Samantha Rayner and Lumana Credit change lives in rural Ghana

As financial superheroes go, Samantha Rayner (BA 2009) is pretty mild-mannered. And Lumana Credit, the micro-lending organization she founded last year with Foster School classmates, goes about its life-changing work without much fanfare.

But if the scale of Rayner’s Ghanaian stimulus plan is micro, its impact is definitely macro for many hard-working rural poor in the West African nation.

It is the kind of real-world experience the Foster School’s Undergraduate Program supports – whether regional or international in scope – through programs and networks that range from formal internships to independent studies in which student-led efforts such as Lumana can take their initial shape.

Inspiration to perspiration

Inspired by microfinance innovator Muhammed Yunus, Rayner incubated Lumana during an independent study at the Foster School. She piloted the organization in Atorkor, Ghana, the summer of 2008.

Back at the Foster School, she founded the UW Social Entrepreneurship Club and assembled an A-team of volunteers, among them Foster alumni Karin Avellaneda (BA 2009), Eric Appesland (BA 2009), Avi Zellman (BA 2009), PJ LaFemina (BA 2009), and Alexandra Berg (BA 2009), as well as several current Foster students. She also entered and won seed funding from the UW Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition in 2009.

“I love that we can draw on so many diverse backgrounds and talents,” Rayner says. “There are so many ways that people have plugged into Lumana.”

Model citizenship

Lumana’s general goal is to help people lift themselves out of poverty by launching profitable small businesses. Rayner and her team train local leaders to teach entrepreneurship and basic management, then award modest loans—typically $50 to $400—to help women develop or expand their hand-woven textile mills, mobile convenience stores and meal delivery services, among other niche services to the community.

Little more than a year later, and still driven largely by volunteers, Lumana employs two loan officers and eight entrepreneurship instructors in Ghana, and has invested nearly $30,000 in 150 clients from two villages—with a 98 percent payback rate. Rayner adds that fund-raising is critical to the organization’s growth.  With strong local bonds and a powerful model, she is planning to reach 500 clients in 2010 and negotiating the acquisition of a failing microcredit in a neighboring village.

Ultimately, she hopes Lumana’s lean, innovative model of investment-plus-education will become a prototype for a young industry, and testament to what inventive, fearless, passionate young people can accomplish in collaboration.

“Lumana has been built by an incredible team that is motivated by the mission,” Rayner says, “and who want to do good with their business degrees.”