Friday
March 19
2010

Bryan Farris

Vittana March Microfinance Madness: Its Not Too Late!

March Madness, a two week long free-for-all college basketball tournament, is an annual American tradition. Young college basketball players from the nation’s top 65 teams will convene in 4 locations around the country and this year, the Final Four teams will face off in Indianapolis for the championship. Each year, millions of people make bets on the tournament: they compete with friends, form office pools and even bet online. Many compete by entering their predictions of the tournament in a bracket, while others participate in a Calcutta or “auction” of teams. Money flies around pretty quickly this time of year as everyone decides to back their personal favorite teams.

Vittana.org, a person-to-person micro loan site entirely focused on student loans (described in detail here), recently launched its own tournament: March Microfinance Madness. The idea is that groups form lending teams and compete to see which team can lend the most overall before March ends. The madness is also called “the Vittana education challenge”. In that light, I challenge each of you to do more this year than just bet on who will win the NCAA tournament. In addition to basketball, why don’t you make a bet on individuals in need of education?

Students on Vittana’s site have already demonstrated that they have the drive to fight adversity to pursue an education; at this point they just need help with funding. Vittana allows you to make a small, interest-free loan to a student (in a fashion similar to Kiva.org). Once the student graduates, they repay you from their new earnings. Traditionally, microfinance has been focused on providing loans to fund small businesses and capital investments, but Vittana has proven the concept that making loans to students makes sense.

Recently, I had the pleasure of presenting with Kushal Chakrabarti, Vittana CEO and co-founder, at an event at the University of California at Berkeley meant to promote social entrepreneurship. While Berkeley students protested fee increases, Kushal, Chris Cuellar and I presented the concept of micro student loans and the value of providing education to those at the BoP. In his presentation, Kushal introduced the audience to Haward, one of Vittana’s very first graduates. Haward, a 22 year old, had tried to pay is own way through college but ran into a number of roadblocks. Kushal described the situation facing many prospective students, “In most developing countries, you can’t take out student loans, you either pay the tuition (which can be expensive) up front, or you don’t go to college.” Haward’s experience is a beacon of light for students out there who may not have the cash up front to attend school. After recently graduating, Haward became a lawyer and has already repaid $232 of his $1,044 loan.

Earlier this march, Vittana surpassed $100K in cumulative loans and has since raised another $15K. March madness, however, is just about to begin. As you scramble to put together your brackets and office pools, consider betting on March Microfinance Madness as well. Next Billion is about “[bringing] together the community of business leaders, social entrepreneurs, NGOs, policy makers, and academics who want to explore the connection between development and enterprise.” As a community, we have the opportunity to make a difference – and win the March Microfinance Madness tournament. Visit Vittana.org and join the NextBillion lending team (I created one here) today. Make a bet on education.

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