In our quest to put a face to the microfinance industry and organize it into local communities,, we’re profiling the individuals working to expand microfinance. Our fourth interview is with Dawn Kwan. Here’s a little bit more about her…

1) What do you do?

I work for Vittana, a nonprofit based in Seattle that specializes in student micro-loans. We provide loans to students in developing countries to help them complete their higher education in their respective country so they can get a stable income after they graduate.

As Regional Program Manager for South East Asia, I manage our student loan programs in the Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Mongolia.

2) Why do you do what you do?

vittana_logoClose to 75 million youth in the world were unemployed in 2012, which is equivalent to a quarter of the U.S. total population, and 17% of the world’s youth (200 million youth) are earning under US$2/day. Education is the key to a decent job, however a lot of youth cannot attend higher education because of financial constraints.

The concept of student loans is prevalent in the U.S. and many developed countries, but is almost non-existent in developing countries. Therefore, I strongly believe in the mission of Vittana, which is to help jumpstart student loans in developing countries to provide students an option to attend university or technical vocational schools.

For example, a student named Sarah (name changed to protect anonymity) recently graduated top in her class (cum laude) and already found a job before graduation to be an elementary school teacher. However, this wouldn’t have been possible without the education loan. Previously, her brother was supporting her education, but when it became financially difficult for her brother, she worked at Jollibee (local fast food restaurant), and found it difficult to balance working with studying. She was able to fully dedicate herself to her studies again when her aunt recommended her to take out a loan with a local microfinance bank, one of Vittana’s partners.

3) What are you most excited about right now?

I’m most excited about uncovering new countries that don’t have education loans available, conducting market research, and providing the first education loan product in a country. In my region, I’m currently looking at Nepal, Azerbaijan, and possibly China.

4) What’s next for you?

I hope to learn more about the linkage between education and employment and provide more opportunities to students to graduate themselves out of poverty. I hope to reach 25,000 additional students this year, and create a scalable, sustainable and impactful student loan program with my team members.

5) What’s a cause you’re passionate about and why?

I really care about education because my grandparents never completed elementary school. My grandmother was top in her school but was forced to dropout to look after her younger siblings. My parents worked really hard to get into university, at which it was close to a 1 percent acceptance rate, and because of their education, they were able to get a stable job and saved enough for my sister and my education in the U.S.

I truly believe that education is one of the only ways out of poverty. In imperial Chinese times, the national examination was open to everyone, and the person who graduated with the highest distinction would be given an official government title, regardless of his social and economic background.

You can find Dawn and other nearby microfinance supporters via Oh Hey World.

If you work or volunteer in the industry and would like to get profiled, please sign up for an Oh Hey World account – then send me an email at drew at ohheyworld dot com.

About Drew Meyers

Drew Meyers is a travel addict and founder of Horizon. Social entrepreneurship & microfinance advocate.