Here is another of my favorite stories. I like this type of story because it concerns young people taking the lead and taking charge in making the world a better place.
FORGE Founder & Executive Director Kjerstin Erickson grew up working in community service. She has worked as a peer educator, a mentor for troubled youth, a liaison for the deaf, a representative of the California Youth Council, a Chair of her County’s Youth Volunteer Corps, and a program participant of Tomorrow’s Leaders Today.
As a junior in high school, Kjerstin traveled with her family to Kenya for a photo safari. The glaring lack of basic resources inspired Kjerstin to focus her humanitarian efforts on Africa.
In 2001, Kjerstin entered Stanford and began pursuit of a degree in Public Policy and African Studies.
In July of 2003, FORGE Founder and Executive Director Kjerstin Erickson was one of eleven Stanford University students to travel to Botswana to work in the Dukwi Refugee Camp as a pilot project for the World Refugee Academy. Touched and inspired by the refugees she met from all across the African continent, Kjerstin came to see refugees as a neglected solution to many of the issues that plague sub-Saharan Africa.
Immediately following her summer as a leader of the World Refugee Academy Pilot project, Kjerstin embarked on the SS Universe Explorer to circumnavigate the globe through the study abroad program, Semester at Sea. Tanzania was one of the nine countries on the Semester at Sea Fall 2003 itinerary and, after developing a passion for refugee issues in Botswana, Kjerstin wanted to provide an opportunity for other Semester at Sea students to do the same. Since safaris were the only trip options offered by Semester at Sea, Kjerstin organized a trip for students to visit a refugee camp. Under her leadership, a group of 18 students traveled to the town of Kigoma on the western boarder of Tanzania. There, they met with refugees, orphans, health officials, and local aid workers in an attempt to understand the capacity of non-governmental institutions to affect change in a foreign environment.
When they returned to the ship, this group of 18 students committed themselves to raising awareness about refugee issues. Soon, the shipboard community was abuzz and inspired. Their passion and desire to contribute was palpable. Not wanting to see such incredible energy to go waste, Kjerstin set out to create a mechanism to harness this potential. Given her previous experience working in refugee camps, Kjerstin recognized that a similar organization could be created on a much larger scale.
Thus, the idea for FORGE began to develop. Applications were put out, and, after a lengthy interview and decision process, the pioneering 25 members of the first FORGE team were selected.
It soon became clear that FORGE was something special. After creating their own micro-service projects, raising over $80,000 USD, and meeting with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Rudd Lubbers, it was obvious that the FORGE team members were more than average college students - they were ambassadors to the world.
As FORGE grew in numbers, so it grew in impact. Now going into its fourth year of operation, FORGE has brought 100 ‘Project Facilitators’ to Africa, served communities of over 70,000 refugees, and implemented more than 60 community development projects. And FORGE is still young.
In 2008, FORGE is embarking on a new project model that transfers Project Facilitator responsibilities directly into the hands of refugee leaders within the communities where FORGE works. From 2008 forwards, all FORGE projects will be designed and implemented by the communities themselves. FORGE is confident that this model will bring a new level of impact and provide an even stronger foundation for the future prosperity of the African continent.
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One of FORGE’s program is a very successful microfinance program. Below is how FORGE describes how this program got started.
The FORGE Micro-Finance Program
The FORGE Micro-Finance Program represents FORGE’s Microfinance division. In its first year of existence, it has provided loans to 112 individuals, allowing them to transform their lives through economic self-sufficiency.
The FORGE Micro-Finance Program is very different from traditional microfinance initiatives. Instead of simply giving and recollecting loans, the FORGE Micro-Finance Program ensures that all of its loan recipients are fully prepared to start a small business. Before receiving their loan, all loan recipients must go through a two month training process. The educational curriculum was developed in conjunction with highly experienced academics and is taught by FORGE’s exceptionally talented and well-trained refugee staff. The curriculum focuses on entrepreneurship, business principles, accounting skills, all specially-tailored to the African refugee small business setting.
With hundreds of new loans in the works for 2007, the positive impact of the FORGE Micro-Finance Program is expanding quickly. The FORGE Micro-Finance Program, led by International Relations Director Esther Chou (FORGE Meheba ’05), Communications Director Nayeli Vivanco (FORGE Meheba ’06), and Operations Director Pete D’Aleo (FORGE Meheba ’06), is on the rise.
The FORGE Micro-Finance Program began when Esther Chou, a FORGE Meheba 2005 veteran, returned to Zambia in late 2005 in order to investigate the best ways to implement an entrepreneurship & micro-finance initiative in Meheba. From Zambia, Esther worked closely with Nayeli Vivanco and Pete D’Aleo to design business skills curriculum and a loan model that best suited the community of Meheba. Their work was guided by the expertise and support of Northeastern University Executive Professor Dennis Shaughnessy.
Upon arriving in Meheba, Nayeli & Pete immediately got to work with Esther, to build a the FORGE Micro-Finance Program office and select a staff. Over the next few weeks, the three directors carefully trained the staff and opened the institute to enrollment.
The FORGE Micro-Finance Program’s students and loan-seekers proved to be a huge success. The FORGE Micro-Finance Program’s loan repayment rate stands at 94%.
Currently, all three FORGE Micro-Finance Program directors are refining the FORGE Micro-Finance Program model, marketing the program, and raising the funds necessary to expand classes and loans further into the future. For more information on the FORGE Micro-Finance Program please click here .
Hopefully, FORGE’s story will inspire all of those who have an interest in making the world a better place.