WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Galesburg Nonprofit Seeks International Change

Jun 19, 2017

Daniel Beers didn't quite know what to expect when he first traveled to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country.  It's estimated 100,000 people died as a result of the earthquake and nearly one million more were displaced.

Beers said his firsthand experience of the tragedy inspired his strong interest in the country’s history and people.

Beers, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Knox College, soon began studying how humanitarian organizations responded to the crisis. The connection he developed with Haiti inspired Beers and his wife, Kymber, to return a couple times each year since their first visit. Beers said their experiences caused them to rethink how foreign aid is distributed in the country.

He said a number of microcredit organizations began responding to the crisis. Microcredit organizations offer small loans to participants who often use that money to start a small business. The goal is that participants will pay back the loan with their profits, and then continue earning money for themselves.

Beers’ research led him to create his own nonprofit, Resources to Resources, about two years ago. But he decided to do something different from the microcredit model.

“We’re turning the microcredit model on its head by saying instead of borrowing, let’s save together. You can get that same outcome and that same investment opportunity without the risk,” Beers said.

The nonprofit, also known as R2R, focuses on microsaving. Participants receive access to a mobile bank account where they can save a few dollars each month. That amount is matched by R2R.

Beers said it eliminates the fear of not being able to pay back a loan.

Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world, and Beers said the Haitians R2R helps typically live in absolute poverty. He believes the ability to save a little money and have it matched by R2R helps them significantly.

Participants at the Knox R2R chapter’s Dance-a-thon fundraiser.
Credit Courtesy of Shresha Karmacharya

Beers said R2R is making a positive impact, even though the pilot program launched just one year ago. Twelve of the first twenty-two participants graduated within the program’s first six months. They have saved enough to pay for their child’s schooling or to fund entrepreneurial endeavors, such as buying stock for a small pharmacy.

Rohail Khan said community involvement is key to the program's success.  Khan was one of two Knox College students who worked closely with Beers and his wife during R2R’s founding. The group visited Haiti while designing the organization’s framework. Khan said the conversations they had with locals allowed the Haitian community to have a say in how R2R would assist them.

Khan’s interest in microfinancing developed in high school. He worked on projects in both Bangladesh and his home country of Pakistan before Beers approached Khan about R2R.

Khan graduated from Knox last year, but he stays involved by serving on R2R’s board of directors. He believes the organization has matured in the past year, and that this transition shows how he is maturing along with it.

The organization has matured in Galesburg as well. A group of Knox College students formed its own R2R organization on campus this past year. They cite Beers’ passion for the cause as inspiring them to get involved.

The group has hosted various fundraisers such as a Dance-a-thon, and donates the money to its namesake.

Soumitra Thorat, one of the executive members of the club, said he appreciates that students have been trusted with determining how R2R functions in Haiti.

“This is real.  This is not a proposal for a class that you write. This is something that is affecting someone’s life somewhere so every action, every step that you take, has a big impact on someone’s life,” he said.

The club members and Beers hope to start other chapters across the country.
Beers will have an opportunity to do that. He will start a new job at James Madison University in Virginia in the fall.

Members of the Knox College chapter say they will miss Beers’ guidance and enthusiasm. But Beers doesn’t believe his departure will hinder the club. He said his new position will allow him to further pursue research on international aid organizations, including his own.

However, Beers is careful when comparing R2R with other groups. He said he doesn’t see R2R as a charity.

“I see it more as a partnership and cooperation for a common cause,” he claimed.

Beers said his goal is for R2R to be a truly collaborative effort between the organization, the Haitian community, and the future students and professors involved in it moving forward.

He said the success so far goes to show that a small amount of change can make a big difference -- both at home and abroad.