Virginia Tech game teaches microfinance

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Print this page by Veronica Garabelli

Virginia Tech officials hope that a game created by the university can improve the lives of Third World women by teaching them the techniques of microfinance.

Microfinance involves financial services for low-income people who have little access to regular banks. Microfinance loans can be for amounts as little as $25.

As part of the Virginia Tech microfinance game, illiterate or semiliterate women are gathered in groups simulating small credit unions. Each woman has an identity card, and other cards represent items she can buy if group members pool their resources and invest their money over time. The women’s transactions are tracked by a microfinance account manager (usually someone from a non-governmental organization) using an Android application created at Tech. After the women run their mini-credit union for a couple months, they then can take their savings to a bank.

“I think microfinancing has brought a lot of people together, and they are solving their problems themselves rather than waiting for someone to show up and fix it for them,” says Akshay Sharma, an assistant professor in the industrial design department at Virginia Tech, who is leading the project.

The game already is in use in India and is in its beginning stages in Malaysia, Sharma says. The Department of Women and Child Development in Rajasthan, India, is using the game as a training tool that Sharma estimates will reach 1.5 million women in the next five years.

Sharma also is presenting the game to the World Bank. Through the bank, the game could be introduced to private companies handling microfinance accounts for 75 million people around the world.

“I think if I can use design to empower women, they have the ability to fix some of the things we are going through right now,” Sharma says, such as lack of access to education and health care.

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