PoverUP, a socially responsible venture founded by University of Pennsylvania freshman Charlie Javice, has some pretty lofty goals. The mission of the student-run initiative is to bring students together to participate in microfinance, which will ultimately give purchasing power to people living in poverty around the world.
For Javice, who is 18, microfinance has been a passion ever since she took a trip to Thailand as a volunteer English teacher. While she acknowledges the class helped her small group of students, Javice realized that charity overseas often lacks sustainability.
"While volunteering teaching English made an impact on a day-to-day basis, it didn't make a lasting impact on these people's lives," says Javice, who is from New York state. "Charity wasn't necessarily working...so I thought, how can we make this sustainable to get these people out of poverty?"
One afternoon, while buying donuts from a local villager, Javice realized how microfinance could be the answer. "I bought 50 donuts for a dollar," she says. "The way I explain it is, at some point, we all had a lemonade stand. My mom used to give me money to buy those lemons, I'd make the lemonade, and keep the profits. I realized people in developing countries don't have that mom."
Back in New York, Javice began attending microfinance conferences and researching ways to create a microfinance platform that had the potential to reach—and educate—thousand of students. Initially, Javice planned to study architecture at Cornell University, but ultimately decided on Penn due to its business and microfinance networks. Now, Javice is now one of youngest members ever of the Wharton Venture Initiative Program, one of the most selective on-campus entrepreneurship programs that caters almost exclusively to MBA students.
PoverUP plans to launch its investment platform on April 13, 2011, which Javice is calling PoverUP Your World – 1st Annual Student Microfinance Day. The non-profit works with a diverse set of microfinance partners that will ultimately drive investments to more than 100 countries. PoverUP is also partnered with the London School of Economics Microfinance Society to tap into their networks and research.
Javice's goal for PoverUP, which draws its names from "getting up out of poverty," is to have satellite groups on 500 campuses within the next five years. Eventually, Javice plans to step out of a direct leadership role, since she believes the organization should be entirely student-run. "When students work together, we can really have an impact," she says.
While defeating poverty sounds like a noble goal, Javice admits that microfinance must demonstrate tangible results in order for people to consider lending. "We know that giving loans doesn't appeal to everyone," Javice says. "We want to fund businesses where it's geared toward microfinance and healthcare, education, and greening the environment, and giving the students a way to connect to whatever they're most passionate about."
To that end, PoverUP has partnered with a number of organizations that put investments into the hands of would-be entrepreneurs worldwide. For example, PoverUP is working with Grameen America, an organization based in New York that provides loans to impoverished Americans that want to open small businesses, such as a food cart or a tailor. Its also working with Pro Mujer, which provides women living in Latin America with business training and health support, as well as Lend For Peace, which gives microentreprenuers living in Palestinian territories with access to loans for agriculture and education businesses.