Clinton Group Impressed by Poverty-alleviation Projects
Coming Out of Bauer College’s Microfinance Program
For the last few months, Joseph Konkel has been working with his fellow students, developing a project that will help Navajo people empower themselves on their own terms.
Konkel and the students from the University of Houston C. T. Bauer College of Business “Principles of Microfinance” course are trying to work with Navajo organizations to create opportunities for the people defined in a Navajo context. By conducting research in Shiprock, NM, and Whitrock, NM, to define entrepreneurship in the Navajo Nation, unemployment in the Navajo Nation and Navajo consumer behavior, the MicroFinance Initiative and Navajo organizations hope to see entrepreneurial efforts transformed into activities that generate not only monetary capital but also social and spiritual capital.
Now, Bauer’s microfinance students have made a big impression on the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U). Konkel and teammates Markee Johnson, Grace Moceri and Daniel Pinto have been invited to share their work at the fifth CGI U, a three-day conference running from March 30 to April 1, 2012, at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. (Besides the Navajo Nation initiative, the Bauer team will also share its plans for poverty-alleviation projects in Peru, Houston and the Yucatan Peninsula.)
Hosted by former President Bill Clinton and modeled after his Clinton Global Initiative, CGI U brings together some of the world’s most innovative social problem solvers. Celebrity speakers such as “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart and Chelsea Clinton will join non-profit leaders and entrepreneurs from around the globe at the event.
Dr. Saleha Khumawala, the Bauer Professor of Accounting who leads the college’s Microfinance Program, credits Konkel with securing the coveted CGI U invitation. Konkel is president of Bauer’s MicroFinance Initiative (MFi), an organization for graduate students. Khumawala is the MFi faculty adviser.
“The CGI U basically engages the next generation of leaders,” Khumawala says. “These students are our future leaders. They are already committed. That’s why I am so proud of them.”
Explaining his passion for microfinance, Konkel says: “I have a very strong calling toward social-justice issues. I believe that one of the biggest causes of social injustice is extreme poverty, and a lot of extreme poverty in the world is actually a shockingly solvable problem. It’s just that there hasn’t been that will or drive from the right sectors to make that change happen.”
That’s where Bauer’s Microfinance Program comes in — with financial help and guidance that can set the underserved on a path to self-reliance. The microfinance projects, outlined in what CGI U calls “Commitments to Action,” made the Bauer students a perfect fit for the 2012 conference, which will explore five focus areas: Education; Environment & Climate Change; Peace & Human Rights; Poverty Alleviation; and Public Health.
But the Bauer delegates won’t simply be attending the event. They have also been accorded Exchange status, which means they will have a booth for sharing information about UH Bauer and MFi.
“When you are part of the Exchange,” Khumawala says, “you actually get floor space. Your projects get table space. … This really helps promote and brand the University of Houston Bauer College and our Microfinance Program in front of 1,200 students from across the country.”
In addition to the Navajo Nation initiative, the Bauer students want to create opportunities for salsa entrepreneurs in the Yucatan empowered by Fundacion Ayuda Para Ayudar, led by Madre Aurora in collaboration with the University of St. Thomas SEP, which Konkel led in 2009 and 2010. Their Peru Initiative aims to provide a portable, solar-powered cooking method — called the HotPot — to people living in extreme poverty. Indoor pollution from traditional cooking methods is blamed for 47,000 deaths each year in the South American nation.
Closer to home, Bauer’s Microfinance Program is partnering with ACCION Texas, Inc., the Heartspring Methodist Foundation and Mission Milby Community Development Corporation. to provide financial literacy training to refugees and people with lower incomes in Southeast Houston and surrounding communities. UH students will also mentor community kids and encourage them to complete high school.
Such projects let Bauer students in the “Principles of Microfinance” course put their financial education to real-world use. “What’s really great about a microfinance project,” Konkel says, “is that everything we learn in the classroom — supply chain, marketing, even managerial analysis — we can apply real world to small-scale projects and sort of get our feet wet in the business world.”
Konkel, a Bellaire native, decided to work in microfinance while attending the University of St. Thomas. He has attended CGIU twice before — in 2009 and 2010. “My goal is for Bauer microfinance to become a featured commitment next year,” he said, “which I was able to accomplish at St. Thomas. … Once we become a featured commitment, then CGIU will actually produce a short documentary on the MicroFinance Initiative and the different projects we are involved with. And they will present us to the conference.”
He would also love to get a “one-on-one” with President Bill Clinton. “Hopefully I’m building enough connections that one day I’ll be able to do that,” Konkel says. By then, maybe he can give President Clinton a bottle of salsa from the Yucatan.
By Wendell Brock