Rice students’ project earns honor from Clinton Global Initiative

Microfinanciers get major boost
Rice students’ project earns honor from Clinton Global Initiative

Rice News staff

Small thinking will bring a big honor to four Rice students tonight, when the officers of Owl Microfinance meet former President Bill Clinton as one of only 12 groups nationwide to be recognized at this year’s Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U).

  The officers of Owl Microfinance honored at this weekend’s Clinton Global Initiative University, from left: Dillon Eng, Tommy Fu, Elena White and, front, Josh Ozer.



The weekend event at the University of Texas, Austin, encourages and inspires students to tackle head-on such pressing issues as poverty, human rights, education, global warming and health.

The Rice students will present their plans to raise money to microfinance projects in Tanzania, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, China, Cameroon and elsewhere to help the poor help themselves by starting businesses. The dollars raised by the students are processed through clearinghouses that combine funds from many sources to make loans.

The students are nearly halfway toward their goal of raising $10,000 for the first year of operation. The money has come from events, tutoring and private donations. Their next event on campus, a Dessert Gallery at the Rice Memorial Center at 9:30 p.m. March 17, will feature a talk by Janie Barrera, the founder and CEO of pioneering microfinance organization Accion Texas.

Another recent fundraiser, a “Mr. Asia” competition, raised $1,000. Half of the proceeds from that event will go to the Hashoo Foundation, which helps females begin beekeeping businesses in Pakistan, and half will be invested in China through microfinance lender Wokai.

Inspired by a Rice team featured at last year’s CGI U in New Orleans that was responsible for the diagnostic lab-in-a-backpack, Owl Microfinance got its start when co-founders Josh Ozer, a Will Rice sophomore from San Antonio, and Dillon Eng, a Hanszen sophomore from Seattle, met in a bioengineering class. In that class, taught by Rice 360˚ Director Rebecca Richards-Kortum, they worked out a training program for microentrepreneurs.

An edited version of this Owl Microfinance video by Tommy Fu will be  shown at the Clinton Global Initiative University gathering at the University of Texas-Austin.

After Eng made the commitment to start a microfinance group at last year’s CGI, Ozer put their training program into practice during a summer spent in Lesotho, a small country in southern Africa.

They and vice presidents Tommy Fu, a Lovett senior from New York, and Elena White, a Martel freshman from Houston, are working with a Rice alum at the Houston law firm Bond and Smyser LLP to incorporate Owl Microfinance, transforming it from a student club to a nonprofit organization.

The money is distributed through microfinance lenders Kiva and Wokai, which send it where it’s most needed and collect payments on the loans, to be lent again by Owl Microfinance and other organizations. Kiva and Wokai also provide the students feedback on how their money is being invested and how the businesses are doing.

Fu said Owl Microfinance offers students an opportunity to ”pay it forward.”

”We started this because at Rice there are a lot of causes students can get involved in, but as a poor college student, you can’t really provide financial support. We wanted to find a way around that. Microfinance lets us help people in a tangible way.”

About Mike Williams

Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.