Lending a Helping Hand


Founder of Spartan Global, Michael Thelen, with entrepreneurs the organization helped fund.

While watching Hulu, one advertisement made everything click for Michael Thelen, a 2009 graduate of Michigan State University. The advertisement was for Kiva, a site that allows users to open an account and lend out money. Thelen was looking to hand out loans to those abroad, a microfinance initiative that he became interested in early during his college career. Microfinancing is also the basis of Spartan Global Development Fund, a student-run non-profit organization in East Lansing. The idea behind microfinance is quite simple. “It’s probably one of the best tools for reducing or ending poverty,” said Dan Zaharia, president of Spartan Global. “It gives people the ability to break themselves free from the cycle of poverty. Without credit through loans, you can’t start a business. It’s not a ready-made solution or an invasive intervention tool. When donating food, people don’t realize you’re harming the economy. Microfinance is different in that it enables people. You’re giving a hand-up, not a hand-out .” Spartan Global started off as an MSU student group led by Thelen and gained non-profit status shortly after Zaharia became president in 2010. One of the biggest things they’re doing today as a non-profit is teaming up with another organization, Esperanza en Acción. Spartan Global wanted to make loans more directly and no longer through Kiva. Paulette Stenzel, a professor of international business law at MSU and the academic advisor for Spartan Global, put them in touch with Esperanza who began their own microloan project. Teaming up with Spartan Global gives them a boost and more funds to work with. In teaming up with Esperanza, Zaharia couldn’t have asked for a better partnership for Spartan Global. “All of the qualities of both groups really make this possible,” he said. “They’re a fair trade organization that didn’t necessarily have money to do continuous microloaning, but had tight-knit relationships with the artisans they worked with, so we were a perfect match.” Esperanza offers business consulting, which works hand-in-hand with microfinancing. You can’t have one without the other, Zaharia said. Of the $1,500 Spartan Global has loaned out through Esperanza, $700 has already been repaid. Zaharia explained it as a revolving door of credit. Once the money gets paid back, it gets lent right back out. “Microfinance is all about helping people help themselves,” Stenzel said. “And I’m working with this group of young people who really get it. Michael came to me with incredible passion, told me what he was about and I couldn’t say ‘no.’ I recognized the passion in these amazing young people, and I have not regretted it for one second.” For more information on Spartan Global, visit www.spartanglobalfund.org or contact them at info@spartanglobalfund.org.

Tags: nonprofit, Spartan Global

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