Monday, April 5, 2010

Micro-finance & Prison Entrepreneurs

NOTE. Not all of my posts will be about local food as local social and economic issues are just as important to me. I'll do my best to tag my posts accurately in case you're just after the food stuff. But don't be, don't be just after the food stuff. It's all connected.

Ok. My friends know that I am very interested in micro-finance as a response to poverty. Micro-finance is a mechanism for providing low-income people with financial services. This is significant bc low-income folks are most often locked out from a lot of things many of us take for granted, like banking or small loans. The loans are significant bc, as it turns out, there are many entrepreneurial minds among low-income people. Therefore, if they can get their hands on a micro-loan, like $20 bucks or so, then they can start a business. And the payback system on these loans are based heavily on social capital and trust among their (local) peers. It's an incredible model. If you want to know more about micro-lending, look up Muhammad Yunus. He is the man when it comes to challenging assumptions (core quality of creativity).

I've just become aware of yet another elegant response to poverty and poverty related issues - Prisoner Entrepreneurship Programs (PEP). I'm going to a talk on PEP this Friday morning and will have more to report soon, but think about it. Many prisoners are in jail for non-violent crimes like drug dealing and possession. Drug dealing is an entrepreneurial venture. Super high risk, in-depth knowledge of your customer, quick decision making, and so on. But the paybacks are lame. Lame lame. The entrepreneur either ends up dead or in prison.

In the design field we are always trying to build on the ideas of others. Or when we are consulting a firm, we might try to build on that firm's strengths. The same approach can and should be applied to convicted drug dealers. Take that entrepreneurial spirit and know-how, and focus that energy on legit start-ups. Hmmm. We'll see if this is what PEP is all about. It sure would be a nice response to the poverty related problems we have here in ROC (like high incarceration rate).  I look forward to reporting more in depth this weekend.


  1. I am a student at SUNY Geneseo and am in a club at Oxford which does consulting work for Microfinance groups around the world. Do you think it would be worth it to see if a Microfinance Organization could work in Rochester? I am curious as to what happened in your discussion with PEP and am wondering if they would ever consider collaborating with a Microfinance institution?

  2. PEP is based in Texas. However, I believe micro finance does have a place here in Rochester, NY. The trick is connecting you to the right person. Let me ask around and get back to you, Emmet. Thanks for reaching out.



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