The New Class: College Students Redefine Leadership Through Microfinance

by Charity Yoro 

Finding a job these days just isn’t what it used to be. Today, 80% of all college graduates cannot find jobs in their field of study, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics. College students are responding to the changing job market by doing what they know best: creating their own jobs. And they are doing so while helping their communities.

This is the new class of college students: adaptable, dynamic, innovative, social entrepreneurs—and this pioneering variety of millennial students is redefining what it means to be a leader these days.

Non-traditional student and aspiring entrepreneur Oscar Aguayo of Pacoima, California is the perfect example of this new generation of leader.

While attending Los Angeles Mission College full-time, Oscar also operates Wiser Lending, the microfinance initiative he founded on campus that provides financial services to low-income entrepreneurs in the community. This past fall, the organization held a credit-building workshop for over 25 immigrant entrepreneurs—and it plans to hold other workshops like it over the course of the year.

Wiser Lending is part of the growing number of student-led microfinance groups called “Campus MFIs” that provide small loans and other services to low-income microbusiness owners in the United States. The establishment of these groups epitomizes the idea of social stewardship that is characteristic of this new generation of student leaders.

“I’ve learned that there are a lot of opportunities for students to put small business concepts to practice,” says Oscar. One of those opportunities occurred last summer, when Oscar served as a fellow for the non-profit organization, Lend for America.  As part of the fellowship, which includes a full-time summer internship at an established microfinance institution, Oscar joined the Intersect Fund, a CDFI in New Jersey that was founded by two undergraduates out of Rutgers University.

As a fellow, Oscar worked closely with the co-founder of the Intersect Fund and Rutgers alumni, Rohan Mathew. Through the experience, Oscar learned how important access to capitol is for small businesses and start-ups. In a real, tangible way, he discovered the need for financial education to be shared beyond the campus confines and with the greater community.

“There is a lot of struggle and hesitation to go out into the community,” says Oscar, “and the internship broke a lot of barriers for me.” After a summer of working with underserved entrepreneurs and hearing their stories of challenge and triumph, Oscar feels compelled to follow through with his own venture. He now has the skills to accompany his passion; he is now prepared to help the underserved in his own hometown.

Oscar agrees that personal experience is a key part of the next generation’s college education. Lectures and observation are beneficial, but that hands-on piece is essential to learning these days. “You can model other people,” Oscar notes, “but you must really understand the concepts in order to apply them.”

An entrepreneur himself, Oscar started his own venture selling collectibles online before deciding to attend college. He knows about the challenges facing small business owners, and he is in the perfect position to advise them on what not to do. Being afraid of risks, for example. “There is always a learning experience,” says Oscar. “You have to be able to make mistakes.”

Wiser Lending is the collective product of Oscar’s entrepreneurial endeavors, formal education and fellowship experience. He has already secured office space on campus and has scheduled financial workshops to offer to small businesses in the northeast San Fernando Valley. Topics will span business development, such as marketing and promotion, as well as educational workshops on credit and savings. Oscar’s goal is to collaborate with crowd-funding sites, such as Kiva, to connect entrepreneurs with financing, and to eventually build Wiser Lending’s own loan fund.

In the shift towards a sharing economy, versatility is an incredibly beneficial skill to have, no matter what the field of expertise a student decides to pursue post-graduation. For example, while managing the responsibilities of Wiser Lending, Oscar also runs his campus’s Business Entrepreneurship Club.

Because this is the reality of a student leader nowadays: they must be able to serve in other capacities within the organization. Presidents and founders are also fundraisers, promoters, and treasurers.

This requires some amount of humility. Oscar’s advice for young leaders is simple: Learn how to follow, as well as lead. He encourages other student entrepreneurs to ask questions, and to learn how to ask the right questions. “The sooner these concepts are applied, the more room for growth,” he says.

But the real advice Oscar gives is the way in which he lives. It seems apt that the name of Oscar’s venture, Wiser Lending, reflects the nature of this new generation of social entrepreneurs. Perhaps a change of the name to Wiser Leading would be more appropriate.

Charity Yoro is the Program Associate for Lend for America. She is passionate about helping others find their own personal wealth. In her free time, she can be found exploring coffee shops in Jersey City or experimenting with sriracha in the kitchen.

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