Students learn to help lift poor around the world

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Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi economist, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 by helping millions of poor people become financially self-reliant. His idea is often called microfinance, and it is available at BYU this semester.

Microfinance (Business Management 490R), which is open to all majors, is a great opportunity for students to learn the best practices of social business from the bottom up, according to Warner Woodworth, a professor at BYU Marriott School and also a social entrepreneur. Although the class was not listed online until this week because of an unexpected procedural error, Woodworth hopes many students will take advantage of the class, which is taught once a year.

“In this class, we will learn how microfinance has become so successful, what its methods are, and where it seems to work better than other places,” Woodworth said. “Some of the students will become very successful and wealthy. I’m hoping they’ll remember the plight of the poor and how this little microfianance strategy can empower the poor.”

Woodworth has a special relationship with Yunus, the Nobel laureate. Since they met each other in the Philippines in early 1990’s, Woodworth and Yunus participated in various microfinance campaigns together. This friendship assisted BYU to become the first major university in the U.S. that invited Yunus for a speech. Woodworth still plans to work with Yunus for this class.

Social entrepreneur is another label that represents Woodworth. Mentors International, a nonprofit organization he and a few BYU students founded in 1990, now has seven partner organizations throughout the world and has helped over 1.6 million people to escape poverty.

Adriano Oliveira, the director of international operations at Mentor International and also Woodworth’s former student, said microfinance is not about teaching poor people what to do to make money on the phone.

“We don’t teach them how to fry a tortilla, or how to make a hot dog,” Oliveira said. “We teach them basic business principles that applied will help them to institutionalize their little business. So with that, we also try to teach them principles of giving back, or what people like to say ‘pay it forward’ and employ other people and teach the same principles they learned so they can develop their society, or the place where they live.”

Thanks to Woodworth’s rich experience in the field, the class provides vivid real-world scenarios and internship opportunities for its students.

“I give all the credit to that training I received from Dr. Woodworth’s microfinance class, because without that class, I would not become the kind of entrepreneur that I am today,” said Rony Charles, a country director for Sustain Haiti, a non-profit organization based in Utah, in an email. “Dr. Woodworth was able to connect the classroom with the real world due to the experience he has in the subject spiritually and intellectually.”

Students can choose to take this class for 1 credit up to 3 credits. Non-business major students must email professor Woodworth at for a permission code to add the class online. The BYU add/drop deadline is next Wednesday, Jan. 18.

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