Gina Occhipinti ’18 had the opportunity to research microfinance in a unique setting. This past summer, she was in the Philippines working with local women entrepreneurs.
“Microfinance is the practice of giving small loans to people in poverty to help them start and grow their business,” says Occhipinti, whose research was funded through Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship and International Research Opportunities Program grants from the Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research. “The business development services unit advises entrepreneurs about managing their loans to develop their products for the mainstream market.”
“Being in their homes, you could see they didn’t have much, but they were still so generous and offered me products for free even though it was so important to sell them."
Working with the Philippines' Center for Agricultural and Rural Development Mutually Reinforcing Institutions, an organization that offers microloans to support the livelihood activities of poor women, Occhipinti’s key responsibility was to develop a business model that was financially sustainable. She met with women entrepreneurs — makers of such things as shoes and wallets and fans and coffee — and read through multitudes of journals and practitioners’ guides to develop the model.
Occhipinti’s curiosity for microfinance stems from her passion for finding ways to solve global poverty. Microfinance was a way she could apply what she is learning as an economics major. While in the Philippines, Occhipinti worked primarily with socially and economically challenged women in Laguna to develop their personal businesses. Despite their circumstances, they were very giving, she says.
“Being in their homes, you could see they didn’t have much, but they were still so generous and offered me products for free even though it was so important to sell them,” Occhipinti says; she came back to the United States with several purchases.
When asked about the skills and concepts she utilized during her time in the Philippines, Occhipinti says she felt her experiences at UNH gave her a step up in the field; she had previously completed a microfinance class that gave her a good background. And her experience as the business manager for Net Impact UNH, a student organization dedicated to using business as a force for good in the world, helped her understand the social goals involved, and she said she kept this in mind throughout her work.
Occhipinti advises current and future Paul College students to allow their work to stem from their passions organically. “Think about what you genuinely love to do and find a way to do it,” she says.