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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

How the microlending club is helping businesses from New Haven to Nicaragua

Students from the microlending club at Quinnipiac University are helping small businesses that need support in Connecticut and Nicaragua. 

The microlending club gives small loans for expanding inventory, increasing marketing or modifications to the business’ location. Quinnipiac’s administration funds the loans through partnerships with Alianza Americana, a language and leadership school in Nicaragua, and Columbus House, a New Haven-based homeless shelter.

Russell Jackson, the president of the microlending club, said what makes the club so valuable is that members decide whether or not they think a business will pay off the loan. Being a part of the club has helped Jackson figure out what he wants to do after graduation.

“It makes us feel like what we’re doing is of value, because we’re helping out family businesses for the most part in Nicaragua and we’re helping better their lives as well as being able to gain experience in lending finance,” said Jackson, a senior entrepreneurship and small business management major.

Thomas Shipman, a senior 4+1 business analytics major and the vice president of the microlending club, said it is great to have the opportunity to support people who are less fortunate.

“It’s great to apply what we’re learning in the classroom and then see that working in the real world and being able to help people because $1,000 in the U.S. doesn’t go a far way, but (in Nicaragua) that’s going to mean a lot,” Shipman said.

The microlending club differs from other clubs at Quinnipiac because it offers international business consulting, said Colin Smith, a junior applied business major and the marketing manager of the club. In an effort to bring awareness to the club, Smith created Instagram and LinkedIn pages for it this semester.

“It gives us a perspective into the real world because in your classes in the textbook, you don’t get too many real-world opportunities,” Smith said.

Oscar Aragón and his wife Eira Argeña created Alianza Americana. Shipman said Aragón offers applications for the microloans through his connections with his school and the community.

“They’re very tight-knit down there, so he knows people who have businesses and then he has them fill it out,” Shipman said.

In order to qualify for a loan, Jackson said, the business owner must have a co-signer and a steady stream of income, so they will eventually be able to pay off the loan. The application asks questions about the business owners revenue, expenses and general information about the business.

Jackson said communicating with the business owners and Aragón can pose challenges for the microlending club. Aragón also acts as the translator between the business owners — who mostly speak Spanish — and the club over Zoom. There are also several Quinnipiac students majoring or minoring in Spanish that help translate the writing in the applications.

The club — which completed 10 applications during the spring 2023 semester — has gone through three applications this fall but still has around four more to do, Jackson said.

A lot of business owners who receive the microloans are based out of their homes, Jackson added. Shipman said that many people’s social networks are interconnected with their work.

“The sense of community that they have, it’s very different than the U.S. and here in the Northeast, and it’s not like you’re going to work for a company a lot of people work for themselves,” Shipman said of Nicaragua.

The club is currently working with a woman named Olivia Marilet Zarate Mayorga from León, Nicaragua, who runs a pizza shop out of her house. She is asking for an industrial oven which Jackson estimates is around $800. Zarate Mayorga is still in the process of receiving the loan. 

“This lady had her passion,” Aragón said. “I love her passion of having her own business.”

Aragón said Zarate Mayorga and her husband began the pizza shop 10 years ago as a team, but when they divorced, her husband took all of her cooking supplies and ingredients. She originally applied for the microloan three years ago, but didn’t get a response until this semester.

“She’s slowly been building that back up, and she has a broken oven,” Jackson said.

Zarate Mayorga explained that in Nicaragua it is difficult to find a job because it requires a political endorsement. Without an endorsement, jobs will not accept you.

“Now with my pizza business, I don’t have to,” Zarate Mayorga said. “I don’t owe anything to nobody, I’m free.”

Zarate Mayorga has two sons, 16 and 19 years old, that also help with the business, and she said it was tough for them to have to see their father take away their working tools and oven.

“So for them, it was devastating in the beginning because they didn’t know what was going to happen, and even myself, I didn’t know how to fight, how to fight for my rights in the moment, but thank God we had the confidence enough in ourselves,” Zarate Mayorga said.

Zarate Mayorga started her own business because she said that women don’t need the support of a man in life. She wants all women around the world to know that it is possible to reach their goals. 

“I remember my dad’s words,” Zarate Mayorga said. “For the girls in my family, we need to be courageous and work hard and educate ourselves because we as women cannot be humiliated in any way with men.”

Zarate Mayorga said she reaches most of her clients through social media platforms such as Facebook.

“I know for me it’s an honor, what I feel is admiration because I was able to knock on the door of Quinnipiac and Quinnipiac opened the doors for me,” Zarate Mayorga said. “I know that they have helped so many other business owners and all those business owners have moved forward in their lives through this program.”

Erin Sabato, the senior director of global learning, said the university first partnered with Alianza Americana in 2004 while she was still a student at Quinnipiac. After graduating, she lived with Aragón and Argeñal.

“It sounds trite that experiences like this can change your life, but it truly did for me,” Sabato said. “I mean, I’ve been at Quinnipiac for 16 years, my entire professional career has been closely intertwined with Nicaragua, and so, had I not gone as a student all those years ago, I would not be where I am today.”

Aragón and his wife first founded Alianza Americana more than two decades ago. The two needed a $200 loan from the microlending program — which Aragón said he did not initially know was a part of Quinnipiac — to purchase a photocopy machine.

Almost three years later, the microlending program called him — they wanted to visit the business. Around 20 students and David Ives, the then-executive director of Quinnipiac’s Albert Schweitzer Institute, flew to Nicaragua to see the business’ progress in person.

Aragón worked alongside Quinnipiac administration to start renting the rooms for interviews with business owners and provide translators. A few years later, Ives called Aragón asking him how he would feel if Quinnipiac partnered with Alianza Americana.

“I said ‘Wow,’” Aragón recalled. “It was the happiest day of my life, and it’s still one of the happiest days.”

Sabato facilitated Quinnipiac’s programs to Nicaragua until 2018, when students were no longer able to visit in person. Protests began in the country in 2018 because of proposed social security reforms, according to The Georgetown Journal of International Affairs.

Quinnipiac has run the microlending program for 15 years, but before 2018 undergraduate and graduate students from various disciplines were able to go to Nicaragua.

“At one point we were sending hundreds of students there each year, and also hosting Alianza Americana Oscar and Eira, and their staff and students on our campus every year, so it was a really strong partnership,” Sabato said.

Sabato said with the help of Aragón and Argeñal, students in the microlending program were able to talk to the business owners in Nicaragua, visit the business locations, look at financial records, discuss accounting and marketing strategies and give out a microloan if the business wanted it.

Aragón said it has been tough for him not being able to see the Quinnipiac students in person because the politics in Nicaragua and the pandemic has made coordination difficult. Many businesses in Nicaragua have died, Aragón said, but many are still trying to survive.

“Honestly, if you ask me, we are suffering, we’re struggling,” Aragón said. “The whole community at large, everybody is missing everything.”

Aragón mentioned one of the stories that stood out to him was a man who started a food business in his house after losing his job in the pandemic. With a microloan, he was able to produce more orders and on time with a new grill, oven and kitchen.

“He was able to overcome the pandemic challenges because of the loan,” Aragón said. “I can tell you at least 39 different businesses that I know, that they have survived because of the loan.”

Aragón said he is planning to expand Alianza Americana to Costa Rica and Guatemala for more opportunities and a larger community. The partnership the school has with Quinnipiac, he said, offers each community the opportunity to grow and learn from the other’s culture.

“It’s not even about two organizations, two institutions coming together,” Aragón said. “It’s about two countries, two cultures.”

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