Correction appended: The original version of this story referred to economist Muhammad Yunus as Indian. Though Yunus’s birthplace was part of India when Yunus was born, it is now part of Bangladesh and Yunus identifies as Bangladeshi.

Ginger Marcillo is asking for $1,200 to expand the inventory of her door-to-door clothing sales business in Ecuador.

Kamal Bayishov is asking for $600 to buy 10 sheep so he can begin breeding them and selling them in the Bilasuvar region of Azerbaijan.

Emem Okoh is asking for $600 to buy more food for her restaurant in Nigeria’s Lagos state.

And a new University student group wants you to help them.

LSA alum Loma Colombo is in the process of creating a microfinance advocacy group on campus. Microfinance involves loaning small amounts of money to people in developing countries so they can start or maintain their own businesses. The group will operate under the name of its non-profit sponsor, Impact Humanity, one of more than 10,000 non-profit microfinance operations in the world.

The group will sell microloan gift certificates tomorrow from noon to 5 p.m. in Room D of the Michigan League and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday in the Mason Hall Honors Commons.

Here’s how it works: You buy a gift certificate in your mother’s name for $25 or more. You give it to your mom as a gift. She logs onto and scrolls through listings of people needing microloans. She picks someone to loan her money to. The money then goes to the people who need it.

If things work out for the businessperson who gets the money, your mom will get her loan repaid in a few months.

Chances are, things will work out. The repayment rate for microloans is 98 percent, according to many of the nonprofits who give them out.

Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Peace price last year for developing the concept of microfinance at a Bangladeshi bank in 1976.

Advocates of microfinance say it builds social capital, develops community cooperation and provides women with equal entrepreneurial opportunity.

“It’s been a very hot thing in economic development literature,” said David Lam, a

Loan recipients often work in groups and use existing resources to start their own businesses. Ideally, the loans help them make money themselves and pull themselves out of poverty.

Take Bayishov, the animal breeder from Azerbaijan. According to his description on, he isn’t making enough money from selling dairy, meat and calves to feed his family. That’s why he wants to expand into sheep breeding as well.

Sociology lecturer Ian Robinson, a research scientist in the Institute of Labor and Relations, said that part of the reason for the consistent repayment is the strong social impact.

“The very process creates these new structures, these groups of women who already knew each other and trust each other to some degree beforehand,” he said. “It’s not like making social capital out of nothing, it’s institutionalizing and strengthening social capital.”

Robinson warned, though, against putting too much faith in microfinance as a cure for the problems of some of the world’s poorest people.

“It makes a bad situation marginally more tolerable for the people that are in it,” he said. “In the larger scheme of things, it’s not a remedy for poverty.”

Colombo said that the group’s goal is to inform students about microfinance in general and mobilize people who want to be involved in helping the poor.

“Our organization will never take your money, that’s what microfinance is – you’re not giving it,” she said. “You’re taking an active role in someone else’s life.”

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