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Tiny Loans, Big Dreams

By Eric F. Spina

It didn’t surprise me that all eight graduating seniors in Flyer Consulting had locked down jobs before Christmas break.

When I met with Flyer Consulting adviser Vince Lewis and the leaders of the 40-student strong pro bono nonprofit consulting firm in the School of Business Administration, I immediately saw their passion for using their business and marketing acumen to serve others.

The rigorous, student-run training that Flyer Consulting interns undergo and the team-based consulting work they do for clients make our juniors and seniors stand out in their quest for internships and full-time employment — and also speaks to their desire to truly have an impact in the lives of others.

And to further extend their impact, Flyer Consulting students have branched out from developing marketing, financial, operations, and technical solutions for local nonprofits like Mission of Mary Cooperative and Five Rivers Health Centers to partnering with the Marianists in Nairobi, Kenya, in an innovative business-growth program.

Starting this fall, they’ll support the dreams of budding entrepreneurs — mostly women — in one of the least-developed parts of the world by awarding microloans to support start-ups and small business expansion.

With $30,000 in private support from generous University of Dayton alumni, students will work with Brother Chola Mulenga, S.M., director of IMANI Marianists, and his staff in Nairobi to evaluate applications and award funds for businesses like hair salons, tailoring and knitting shops, grocery stores, cafes and the like. “Flyer Development,” the newly formed arm of Flyer Consulting, anticipates awarding $10,000 in microloans to small groups of entrepreneurs in the first year and, if they are as successful as the Marianists in Kenya, they’ll reap a near-perfect payback return over time.

“The program will give the students a great opportunity to contribute to social economic development and be agents of change,” says Brother Chola.

It’s hard for Americans to understand how a simple $500 loan could lift a family in a developing country out of poverty, but it’s a lesson our students will learn first hand.

“When you consider that almost half of the world’s population lives on about $2,000 a year, just $500 or $600 can make a difference for an entrepreneur with a good idea. Students will quickly discover they can have a huge impact on someone’s life somewhere else in the world,” says Lewis, director of the L. William Crotty Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership. “These are lessons business students don’t normally learn in the classroom.”

Two of next year’s managing directors agree.

“We’re acting as business analysts in a real-world setting internationally,” says Sabrina Dunbar ’20, a finance and English major. “Over the past year we’ve literally built an organization from scratch — as 20-year-olds. We wrote a mission statement and a business plan, researched legal issues and made international contacts, including meeting with our Marianist partners on campus this summer to talk about how we’ll launch the program.”

Chloe Voelker ’20, an MIS and entrepreneurship major, calls the experience humbling. “While we know there is still so much work ahead, the visit from IMANI opened our eyes to the endless possibility we have to make a global impact from our laptops on campus in Dayton, Ohio.”

I’m thrilled that our students are collaborating with the Marianists, who offer technical and vocational training to more than 300 youth annually in Nairobi. Without fanfare, the Marianists are focused on instilling self reliance, cultivating hope — and igniting the full potential in all those they touch through their work.

As Brother Chola eloquently writes about IMANI’s mission:

“One song can spark a moment. One flower can wake the dream.
One tree can start a forest.
One bird can herald spring.”

That’s a powerful lesson for students. Positive change happens one life at a time.

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