Hillsdale Effect

Shalini Kannan, Mariko Kuga, Greg Lance, Joel Olazabal, and Katharine Kaputo of The Hillsdale Effect

Occasionally I’m asked about microcredit programs targeting youth, and I confess I remain skeptical of them.  But recently I came across a really remarkable model for engaging youth – not as borrowers, but as funders of microcredit – and it turned up in my home town, of San Mateo, CA.

In 2008, Hillsdale High School formed a club called The Hillsdale Effect, dedicated to raising funds for microfinance.  This year, the club raised over $6,700 for Namaste-Direct’s microloan program in Guatemala and an additional $5,000 for club members’ study trip to Guatemala through local fundraising events and through leveraging their partnership with the San Mateo Rotary Club.

The club’s advisor, Greg Lance, said, “My interest revolved on involving students in tangible projects in the real world.  The Rotary Club was already involved in microfinance and they thought involving youth would be a good idea.”

The group was initially formed by nine high school seniors, who studied microfinance – inviting speakers in banking and microlending, studying development economics, and even going to Guatemala to meet Namaste’s borrowers and see microfinance in action.  The video they returned with inspired many of the next generation of students to join the club in 2009.

Joel Olazabal, one of today’s members, joined after seeing the video.  “My mom and dad grew up in Mexico and didn’t have many opportunities.  Since I do have educational opportunities, I wanted to help others.”

Another student, Katharine Caputo, got involved after writing a paper arguing that poverty was inevitable.  “Mr. Lance challenged me on that,” she said, “So that was what sparked my interest in getting involved.”

The group cites three factors for success: strong partners, location, and knowledge of their donor markets.

Partnerships:   Rotary gives The Hillsdale Effect the opportunity to raise money through fund raising events targeting Rotarians, and they connect the group to other local Rotaries.  The San Mateo Rotary has also donated directly to the club’s fundraising program for Namaste-Direct, their partner-MFI.  “Also, because Namaste is a smaller organization, the president has been able to give us time – giving us instruction about the program, and even leading us on our trip to Guatemala this June,” says club advisor, Greg Lance.

Location, Location, Location:  The Hillsdale Effect chose to finance an MFI that not only had offices nearby, but also worked in Latin America – an area many of the students had a connection to.  “Originally, we were going to work with a Rotarian in Honduras,” said advisor, Greg Lance, “but communication was difficult because… he was in Honduras.  Namaste-Direct is based in San Francisco, so communication is easy.  However, they work a lot in Guatemala so they have a good awareness of what’s going on there.”

Know your Donors:  Perhaps the club’s most successful fundraising to date has been through its student market – and they know this market well.  Over a two week period, the club raised over $6,700 from Hillsdale High School students and staff with a “Penny Wars” promotional.  Each class was given a giant plastic water bottle – every coin deposited in a bottle gained a point for the class and every dollar deposited was a negative point.  “So you’d put coins in your own class jar and dollars in the jars of other classes.  At the end of the week, we’d announce who was in the lead and then they’d get sabotaged to the max with dollar deposits,” explained student Mariko Kuga.  “We raised $6,784 and there are only 1,200 students in our school.  It worked because it appealed to the high school student’s sense of competition.”

The impact of The Hillsdale Effect has gone beyond its microloan recipients, circling back to the local community in San Mateo.  The program engaged Hillsdale High School students, teaching them about developing economies, banking systems, lending, poverty, and microfinance.  Club members and advisor, Greg Lance, have aspirations to broaden the program – perhaps taking it into schools throughout the district.  Some Hillsdale Effect graduates have already gone on to introduce the concept at their colleges.  How do you think it can be taken to the next level?

About Kirsten Weiss

Integrating marketing and strategy to develop profitable, demand-driven institutions.
  • Kirsten-
    What an awesome story – these are the types of stories that give me hope the future of this country is headed in the right direction. Thank you for sharing.

  • Thank you so much for writing about our project! The students and I are leaving on June 24th for Guatemala (volcanic eruptions and hurricanes can’t stop us; after all, the people of Guatemala struggle on, even when mainstream media quickly forgets or entirely ignores them in the wake of these disasters.) If you have ideas about how we can expand our program or work with you, please let us know. And you can follow our journey through Guatemala on our blog:
    Greg Lance
    The Hillsdale Effect
    Hillsdale High School