"This is not charity. This is business: business with a social objective, which is to help people get out of poverty."
— Muhammad Yunus
Microlumbia evolved out of one Columbia Business School student’s desire to find the best way to make an impact.
As a first-year MBA student at Columbia in the Fall of 2006, Microlumbia founder David del Ser Bartolome led his 60-student cluster to raise $3,300 for a non-profit that funded educational supplies for public schools. As thank-you notes and photos poured in from children they'd donated to, David saw how thrilled his classmates were. He wondered how best to inspire and put to use this enthusiasm and interest in philanthropy and fundraising. In particular, he wanted to know how else Columbia Business School could help people in the developing world and learn by doing so.
On a school trip to Rwanda in January 2007, over African beer with other like-minded MBA students, David discussed how best to engage his classmates in making social impact. They discussed Kiva.org, which had just become "hot" on the philanthropic scene, as a model organization because Kiva's foundation in microfinance appealed both to students who were attracted to social enterprise and those interested in finance.
When he returned to campus, David developed his idea, recruited more students, (including co-founder Katie Leonberger) and jump-started weekly meetings aimed at developing a business plan for a new organization focused on microfinance. During this time, David was fueled by a visit from Kiva’s CEO, Matt Flannery, who had come to campus to pitch Kiva to the student community and hear about what CBS was up to.
In late fall 2007, The Bottom Line, the business school newspaper, published a story about David del Ser Bartolome’s student microfinance working group. Positive response from students, faculty, alumni, and other distinguished associates of the business school indicated interest was strong. Specifically, Ehud Houminer, an Executive in Residence at Columbia, contacted David directly and pledged funds toward further development of a student run microfinance organization. This lit a fire in David and his team and kicked off a series of in-depth discussions with professors and local professionals familiar with microfinance investment and management. A turning point occured in early 2008 when Columbia Business School finance professor Suresh Sundaresan suggested the team look beyond fundraising and into direct investment in microfinance institutions or indirectly through established funds.
Over the course of many meetings, conferences, and seminars, the group sharpened their focus. They decided their new organization would invest directly in early-stage microfinance institutions and offer business advice through pro-bono consulting services. A Board of Directors was assembled, legal council was consulted, and on January 30, 2008, the group was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) organization.
In 2014, the organization underwent its first major pivot. The Board of Directors approved a student management team proposal to broaden the scope of the organization from microfinance to impact investing more broadly in order to better serve student interests and to pursue partnership opportunities in the growing field of impact investing. This decision was made following a year-long student-led research project and business plan recommendation supported by faculty advisor, Professor Bruce Usher. Legally independent from Columbia Business School but supported by the institution's Tamer Center for Social Enterprise, Microlumbia’s express purpose is to develop the next generation of leaders in social enterprise and impact investing.
Since its incorporation, Microlumbia has developed multiple relationships with microfinance and impact investing organizations, hosted a broad array of speakers on campus from organizations such as Acumen, Accion, Community Development Venture Capital Alliance and SKS Microfinance; deployed students on over 36 consulting projects on five continents; performed investment due diligence on a variety of organizations; invested a total of $80,000 in four microfinance institutions on four continents; and has continuously crafted and re-crafted its corporate structure to best meet the long term needs of its students and impact investing partners.