Upper Canada College IB1 student Alnur Kassim-Lakha was so inspired by what he saw and learned during a 2012 internship with Micro Africa in Kenya that he took it upon himself to educate young Canadians about the huge benefits that small loans can provide to struggling people in developing nations.
Kassim-Lakha returned to Toronto on a mission and formed the Microfinance Club at UCC last year. It has attracted about 30 members, who attend meetings on Wednesdays after school, and raised $3,000 from food sales and raffles. Corporate sponsorships are being sought to raise additional funds for the cause.
Money is loaned, via a partnership with Micro Africa, to deserving applicants in Kenya in amounts averaging approximately $350. Students decide the interest rate (the average is 12 per cent) and term of the loans (which usually range from three to six months).
Recipients have included shopkeepers and a plastic recycling business, while the agriculture industry is generally avoided because of its high risk nature. Loan repayments have started coming back, and successful borrowers are welcome to take out additional loans. Money earned from interest payments is reinvested for future loans.
Kassim-Lakha was invited to speak at other schools about microfinance and made a presentation about it this past summer as part of Shad Valley, a four-week program for senior high school students that embraces science, technology, entrepreneurship, engineering and mathematics. Students reached out to him and said they wanted to start similar programs as what he’d created at UCC, and the Canadian Student Microfinance Alliance (CSMA) was formed soon afterward.
More than 20 schools are now involved, including some that are part of Horizons, a learning partnership program between UCC students and those from Toronto inner-city schools. The CSMA has received $4,000 in donations and is involved in three other projects in addition to offering loans.
The UCC Horizons Program for Financial Literacy and Microfinance allows students from across Ontario to develop their financial literacy skills through interactive programs, games and lessons.
“We teach kids about interest rates, bidding and investing, which are skills that you need to have,” says Kassim-Lakha.
The CSMA is also developing online finance lessons and a business help phone line to assist teen entrepreneurs, while a lending initiative involving Canada’s First Nations people is also in its early stages.
Kassim-Lakha plans on studying business and finance at university, but still plans to be involved with the CSMA. His goal is for the UCC Microfinance Club to have $50,000 to lend by the time he graduates in 2015, and he’s encouraging and mentoring younger students to keep the momentum going after he leaves the College.
“It’s like balancing philanthropy and entrepreneurship,” says Kassim-Lakha.
“I want to be able to share my experience with people so that they develop a desire to help and contribute and make a positive impact. Microfinance is so unique in that it lets people do so much and it makes such a big impact for so little money.”