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Enabling UN Sustainable Development Goals through microfinance

Inspiring large organisations to become social entrepreneurs
Dr Jarrod Vassallo's research investigates how microfinance can help create a path out of poverty and provide a blueprint for organisations seeking to expand into profitable social enterprises.
Dr Jarrod Vassallo

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused the number of people living in poverty globally to rise for the first time in decades, with 71 million more people added to the 736 million who were already living in extreme poverty, according to the UN.

“No poverty” is the first of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, of which the University is a signatory, and it’s something that is central to Dr Jarrod Vassallo’s research and teaching.

“I'm looking at organisations that provide financial inclusion services, because without finances, you can't invest in education, you can't take care of your family when there's a medical emergency and you can't set up a business.”

Together with Ahmed Khwaja and Jaideep Prabhu, his research partners from University of Cambridge Judge Business School, Jarrod studied the work of microfinance organisations such as Grameen Bank, BRAC and ASA. These organisations lend small amounts of money to the poor – mostly women – to start businesses in developing countries. BRAC is the largest NGO in the world, with about 100,000 employees while Grameen, which pioneered microfinance in 1976, now has 8.4 million borrowers.

“It was about understanding their strategy, talking to their managers, downloading the documents, then collecting the data and looking at how they made these strategic decisions over time. Then we applied game theory models and were able to feed that back to the organisation so they could reflect on their behaviour and potentially work out better approaches.”

These organisations offer an alternative to the goodwill of government and philanthropic organisations that Jarrod says, while welcome, but not sustainable. He believes that the servies offered by microfinance organisations have the capacity to inspire large organisations to become social entrepreneurs, “because it's not a loss-making activity, at the very least it will break even. And it could actually make a decent amount of profit under certain circumstances as well.”

The engaged research project with Jarrod with three of the largest and most innovative NGOs in the world demonstrates how modelling their strategic decisions can help them improve their performance while allowing us to break new ground theoretically and methodologically.
Professor Jaideep Prabhu, Judge Business School, University of Cambridge

Research team

  • Dr Jarrod Vassallo is a Lecturer in Strategy, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Sydney Business School
  • Jaideep Prabhu is Professor of Indian Business and Enterprise at the Cambridge Judge Business School
  • Ahmed Khwaja is Professor of Marketing, Business and Public Enterprise at the Cambridge Judge Business School

Dr Jarrod Vassallo
Dr Jarrod Vassallo
Academic profile