“What can I do now, in my four years here, that’s going to create something impactful?”
Sripriya Navalpakam isn’t just an entrepreneur: She’s an activist.
A Business sophomore, Navalpakam knew she wanted to go to business school when she was in eighth grade.
She joined the University’s MPowered Entrepreneurship program her freshman year — to work on social justice issues — and was given the tools and training to become an action-based person in the world of business.
“I’ve always had this love for microfinance in the developing world,” Navalpakam said.
She came across Lend for America, an organization that seeks to empower upcoming social entrepreneurs to build business and communities through innovative microfinance.
Navalpakam took what she learned from her fellowship with that organization in Rhode Island and brought it back to Ann Arbor, where she and Business Sophomore Niranjana Kannan started ReSource Fund.
“My passion personally for ReSource Fund comes from the fact that I go to an elite business school — where we learn so much about business and its effect on communities and things like that — but I’ve always thought: How can I use that to empower the community members in my area?” Navalpakam said. “This is the perfect solution for it: providing financial resources to a low-income community member to help them develop a toolkit of skills to lift them out of poverty.”
At the center of Navalpakam’s work is the intersection of business and activism. To her, social entrepreneurship means the work she’s doing should always be action-based.
A large part of ReSource Fund is connecting with the community. Navalpakam and Kannan sit down with people in the Ypsilanti area and talk about what keeps them up at night, what they want and then try to design their product around these needs.
In addition to Navalpakam and Kannan, ReSource Fund is made up of a team of financial coaches, who are all University students. The coaches work one-on-one with clients on issues like banking, debt management, credit building and other personal financial services. ReSource Fund charges a program fee of $120 to the client, spread across $10 monthly payments, and then uses that money to facilitate a conversation with the credit bureaus to show that the client is making time efficient payments to help increase their credit score.
“So the cool thing about the program is that not only are we working on financial issues with the client, but we’re also at the same time increasing their credit score,” Navalpakam said. “It’s a really unique model.”
Her feverish passion to fight predatory lending is what drives Navalpakam’s desire to help low-income families with their financial problems. She’s confident that ReSource Fund can grow, and between her classes and other commitments as a University student, she’s still looking for ways to improve the organization’s services and touch more members of the community.
“That’s what social entrepreneurship is at its heart: doing something that has purpose, and at the same time, creating a sustainable way to go about it.”
Here are the other Students of the Year.