Investing In China's Future One Student At A Time

Investing In China's Future One Student At A Time

This week, we're profiling the Young Global Leaders attending the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

For Calvin Chin, the road to higher education requires just a few hundred dollars at the right moment.

Take Winnie, for instance. She was a senior at Guangzhou University when her father had to quit his teaching job because his eyesight started to fail him. He went back to working on the family farm, making enough money for food, but not for Winnie's tuition.

"Winnie still owed money for two semesters, about $700 USD. Her school couldn't give her a diploma until she paid. Winnie tried to raise money to help her family by selling things on campus, but it wasn't enough," Calvin recalled her predicament.

Calvin founded Qifang in 2007 to help students like Winnie complete their education. The nonprofit has a simple strategy utilizing social networking to connect university or graduate students who need money with investors looking to make a difference and a profit. The organization reduces investor risk by allowing them to invest small amounts, in multiple students at a time. Qifang fills a void in China's higher education system. According to the China Education and Research Network, approximately two million students received state education loans in 2006, while approximately 27 million students graduated from higher education institutions between 2006-2010.

Winnie is one of the thousands of students to have received educational loans from Qifang. After hearing about the organization from friends, she submitted her profile to the website and received microloans from eight people. Since then, she has graduated, gotten a job and paid everyone back.

In English, "Qifang" is a reference to the moment when flowers "bloom at the same time." Over the last four years, the organization has blossomed on the world stage. In 2009, the World Economic Forum designated Qifang as a Technology Pioneer, making it the first Chinese organization to win the title.

The international community has continued to express interest in Calvin and his work. In the past few days he has met with people in China, Saudi Arabia and Germany to discuss his ideas and promote his organization. Later this week Calvin will fly to Davos, Switzerland to attend the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader. He plans to use his moment in the spotlight to "spread my ideas about Chinese innovation to find more people who will invest in big things, things that will change the world," he said.

Despite this enthusiasm globally, Calvin has experienced resistance to Qifang's model of microfinancing student loans in China. According to Calvin, Chinese investors shy away from new ideas and young companies. "A lot of people in China will take the safe route and join a big company like Google," he said.

Calvin credits his Western upbringing for teaching him the value of innovation. He was raised in Michigan, attended Yale University, and has since lived in New York City and Silicon Valley.

Today, he remains convinced of the vast opportunities for innovation in China and is resolute in his determination to be a part of a new wave of thinking.

"I feel that helping China be more innovative is something that I can do, so I have a feeling of responsibility to do it. I think it is one of the fundamental challenges that can help the livelihoods of millions and hopefully keep China on its path of stable and peaceful rise. If China is destabilized by slow or no growth, the whole world will suffer," he said.

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