Blessing Omotayo had nothing more than a dream.
The Nigerian native and single mother of two had been struggling
mightily to support her family and make ends meet. A seamstress by
trade, she desperately needed a sewing machine to help her business
thrive and escape poverty.
Thanks to St. John’s University students, and the ambitious Global
Loan Opportunities for Budding Entrepreneurs (GLOBE) Program, her
prayers were finally answered.
Through GLOBE, students provided Omotayo with a $130 microloan,
allowing her to purchase a sewing machine and help her family live
the life they deserve. Nearly two years later, she’s paid back the
loan, her children are enrolled in school and she’s slowly saving
up enough money to rent her own shop – a complete turnaround for
this deserving borrower.
But the success of GLOBE doesn’t end there – in fact, Omotayo’s
story is just the tip of the iceberg.
Created in 2009, St. John’s GLOBE Microloan Program is a
student-managed academic program that provides loans to
entrepreneurs in the developing world. The course educates students
on how to run a not-for-profit organization while simultaneously
helping the impoverished throughout the world.
Currently operating in Nigeria, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of
the Congo and Vietnam, GLOBE has become a significant force of
“Microfinance is a way of dealing with poverty in extremely
impoverished regions by providing these individuals with a
dignified route out of their financial situation,” said Dr. Linda
Sama, Associate Dean for Global Initiatives and the founder of St.
John’s GLOBE Program. “The true allure of microfinance is that it’s
not a handout, it’s a hand-up – that’s a cliché, but it’s entirely
appropriate. Simply put, microfinance makes the impoverished
responsible for their own welfare in a very sustainable way.”
The study of modern microfinance is based largely on the work of
Dr. Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi banker, economist and Nobel Peace
Prize recipient who pioneered the concept in the 1970s. His theory
was simple yet incredibly effective: provide loans to entrepreneurs
too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans.
“When we started GLOBE in the Spring 2009 semester,” Sama
continued, “none of the students had read Dr. Yunus or knew much
about microfinance. Three years later, I’d say around 90% of our
students are well versed in Dr. Yunus’ concepts, and I think that’s
a great testament to how popular GLOBE has become on campus.”
An average of 20 students, all juniors and seniors and studying
any major, participates each semester. These students are broken up
into four groups: Marketing and Fundraising; Finance and Risk
Assessment; Accounting, Audit and Enterprise Development; and
Technology and Communications. Each group handles a different
aspect of the program, from deciding which loans to approve to
advertising around campus to maintaining GLOBE’s Web site and
“The Daughters of Charity do the field work,” Dr. Sama noted.
“They’re the ones who directly work with the impoverished in their
respective countries, and they provide us with the loan applicants.
Our students, meanwhile, approve the loans and raise the money,
generating contributions from other students, professors,
administrators and alumni.”
Hadia Sheerazi ’10C was the first Liberal Arts student to join
GLOBE, and she found the experience incredibly rewarding. An
international student from Pakistan, Sheerazi was already familiar
with the work of Dr. Yunus and jumped at the opportunity to put his
theories into action.
“What I found so rewarding about GLOBE was that it wasn’t just
writing papers and discussing theoretical concepts,” she explained.
“This was an opportunity to actually be part of a real-life
microloan program, to develop your own research and implement your
own ideas. It allows the students to grow in so many unique
A member of the Finance and Risk Assessment team, Sheerazi used
her background in Political Science to innovate the assessment
“When you look at potential loan applicants, you have to realize
that they don’t live in vacuums,” she said. “They’re members of a
community shaped by its own culture and religion, and they’re
undoubtedly affected by these variables. So my job was to assess
the socio-economic factors of a region’s politics and see how the
world events surrounding a borrower’s country might impact
One of Sheerazi’s favorite examples is a borrower who hoped to sell
petroleum from one local village to another. The Finance and Risk
Assessment team not only had to research the financial feasibility
of this plan, but also investigate the possible risks and dangers
of petroleum storage, and the positive impact the business would
have on the local community.
“GLOBE taught us to think in creative ways,” Sheerazi
explained. “If you look at loans strictly from an economic sense,
you can lose sight of what’s important. It’s not all about the
bottom line, and GLOBE’s emphasis on a borrower’s cultural
ramifications and social concerns is something I found
Marco Sementilli ’11TCB had the unique opportunity to become a
GLOBE Fellow, allowing him to travel with Dr. Sama to Vietnam in
May 2011. There, he met with fieldworkers from the Daughters of
Charity to get a firsthand look at the impoverished that the
program seeks to help.
“In GLOBE, we handle the logistics behind the microloans, but the
Daughters are the ones who physically work with our borrowers on a
daily basis,” he explained. “In Vietnam, I was able to meet
potential borrowers, and theirs were heartbreaking stories. One man
crafted baskets all day for a living, and he greatly needed a
machine to help him produce the necessary amount. Stories like his
made me realize more than ever how essential GLOBE is.”
Over a year removed from his trip to Vietnam, Sementilli – who now
works for the wealth management firm UBS –often reflects on the
remarkable ways that GLOBE shaped his life.
“It’s truly one of those life-changing classes, and I find myself
constantly asking: ‘how can I help?’” he said. “Since then, I’ve
participated in Habitat for Humanity projects through my job and
I’ve taken advantage of various other service opportunities. GLOBE
showed me what it’s like to see poverty face-to-face, and the
mission of the program never ends.”
In addition to directly running the program, students in GLOBE
have visited the United Nations and have welcomed a host of
prominent speakers to campus, including Dr. Yunus himself. But Dr.
Sama shows no signs of slowing down and hopes to grow GLOBE further
in the coming years, expanding the number of countries it operates
in. She also hopes to continue to raise awareness and generate even
more support from the St. John’s community, allowing GLOBE to
provide more microloans to those in need.
“This program teaches students an invaluable lesson in today’s
world,” Dr. Sama said. “What is the interface between business and
society, and how can we make a difference? And, judging by the
overwhelming response from students, it’s clear that GLOBE is
transformative, changing their perspective on philanthropy and how
they can make a difference as business professionals.”
It’s rare for an academic course to simultaneously educate students
while impacting the global community. But based on the wealth of
positive reactions – and with inspiring stories like Omotayo’s –
the GLOBE program has pulled it off with flying colors.
If you would like to contribute to the GLOBE Program, please visit
www.stjohns.edu/give and select “Tobin College
of Business” in the Designation drop-down menu and then “GLOBE –
Global Microloan Program” in the Account drop-down menu or by