by Courtney Ahrenholtz, Associate Professor, Finance and Marketing

Small business financing in the United States generally refers to the ways in which an entrepreneur obtains financing to start, grow or sustain a small business. In my asynchronous course; Small Business Financing (BUSG 1341), we explore the common techniques used by business owners and financial industry professionals in the United States. However, I began to question how these techniques might differ around the globe and what the different expectations between men and women entrepreneurs might look like in emerging markets. Many students who take this course come from global backgrounds or have aspirations for starting a business that may take them abroad. Because of this, I felt both compelled and excited to broaden the view of the course curriculum. Through the support of the Global Women and Gender Studies Faculty Learning Community (FLC), I have spent the last year designing a new course module that encourages the students to compare and contrast what they know about small business financing in the U.S. and abroad.

The sheer breadth of small business financing techniques and regulations around the globe is far too large to cover in a single semester, much less in a single course module. So I chose to focus on the global microfinance industry because it has an automatic gender consideration based on the customs and practices established by the industry. There is also plenty of valuable research materials available around microfinance making it an accessible research topic for the students. Additionally, microfinance is full of public controversy which makes for a topic that is naturally debatable; an important element for student research.

My initial strategy for the “Global Microfinance” module was to dedicate a specific section to the topic with guided lessons and a required materials list. However, after creating the course to meet the specific required learning objectives it became evident that the topic was too broad to fit within the small amount of spare space available. So I chose to take a different approach and offer the module as an Alternative Assignment to the Final Exam. This option gave students the opportunity to choose the assessment strategy and topic that worked best for their personal modality.

For the students who chose to complete the Global Microfinance Research Project, instructions (including a pre-recorded video) were provided early in the semester. Allowing the students to research the global microfinance practices simultaneously as they studied the traditional small business finance practices in the U.S. A short list of required background materials was provided to the students about the global microfinance industry. Once the student completed this material they were tasked with performing independent research to supplement their knowledge of the industry. Finally, the students were asked to critically evaluate and contrast the global microfinance practices with small business financing practices in the U.S. that we also learned about in class. Students presented their findings to me in a pre-recorded presentation using their preferred slide presentation program(augmented with screen recording if necessary for audio).

The overall sentiment from the students who chose the alternative assignment was very positive. Responses received from the assignment “exit poll” indicate that the assignment was ‘inspiring’ and ‘preferable’. The one element that I would like to change in the future, is the assignment due date. By moving the due date earlier in the semester the presentations could be shared with the entire class and I think this would be a broad benefit for all students.

One final interesting result from the exit poll indicated that students would be interested in a women-centric finance course. This is something I have questioned frequently. Is there a benefit to catering financial education to women does this create a bigger chasm? The research shows that the global microfinance practices over the past 3 decades have ostracized and exploited women. The men in these women’s lives continue to force them to take on socially and financially overpriced debt. Undoubtedly, more financial education for these women would be helpful. While practices in the U.S. differ drastically, there is clearly still a need for accessible financial education.

I am grateful to the Global Women and Gender Studies Faculty Learning Community (FLC) for helping me to broaden the scope of my course and the view of my industry. It is through the encouragement and meaningful discussions with this cohort that I am able to deliver a global perspective to our ACC students. And in return, our students will go on to support and grow our global community.