Khumawala, Frazier Develop Microfinance Education

Published on August 15, 2007

Support Model for India’s Improverished Children

Accounting Professor Saleha Khumawala and Brian Frazier (MBA '07)

Accounting Professor Saleha Khumawala and Brian Frazier (MBA ’07)

C.T. Bauer College of business professor and recent MBA alum have developed a framework that could add educational attainment to the microfinance model. In turn, they are demonstrating that this program can help the lives of people in poverty in other ways.

After their interest in microfinance was sparked by an India Abroad trip with Dr. Saleha Khumawala, Associate Professor of Accountancy and Taxation, in 2006, several Bauer College of Business students are working in the field, and Khumawala has collaborated with Brian Frazier (MBA ’07) on research that could add an educational component to the exploding microfinance industry.

A hot topic internationally, Microfinance is a socially responsible method of investment that is a viable and potentially profitable alternative to old models of charitable giving.

Microfinance is the term for providing small loans, often $100 or less, to people in extreme poverty. The funds allow them to grow their small businesses – farming, or jewelry making, for instance.

Assistant Secretary to the U.N., Dr. Hafiz Pasha wants to expand the pair's model.

Assistant Secretary to the U.N., Dr. Hafiz Pasha wants to expand the pair’s model.

Over the last year, Khumawala and Frazier, who recently took a job as operations manager at Ujjivan, a microfinance firm in Bangalore, designed a framework to use the tools and success of microfinance to support client children’s education. The model provides incentives for individuals to contribute to an educational fund for themselves or their children as they repay their microfinance loans. It is hoped that partnerships with foundations and other groups that will match the amount of money they contribute may help jumpstart educational opportunities for loan recipients and/or their children.

The project has been presented at several academic conferences, and Assistant Secretary to the U.N., Hafiz Pasha has talked to Khumawala about launching a pilot of their business loan/education model in places like India and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Frazier and two other students who took the trip to India in 2006 have begun exploring various approaches to microfinance. Frazier oversees 13 branches at Ujjivan, making sure they are run as efficiently as possible in order to ensure sustainability.

Another MBA student, Liz Vallette, spent this summer volunteering with the microlending agency, Kiva, in Azerbaijan. Kiva connects small investors with promising business people around the world, and Vallete interviewed hundreds of people who had received loans in order to post updates about how investments have affected their lives on Kiva’s web site, Vallette, who first became interested in international development while serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq in 2004, says the study abroad trip was her first introduction to microfinance.

“I think probably that microfinance is as effective, if not more effective, than the approach of when you have governments throwing a lot of money at places like Iraq,” said Vallette, who will work on extending the project begun by Khumawala and Frazier.

Yet another student who went on the trip has started a business which sells jewelry imported from India. When her business, Global Touch Jewelry, becomes profitable, Christine Munding, who earned an MBA at Philadelphia’s St. Joseph’s University, plans to invest the profits in Ujjivan. She also wants to use her web site,, as a portal for educating more people about microfinance.

Though not a student at UH, Munding went with the UH group to India. She works at a small electronics firm, but sees her entrepreneurial venture as a way of “using business skills as a catalyst for social change.”

For Frazier, what makes microfinance unique is that financial institutions are now “giving the poor a tool to take that step out of poverty and seeing extreme poverty as a market opportunity.”

He and Khumawala also see microfinance as a field of study that’s bound to attract more interest from Bauer students as it becomes more widely known. “With the diversity of the school, the number of international students, it’s bound to take off,” Frazier says.

By Julie Bonnin

About the University of Houston

The University of Houston, Texas’ premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 35,000 students.

About the Bauer College of Business

The C.T. Bauer College of Business has been in operation for more than 60 years at the University of Houston main campus. Through its five academic departments, the college offers a full-range of undergraduate, masters and doctoral degrees in business. The Bauer College is fully accredited by the AACSB International – the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. In August 2000, Houston business leader and philanthropist Charles T. (Ted) Bauer endowed the College of Business with a $40 million gift. In recognition of his generosity, the college was renamed the C.T. Bauer College of Business.