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May 15, 2018

MSU students reveal impact of Guatemala field work

Michigan State University student groups took to the podium at the James Madison College Research Showcase to present research that they conducted throughout the academic year. The expansive research included nuclear energy in Poland and the rise of the ultra-processed food industry in Brazil.

The Spartan Global Development Fund, or SDGF, a student organization that manages microloans to entrepreneurs in developing countries, presented their work and shared experiences they had to see their impact firsthand.

The SGDF panel included members Scott Lyman, president, Jenaca Cryder, fundraising and development team leader, and Paulette Stenzel, advisor and professor of sustainability and international business law in the Broad College of Business.

Since their start in 2009, Spartan Global Development Fund has managed more than $14,000 in microloans to field workers as well $18,000 in loans through Kiva, an online lending platform. The microloans are all interest-free and have a 99% repayment rate.

“All of this is done interest-free, which is kind of the hallmark of Spartan Global,” Lyman said.

The SGDF is supported by donations the students raise themselves. They work with field partners, or humanitarian non-profits, to directly reach people in developing countries who are need of microloans, which include artisans to coffee farmers.

For the first time, SGDF took a research trip to Guatemala to see their impact firsthand.

On their trip, SGDF members met the entrepreneurs they loaned, and got hands-on experience working alongside them. The students helped Carlos Diaz, a metalworker and artist, Victor Catavi, a coffee roaster and processor and Johnny and Alberto Hernandez, a father-son coffee farming team. Students had the opportunity to help craft knives and pick coffee cherries, as well as make and drink the coffee that they picked.

Very quickly, the SGDF realized that the work they do is more than just a business.

“Going down there and actually seeing that, yes, microfinance is actually a business transaction on paper, but there are humans and stories behind it, to me, completely erased the business end of it,” Lyman said. “There are people and lives and stories attached to what microfinance is and I think that’s such an important learning experience for us as students.”

Cryder said that the trip has also helped the organization to have a more humancentric approach.

“In the past, people haven’t been able to directly see the benefits like we were able to do in Guatemala,” Cryder said. “We’re viewing this not as just a financial transaction, but seeing the people behind it and seeing who we’re lending to and learning about their lives. Instead of this just being a traditional business or a microfinance institution, we’re really trying to push the humancentric approach.”

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