communities and gain a deeper understanding of how microfinance helps small businesses - and communities - in Guatemala.

Students in front of a kiln purchased through a microfinance loan in Antigua, Guatemala

One lesson that Professor Conroy hopes to instill in his students through this course is that “behind every microloan is a microentrepreneur.” On their first two days in Antigua this past summer, students visited the local microfinance institutions FONDESOL and Asociación Awakening. They not only met with the owners and entrepreneurs of these microfinance organizations, but also with several of their clients who have utilized microloans to transform their businesses. One such client was a brick and tile maker who used his first microloan to buy a truck that allowed him to start delivering his product to clients in nearby communities. He then obtained a second microloan to purchase an additional kiln to expand production of his bricks and tiles.

“You can see (through examples like this) how microfinance is allowing companies to leverage up into a different market or to capture some of the value chain to increase their profits,” says Professor Conroy. “Students probably imagined that they would be seeing the poorest of the poor when they were reading about microfinance in class in San Diego, but one of the lesser known benefits of microfinance is that it allows middle-class people and businesses to access more capital and make more profit and, in turn, hire more people from the ‘bottom of the pyramid,’” explains Professor Conroy.

Coffee cherries in Antigua, Guatemala

On day three, students visited De la Gente, a co-op that enables coffee farmers to access the materials, equipment and capital necessary to grow, process and sell their coffee as processed beans, thus allowing them to move up the value chain and sell their coffee in a different, more-profitable market. Meeting the coffee farmers and clients of these microfinance lenders gave students the opportunity to have conversations they were not likely to have ever had. “A unique aspect of this experience is that students get the opportunity to talk with a brickmaker, or with a baker who has a bakery in their home, or with someone who has an auto body shop,” says Professor Conroy. “The local, small business owners were happy to answer  all of the students’ in-depth questions about their business operations, cost structure, and how a microloan was helping them create a more successful business and a better life for themselves and their community.”

On the last day, students took a cultural visit to the scenic Lake Atitlán and the nearby village, Santiago Atitlán. There, they reflected on their experiences while learning some Guatemalan history and its Mayan-influenced traditions. “It gave me great hope and joy to see how nonprofit microfinance institutions work hand-in-hand with the people in these regions to empower them and give them hope for a brighter future,” said Preston Strobel, MBA student.

Scenic photo of Guatemala

By the conclusion of this course, students see first-hand the various aspects of microfinance, how different models are applied, the types of local businesses that utilize microloans, all in the context of the uniquely wonderful Guatemalan culture. This is just one of many ways that students immerse themselves in the global perspective embedded in our USD School of Business curriculum. It goes to show that you don’t need to take an entire semester abroad to have a life-changing international experience.

Contact:

Renata Ramirez
renataramirez@sandiego.edu
(619) 260-4658