Microfinance Hails Taxicab Drivers

Published on August 13, 2009

Microfinance Students Give Houston Taxi Drivers Business Advice

Taxicab drivers must jockey for passengers while running a business on four wheels.

Taxicab drivers must jockey for passengers while running a business on four wheels.

A group of graduate students from the University of Houston C. T. Bauer College of Business collaborated with a local non-profit agency in the spring to help some of the city’s taxi drivers get their careers in gear.

The Principles of Microfinance course, which is taught by Associate Professor Saleha Khumawala and open to MBA, MS Accountancy and MS Finance candidates, focuses on putting microfinance (providing small loans to low-income entrepreneurs and helping them become self-reliant) into practice.

“You can give a person money to start up a business and ask them to pay you back in installments, but that person will not be able to go far without proper skills and training to run that business,” said Natasha Hussein (’09), a recent MS Accountancy graduate who took the course. “In microfinance, the lender ensures that borrowers can become successful in their efforts. It is important to create that bond and relationship between the borrower and the lender.”

In the spring, students partnered with the Alliance for Multicultural Community Service on a project that created a system to review microloan applications, a template for business plans that could be used by loan recipients and a means to collect payments after loans were granted.

“The students worked with refugees and lower income citizens who applied for microloans from the Alliance, helping them in preparing a business plan, evaluating its feasibility, budgeting, providing training and creating a market for their services so they are able to pay back their loans,” Khumawala said.

“This project gave students the tremendous opportunity to apply the theories and the skills they learned in the classroom and help low-income families in Houston become self-reliant,” she added.

Natasha Hussain (MS ACCY ’09) said the microfinance course allowed her to apply all the skills she learned at UH Bauer in a real-world setting.

Natasha Hussain (MS ACCY ’09) said the microfinance course allowed her to apply all the skills she learned at UH Bauer in a real-world setting.

In addition, the students developed a program for taxi drivers, a population that included a large number of microloan recipients who were having trouble drumming up business to make the money needed to pay back the loans. The group worked with the Alliance to develop an agreement with the organization’s partners to use the taxi service when needed.

“This will create business for the drivers and allow them to repay their loans,” Hussein said. “Our class also created fliers and had a meeting with the taxi drivers to discuss how to attract more business.”

The depth and breadth of the project’s scope allowed the students to use skills they had developed in many UH Bauer courses. “Whether it was accounting, finance, economics, business communication, entrepreneurship, marketing or management, all the skills I learned from taking these courses were helpful in conducting this project and were put into application,” Hussein said.

“I have always thought to myself, ‘How can I use the knowledge I have gained at Bauer to assist people in need and for their betterment?’” she added. “I found my answer after taking the microfinance course.”

Hussein and the other students were so inspired by their experience that they formed a student organization at UH Bauer called the Microfinance Initiative at University of Houston, or MFI at UH. Although Hussein has graduated from the college, she said she plans to stay active in both the organization and in microfinance through MFI’s alumni advisory board.

By Jessica Robertson