Rahfin at CGI America

Rahfin is a junior President’s Scholar and member of the University Honors Program who is majoring in economics, political science and mathematics in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. As a participant in Engaged Learning and Big iDeas, Rahfin also runs Green Riba, a storefront dedicated to zero-interest loans for Dallas entrepreneurs. During summer 2013, he was invited to participate in Clinton Global Initiative America in Chicago, an annual event focused on economic recovery in the United States.

Seeking economic solutions at CGI

An update from Rahfin’s Engaged Learning blog:

Chelsea Clinton with students at CGI America

Chelsea Clinton with students at CGI America

According to Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, American civic engagement is at an all-time low. Fewer people are volunteering. Even fewer are joining clubs and associations. And, yes, bowling alleys — supported by bowling clubs — across the country are closing.

The end impact, according to Putnam, is falling social capital and trust. The glue that makes a democracy work is getting less sticky.

This week, I had the opportunity to attend CGI America. Representatives from the private, public, nonprofit and academic sectors — four sectors often divided — came together to discuss and propose solutions on some of America’s greatest domestic problems: rising inequality, growing urban-rural divide, declining manufacturing, falling test scores and decaying infrastructure.

At first glance, America’s future seems bleak. But, after attending meetings, I can say that America’s future is still bright.

In a session, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew said, “I believe in the resiliency of the American spirit.”

In a new century, Americans will have to tackle problems that there are no frameworks for — climate change, demographic shifts brought on by aging and migration and globalization.

I am here to represent my microfinance organization, Green Riba, which seeks to deliver zero-interest loans to West Dallas, a socioeconomically disadvantaged part of Dallas.

Microfinance organizations usually fall into a high interest trap. Because loan sizes are small and the risk of default is higher but operational costs stay about the same, organizations charge interest rates higher than those at a traditional bank.

Slowly, however, the framework on high interest loans is changing. Recently, Kiva, an international microfinance organization that has delivered more than a million loans, launched Kiva Zip.

The approach is a radical one. Realizing that even traditional microfinance loans left room for financial exclusion, Kiva Zip is dedicated to offering zero-interest loans to the most vulnerable: refugees, the unemployed and the undocumented.

No one framework has the solution. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions.

It will take new ideas and paradigms to solve our most complex problems. CGI America has given me hope that this type of radical change is possible.

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