Student Groups Bring Micro-Credit Expert to University of Virginia

March 23, 2010 — Student groups interested in social entrepreneurship and international development are bringing the chairman of the board of Grameen Bank to the University of Virginia for their second annual conference Friday.

As chairman of Grameen, Rehman Sobhan helps to oversee tiny loans to the poorest of the poor in Bangladesh – loans that are also known as "micro-credit." Sobhan is also founder and chairman of the Dhaka-based Center for Policy Dialogue.

Fourth-year engineering major Max Martin, one of the conference organizers, said Vice Provost for International Programs Gowher Rizvi helped him invite Sobhan.

"We reached out mainly through e-mail and even set up several conference calls via Skype to discuss details of Professor Sobhan's visit," Martin said. "Unfortunately for us, Dhaka is 10 hours ahead of us and Professor Sobhan is a very busy person, so our conference calls took place at 2 a.m."

Student Entrepreneurs for Economic Development – or SEED – teamed with the Global Development Organization and Engineering Students Without Borders to organize the conference, titled "Perspectives in Development: Covering the Multi-Faceted World of International Development," which is free and open to the public.

The conference opens with a complimentary breakfast at 8:30 a.m. in the lobby of Old Cabell Hall. Sessions will begin at 9 a.m. and run through 5 p.m. in the Old Cabell Hall Auditorium.

Martin, SEED president, said the budget for this year's conference more than quadrupled last year's, in part because the students are flying Sobhan to U.Va. from Bangladesh.

"We had to drastically increase our fundraising efforts. We were very fortunate in getting funding and support from Vice Provost Rizvi, the Center for International Studies, the McIntire School of Commerce" and elsewhere, he said.

In addition to Sobhan, speakers include recent Ashoka fellow Greg van Kirk, co-founder of Community Enterprise Solutions as well as Social Entrepreneur Corps and Ayudasof.

— By Jane Kelly