A Carleton College junior is part of a team raising money to provide loans to small Ugandan businesses ravaged by COVID-19.

So far, organizers, including Carleton student Becky Shapiro, have raised just under $3,000. Their goal is to raise $100,000 within the next two months. The loans, known as microfinancing, helps the poorest citizens, who typically don’t have access to traditional banks, receive needed funds.

Raising that amount would allow loans to be provided for 1,000 Ugandans with the goal of easing them out of poverty. Based on that funding, 6,000 children could be educated.

Shapiro has always been interested in microfinance. She reached out to Clark Varin, co-founder of Muvule Financing, and he took her on as a mentee. Muvule has teamed up with Mercy Aid to raise the money on GoFundMe. Muvule is a microfinancing institution in Uganda that helps entrepreneurs start and grow small businesses.

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the Ugandan economy as draconian lockdowns leave 80% of Ugandans out of work. Those employees included many who work as day laborers or in stores.

According to the United Nations Development Programme, the Africa is highly vulnerable to COVID-19, given fragile public health systems and close ties to China. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the crisis could exacerbate Africa’s already stagnant growth. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, employment and population across the continent is expected to decline by nearly 50%.

“It’s been really great to get experience in this field, and I’ve been learning a ton,” Shapiro said.

To her, the fundraising effort shows the need to help people around the world, some of whom have nothing. She views it as not only beneficial on a humanitarian level but also economically. She also sees helping other countries through issuing microfinance loans as being a replacement for spending money on building weapons.

“These countries provide new markets for our own goods and international trade,” she said.

“I want to help people by engaging my own intellectual and monetary privilege.”

An economics major, Shapiro is minoring in cross-cultural studies and political science.

She is aware of the stigma attached with aid funding. However, she said microfinance loans are different and empower people financially with starting their own businesses and creating connections within their community. She added 95% of microloans are given to women.

Varin spoke highly of the work Shapiro has done throughout the process, including grasping the microfinance industry while at the same time studying for exams and finishing school.

“She’s doing great so far,” Varin said.

To Varin, Northfielders need to pay attention to the COVID-19-induced humanitarian crisis unfolding around the globe. He noted Uganda is in danger of losing 10 years of its economic development as the crisis continues and the country is considered to be by far the most entrepreneurial country in the world, with 60% of the workforce being entrepreneurs. The next closest country is Taiwan at 30%.

Varin said microfinance loans are different from donations in that they serve as hand ups, not handouts.

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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