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The Measure Of Microenterprise
Former economics major Kwadwo Frimpong ’09 remembers very clearly a significant moment in his undergraduate education that played a role in his progression towards a career in international development. It happened during a class with business management professor Michael Harvey.
“A lot of his classes involved leadership and organizational behavior, but I remember him one day telling us to always remember that we’re global citizens, that we need to know what’s going on around us,” recalls Frimpong, a recent MBA grad who is pursuing a master’s degree in international affairs at Columbia University. “It was these experiences among many others that led me to applying myself to learning as much as I could about what’s happening globally.”
He also declared a minor in business management and benefited from Professor Susan Vowels’ mentorship. As part of SIFE (Students in Free Enterprise), the two worked together to develop the “Shoes for Ghana” program. He took part in Model African Union and Model United Nations programs. And as a counterpoint to classes in international finance and quantitative statistics, he found himself on stage. “It was my first time in a play, and I had a great time,” he says. He also performed in several international cultural events and musical open mic nights.
Still, Frimpong is much more comfortable on the international stage.
Born in Ghana and growing up in Botswana, he is particularly interested in helping the most impoverished individuals in sub-Saharan Africa build better lives through targeted rural financial services— an area that if effectively interwoven with community social programs, the private sector, and formal national policies can have a big impact on the economic sustainability of rural communities. At Washington College, his senior thesis explored the pros and cons of applying the Grameen Bank microfinance model in Africa. At Columbia, his academic focus is economic development – centered on social entrepreneurship and sustainable development in Africa, particularly in the area of microfinance.
“What I want to do moving forward in the short-term is to gain experience with a development consulting firm or a non-governmental organization such as the World Bank or perhaps a social enterprise in a strategic planning and implementation capacity—trying to improve the growth and delivery of finance programs in sub-Saharan Africa’s most rural areas,” he says. He also wants to address what he sees as a significant challenge with economic stimulus programs in the region—the lack of quantifiable data about the efficacy of any given program at the grassroots level and business-minded solutions that increase their financial sustainability (models that pay for themselves). “In the long term, within the next 5-10 years, I would like to start a pan-African based consulting firm that researches, designs, and evaluates sustainable grass-roots based rural financial models that can be scaled up and better integrated within the formal economy to benefit these communities,” he says.
“What’s the short-term impact? What’s the measure of its delivery to people on the ground? Assessment, measurement and achieving business sustainability, that’s the area I want to focus on,” Frimpong says.
For now, he is taking advantage of hands-on learning opportunities in New York City. As part of the Columbia Impact Investing Initiative, a graduate student-run organization that offers business-consulting services to social entrepreneurs, he worked on a project last fall to assess the socioeconomic climate of various countries and to develop a market strategy for a microfinance start-up client; this semester he is working with a group endeavoring to improve education retention rates in the U.S.
It’s one more step in the journey that began when a family friend from Botswana recommended Washington College to him. “What was important to me was the small class size and liberal arts focus. That’s something that I really valued. Also there was a big international student presence. That was something that I valued as well. It was a very good experience.”