In our latest Origin Story, we asked Alex Honjiyo, a Georgetown junior and Compass Fellowship alumnus, about his experience leading the Hilltop MicroFinance Initiative. Check out more of our Origin Stories here!
What does the word ‘social’ in social entrepreneurship mean to you?
The word ‘social’ is what originally drew me to the idea of responsible entrepreneurship. It’s the idea that a business should look at its financial bottom line in context of its impact on people and the way it functions in the world. Business needs to be sensitive to the effect it has on the community it resides in, the customers it serves, and the people it employs. It’s all about how business can and should add value to people’s lives and ultimately their futures. That’s what I love about microfinance – it provides business the opportunity to affect positive change, enabling motivated people with the skills and capital they need to improve their situation.
If you could recommend one activity that every aspiring entrepreneur take up, what would that activity be and why?
Get to know the people that work within your industry and ask them for advice. There have been a lot of smart, more experienced people who work on a much larger scale within microfinance that have taken the time to pass on to me and the rest of the Hilltop MicroFinance Initiative (HMFI) a great deal of good advice that we’ve used to make our organization better. One of the best things that I learned from the Compass Fellowship was not to be afraid to ask people for advice. It’s something I always do.
What are some struggles you’ve faced as a young entrepreneur?
Finding the right people. It takes a lot of time and effort, but it’s worth it. I’m convinced that building a team of equally passionate coworkers is incredibly important no matter what you’re doing. Without that esprit de corps it can be distracting, hinder your progress, and may eventually even break your organization. I am very lucky to have found a great team of enthusiastic, intelligent, and hard-working people to do the job we’re good at, which is helping people help themselves.
We speak about the ‘entrepreneurial mindset’, and we feel like you are a good example of someone with that mindset. What do you think makes you an entrepreneur?
HMFI is the first thing I think of in the morning and the last thing I think of at night. Seriously. I’m constantly thinking about ways to grow our company and how to make it better. Inside an entrepreneur’s brain, I’m sure, must be a little bit scary. But it has to include thoughts of focused passion, an enjoyment of creating and building things, not being afraid to do the work themselves, the ability to lead, confidence to sell themselves and what they’re doing, and a never say die attitude when things don’t work. Well, that’s what I think about anyway.
What got you interested in microfinance?
Believe it or not I first learned about the concept from a segment Oprah did about microfinance on her TV show. I was in high school, and I started a fundraising team for Kiva.org because I was inspired by the idea that with a little bit of money, I could positively change someone’s life. When I came to Georgetown, I was very excited about the idea of being able to do microfinance right here in the United States.
What have you learned about microfinance through leading The Hilltop MicroFinance Initiative that you didn’t know before?
It’s one thing to sit in front of your computer and see someone’s online picture, read a quick story, and then send the money. But, it’s an entirely different experience to personally meet them, get to know their family, hear their life story, go to where they live, visit where they work, know their personal finances, understand their struggles, and believe in their dreams. Microfinance, in practice, is a business based on personal relationships and openness. The partnership that’s built between the client and the lender is based on mutual trust and it’s really the key to the loan’s success, for both the client and the loan provider. I’ve learned how rewarding it is to be involved with a business that’s socially responsible. However, at the end of the day, it’s still a business and performance is still measured in profit and loss. It’s just that we like to count our gains in human capital.
How can people connect with you and help your venture move forward?
If you are interested in providing a donation to the Hilltop MicroFinance Initiative, if you’re looking to work with our organization, or if you can connect HMFI with potential clients, please call or email us at:
Phone: (202) 505-HMFI