Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Spanish & Entrepreneurship Student Receives Undergraduate Research Fellowship

by guest blogger Darcy Lear

Ben Rardin was a student in Spanish & Entrepreneurship at UNC-CH in the fall 2009 semester. When given a choice between one of the community service-learning placements I had arranged and pursuing his own placements, Ben was the only student who chose both.

With no prior experience, he developed a website for a student organization that aims to bring business advisory services to Latino businesses in North Carolina while also working as a loan officer with the Community Empowerment Fund (CEF), a local micro-loan organization.

The nature of the work with CEF requires that students understand the life situations of adults at risk of homelessness. Through microfinance, loan officer support, workshops, and peer education they are pursuing a truly innovative approach to the problems of poverty and homelessness that goes beyond the traditional solutions to these social problems.

As a loan officer for CEF, Ben and his partner, Santi Beltran, worked with one community member on her micro-loan. It was not always easy to contact their borrower. It requires a lot of patience to work with borrowers to understand the nature of micro-lending.

Like any true entrepreneur, Ben has had to face failure. Yet, like any true entrepreneur, he has turned it into success. As a result of their early experiences as loan officers for CEF, Ben and Santi were able to help CEF re-design the loan program so that microloans were disbursed only upon completion of a workshop series or a savings program. This example illustrates the entrepreneur's flexibility and ability to innovate in order to solve any problem. Failure with one approach inspires reflection that leads to discovery of a new approach.

What's next for Ben? Well, he's just secured a highly competitive Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship to expand CEF's work into the local Latino community.

I look forward to working with Ben on his project and will post updates here!

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