Christian Diaz, Staff Writer
Warren Wilson alumnus Jesse Fripp skyped with Professor of Geography David Abernathy’s Introduction to Geography class on March 7. Fripp spoke to students about his responsibilities as vice president of ShoreBank International, a U.S. community development bank that operates in poor, war-torn regions throughout the Middle East and South Asia.
Fripp spoke to Abernathy’s class three times. The first was a phone call in 2006. Last fall and this spring, Fripp was able to skype the class for a video conference, now that technology has made physical space a benign barrier of communication.
Abernathy’s class, addressing problems of world development, was able to hear what it’s like on the frontlines of efforts to alleviate global poverty. ShoreBank is known for microlending, a development strategy that empowers the impoverished directly, rather than granting loans from intergovernmental financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“We have been talking about economic development, about the strategies for getting countries to improve their economies, to have people improve their livelihood,” Abernathy said. “Large loans through IMF and World Bank are one strategy. There’s evidence building that says that is maybe not the best strategy. [Fripp] is the most knowledgeable person I could find who could tell the backwards and forwards of microlending.”
Microlending has been heralded as an excellent means of assisting the poor who lack access to credit, capital and financial services. People in such predicaments are shut out of a modern, globalized economy.
“Maybe instead of coming in with giant loans to governments, give small loans to people, specifically women, because, often, they don’t have access to capital,” Abernathy explained. “Microfinance is about finding ways that they can get small loans for $100 or $500 to start some kind of business and then repay the loan. Microfinance has a good history of getting loans repaid and getting small businesses kick-started.”
“To give you an idea,” Fripp said, “microfinance has been talked about as a really powerful tool to address poverty and economic development or at least provide some foundation for economic development. If you look at the landscape of the world today, there are about 2.7 billion adults who either have no access to formal financial services or very limited access to formal financial services. That’s a huge market failure, and that’s really what Mohammad Yunus intended to address. [...] The work we do is essentially trying to bring global capabilities and resources to local institutional structures. We are working with a partnership model to provide financial services and open access to low income households, individuals, and small business enterprises around the world.”
Fripp graduated from Warren Wilson College in 1994 with a major in English. The Global Studies Department did not exist at the time, otherwise, he said, he would have chosen it as a major. During his time at Warren Wilson, Fripp helped structure the Big Brothers Big Sisters project for the Western North Carolina Juvenile Evaluation Center which operates in Swannanoa. After graduating, Fripp was accepted into the Peace Corps.