Kellogg World Alumni Magazine Spring 2008Kellogg School of Management
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Making a world of difference
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Sally Sharp Lehman '88
Joseph Hasten '78
James Reynolds '82
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Melanie Chan '06
Horace Allen '04
Joseph Seminetta '05
David Pope '94
Cory Zanin '91
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Melanie Chan in India
People power: During a 2007 trip to India with microfinance nonprofit Unitus, Melanie Chan interacted with local community members (above) and participated in meetings with the female borrowers that Unitus serves (below). Most of the work occurred in semi-rural areas two hours outside Bangalore.
Rich in spirit, Melanie Chan '06 finds purpose in service to the poor

By Kari Richardson

The year before starting her MBA studies, she had attended a California conference featuring guest speaker and Nobel Prize winner Mohammad Yunus, founder of microfinance pioneer Grameen Bank, one of the organizations extending small loans to impoverished entrepreneurs with the goal of enabling these people to become self sufficient. Chan also learned more about the work of another nonprofit microlender — Unitus.

Unitus partners with microfinance banks around the globe, helping them to develop their management teams, connect with larger financial institutions and infuse their systems with the capital that lets them help more of those in need.

Almost immediately, the Kellogg School alum says she was hooked on the idea of microfinance, an arena where her business school skills could fuel her desire to help the less fortunate.

She offered to complete a pro bono consulting project for Unitus, eventually assembling a team of eight Kellogg students for the effort. The team compared the banks that Unitus had helped to those it had not in order to answer a critical question: "Does the nonprofit make a difference?" Their finding: Unitus partners grew nearly four times as fast as the average microfinance bank.

"That was what really sold me," Chan remembers. "I wanted to join this organization."

As the first recipient of the Kellogg School's Beacon Capital Partners Fellowship, which partially funds a one-year appointment to a nonprofit organization, that's exactly what Chan did following graduation. At her new job, she focused her efforts on the goal of making the poor more productive.

Many of the small banks that serve the impoverished in developing countries cap out at about 2,000 poor borrowers, she notes. "That's very inefficient, if you think about it," Chan says. "There's so much more potential, but they usually can't reach that next stage of growth."

After a recent move to Lynchburg, Va., to join her husband, Greg Jimmerson, a college track coach, Chan has consulted for Unitus. Her latest project is to investigate industries "adjacent" to microfinance, such as healthcare, housing, education and technology, and discover how to deliver these products and services to the poor.

As an example, she cites the human resources practices of established organizations, which often play a role in the poor'sunderemployment. While recruiting efforts can focus on cities, in many countries — India, for example — the poor live disproportionately in rural areas, and so they can miss out on job opportunities.

Chan says her efforts have benefited greatly from the strong strategic background she developed as a Kellogg student.  "There were very few required courses I needed to take," says Chan, who entered the one-year MBA program with a robust background in business. "The rest of my program I could personally design, which allowed me to focus on the strategy end of things."

When not at work for Unitus, Chan teaches business classes through Liberty University and uses her skills to help other nonprofit organizations, most notably one called Advancing Native Missions, which works in 182 countries.

Along with her husband, Chan also helps administer the Altitude Project, a running camp that helps elite athletes excel in competitive running and Christian living. More than 100 runners have come through the camp already, including one who has qualified for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

She may be busy, but a tireless sense of purpose seems to infuse all Chan does. "I've always felt a strong calling to leave a legacy," she says.

Melanie Chan in India
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