Ohio University has a long relationship with the West African country of Liberia, including former OHIO student Edward James Roye, who became president of the republic in 1870, and more recent graduate and current Liberian government official, Marcus Dahn. The Scripps College of Communication's Global Leadership Center (GLC) is adding richness to that history by collaborating with the University of Liberia and welcoming the Liberian ambassador to the U.S. to help the students understand the needs of a country recovering from destructive years of civil war.
Ambassador M. Nathaniel Barnes will visit Ohio University's Athens campus on Jan. 29. He will meet with President Roderick McDavis and also will be involved in the GLC's "Liberia Microfinance Poverty Reduction Workshop."
The workshop is part of a quarter-long partnership between Ohio University's GLC students and students at the University of Liberia. In addition to Barnes, Firestone Vice President Ed Garcia, University of Liberia Dean Geegbae Geegbae and Professor Sakui Malakpa from the University of Toledo will be in attendance to lend insight into Liberian business practices and microfinance, the supply of loans and other basic financial services to the poor.
"There's a lot of hoopla associated with microfinance. It's a hot topic; it's a buzzword. There are a lot of expectations that it's a panacea for world poverty. Really, that's a very superficial analysis," said Associate Professor of Economics Julia Paxton, who is coordinating the workshop. "What I wanted the students to walk away with is that there are a lot of nuances. There are times when microfinance could be helpful and also times where it might not be so beneficial."
Microfinancing practices are just beginning in Liberia, following 14 years of civil war that devastated the country's financial institutions. Of the 14 banks that existed before the war, only three remain, and the Liberian government is hoping to utilize microfinance as one of the elements to revitalize the economy.
"We still have a lot of people in the rural parts who need financial services," Geegbae said. "Microfinance institutions will be used as key, vital institutions to reach the poorest people in the country, especially those who are active and willing to work."
Over the course of the quarter, teams of Liberian and Ohio University students will be working together on reports exploring microfinance best practices, said Greg Emery, director of the GLC. The workshop, he said, is intended as a crash course for the Ohio University students, most of whom have no experience with the practice of microfinance.
Paxton will facilitate the workshop, along with two other members of the department: visiting professor from Ghana, John Dogbey, and graduate student and West African native Ayuba Seidu. Each will head one of the three breakout sessions addressing microfinance in the West African context, international best practices and problems with microfinance.
According to Emery, Ambassador Barnes was insistent and enthusiastic in his desire to work with Ohio University students and engage with them personally in the sessions.
Paxton's involvement with the GLC started a few years ago when students began approaching her for interviews on the subject of microfinance.
"I had 60 students to come into my office to interview me because I think I'm the only expert on microfinance at the university," Paxton said. "Last year I said (to Emery), 'Rather than sending everyone to me, why don't I come to you and give you a lecture?'"
Over time, that idea evolved into this year's microfinance workshop, designed "so that the students would walk away with something tangible and beneficial," Paxton said.