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Professor Michael Chu Reflects on His Personal Journey With Microfinance

Michael Chu was inspired to delve into stocks and finance when after graduating college he met an American graduate student working on Wall Street. Now, as Senior Lecturer of Business Administrations at Harvard University, he is regarded as a leader in microfinance.

Chu, who was invited to campus by the Philanthropy and Investing Club, outlined the impacts individuals can make in underdeveloped countries through microfinance during his presentation, entitled “Changing the World: In Search of Effective Solutions – A Personal Journey.” He gave his presentation Thursday, October 29th in Kemper Auditorium.

Although Michael Chu was born in China, he grew up in Montevideo, Uruguay, where first discovered his yearning to help others.

“[At my school in Montevideo], they made us run around the perimeter of the campus,” said Chu during a presentation in Kemper Auditorium last Thursday. “On one side, it was the playing fields [but] on the other side, I saw a lot of pretty shabby houses with people that weren’t that well dressed… at that time, what I was seeing caused enough of an impression that the seeds of wanting to participate in social change were embedded in me.”

After graduating from Dartmouth College in 1968, Chu took a gap year during which he returned to Montevideo. During this time, he became involved in the country’s changing political environment and became a member of the opposition party, the National Party of Uruguay.

“I had the best of intentions, and I thought change must come when people like me would be in government, because then we would make all the changes necessary for a more equitable world… What I later realized was that best of intentions did not mean best of results,” said Chu during his presentation.

When Chu first joined the opposition party he was not interested in economics or microfinance. Chu soon discovered that profit could be used to help the less fortunate and thus decided to further pursue his passion for microfinance at Harvard Business School.

Now a Senior Lecturer of Business Administration and co-chair of the Strategic Leadership for Inclusive Finance at Harvard Business School, Chu helps encourage and fund individuals willing to make a positive impact on the world and the lives of people living in less developed countries.

“I hope to [change the world] by supporting and creating enterprises that are very profitable, delivering interventions that will make a big difference in people being able to realize their potential. So it’s a venture capital for a more equitable world,” said Chu in an interview with The Phillipian.

Chu’s presentation was followed by a question and answer session, during which he fielded questions from the audience. During the session, Chu addressed the effect of modern technology on the microfinance industry.

“I think the model that dominates modern microfinance is a 30 year old model. Any 30 year old model, especially in 2015, is ripe for disruption… and I think that technology is really going to disrupt [microfinance],” he said.

Chu said that he hoped to emphasize the importance of critical thinking through his presentation.

“I think the most effective thing is really being a deep thinker in the sense that you don’t accept conventional concepts without thinking them through. I think that would be really powerful in anything, but also in finance,” said Chu.

Mustafa Masud ’16, Co-Head of Philanthropy and Investing Club, said that the club brought Chu to campus not only because of his background in microfinance, but also because his work reflects Andover’s motto of Non Sibi.

“Chu’s presentation [was] powerful in that it provided an easy to understand description of how microfinance works, why it is sustainable and how it allows individuals interested in finance to engage in global community enrichment. It was also a well-told personal story of his childhood and the college process, which the students receiving the presentation could relate to,” wrote Masud in an email to The Phillipian.

In addition to his work in the microfinance sector, Chu is also the head of Project Antares, a program dedicated to providing high quality healthcare to low income populations. He is also the Managing Director of the IGNIA fund, which strives to serve low-income populations in Mexico.

Nov 6, 2015