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An Insight Into
Clark's Notes

As much as I love business, I like to learn about a diversity of things and what you’ll find here is mostly just what’s on my mind. Stories that I have, things I’ve been up to lately, and of course, what I’m learning about.

How I "Accidentally" Started A Bank In Uganda

Some may call it luck or an accident, but I prefer to believe that it was divine intervention. All the work that I had done, all the reflection, and goal setting put me in the right place, at the right time, with the right people to build a company that I could have only dreamed about months before it started.

The story begins in my college days. I started a company called Travel Young-- where I guided camping trips all over the world. It was my way to travel for free, learn business, and make a little money in college--and it was a lot of fun--check this out:

But the biggest impact it had on me was exposing me to global poverty--which quickly became an obsession of mine.

I read voraciously about history, economic development, and philanthropy to try to understand why there was so much inequality in the world, what caused it, and how to effectively address it.

What I found was that:

  1. Donations cannot sustain economic development--in fact donations often stifle long term economic growth.

  2. Entrepreneurship is the foundation of every thriving economy in the world. If you want to grow an economy, support it's entrepreneurs.

  3. Access to credit is entrepreneurial rocket fuel. When invested properly it can lift people out of poverty faster than you could ever imagine.

After learning this, I reflected on my own life. I was living the dream, traveling the world, running my own business... And it was only possible because I was able to borrow $700 on a credit card to buy the camping gear that I needed to run my first trip.

My entire life would have been completely different had I not been able to take out a microloan of my own. The number of doors that have opened for me (back then and to this day) have led to an unquantifiable amount of OPPORTUNITIES.

That's what this is all about: OPPORTUNITY.

For me, it was the opportunity to live my dream to start a business and see the world. In developing nations, the opportunity (and impact) is orders of magnitude bigger and more important. In Uganda a $100 microloan is a life-changing sum of money (if invested wisely).

The historical problem has been that donations don't always get allocated efficiently. In total about $2 Trillion of aid was donated to Africa between 1970 and 2000. And during that time period extreme poverty grew from 11% to 66%. Why? Because free money leads to bad behavior such as corruption, laziness, poor incentives, etc.

But around the year 2000, micro-lending became popular and over the next few decades, global poverty experienced a historically fast decline. Over a billion people were lifted out of poverty through micro-investments NOT donations.

By the time I was a junior in college, I had already learned about the power of microloans in books, but I hadn't seen in for myself. So when I got an email asking me if I wanted to go on a mission trip to Haiti, I signed up immediately--with the intention to give out my first loan.

But when I landed in Port-Au-Prince, I was devastatingly disappointed. Even with my world-class education and entrepreneurial mindset, there were no business opportunities in sight. I was at a loss for hope. I spent the last day of the trip sulking on the beach just trying to process my emotions. That's when Jean approached me.

Jean was a young Haitian man making about $3/day selling sea shells on the beach to tourists. After kicking up a conversation, I did something that I had never done before: I asked him, "What business would you start if you had a loan?".

Without a moment of hesitation, he said he would need $200 to buy a fishing net, because his brother owns a boat, and his customers love lobster. I looked down at my two empty plates of lobster and immediately realized I had made the same mistake as everyone else before me. I came to Haiti with the perspective of an outsider, but it takes the perspective of a local to find the business opportunities that work.

I gave Jean a loan for $200 to buy a fishing net and his income grew from $3/day to $20/day overnight.

What I realized at that moment is that developing nations are FULL of opportunities and the people living in them are some of the most entrepreneurial and resourceful people on the planet. They can take a tiny amount of money and completely turn around their life in an instant.

So I gave Jean $200 that day on a handshake promise that he would use it to buy a fishing net. And I left back to the states craving another opportunity to turn my passion for microloans into a business that I could scale.

That's when the divine force of the universe called me once again and I could not say no. For nearly a year this Ugandan guy named Moses had been emailing me trying to get my company Travel Young to partner with his safari operation in Uganda. I agreed to take a trip to Uganda myself before listing Uganda as a destination, but while I was there I was also spying on the microfinance industry.

On the last day, I asked him if he knew anyone in the microfinance business and to my surprise, microlending was his true passion. Moses studied finance in college and wrote up a microfinance business plan as his senior thesis. He already had a board of advisors picked out, and he knew exactly what we were going to name the company: Muvule.

I knew immediately that this was the partner I was looking for because he had:

  • The passion, skills, and network necessary to launch a microfinance company.

  • Proven leadership ability to build an organization that runs without him (ie. His non-profit school for 900 kids where he has a staff of 30.) and,

  • A heart in the right place. He grew up as an orphan in extreme poverty, so this was more than just a job. It was his calling and he wants nothing more than to help people escape the life he was born into.

The next week, despite how crazy of an idea it was, I wired all my money and some (about $50K) to this African guy that I had only met once. Everyone thought I was crazy, but I knew in my heart, that it was going to work out. I just had no idea how well.

Eight months later, when I returned to Uganda to see how things were doing, I couldn't believe my eyes. I had never felt more connected to my divine creator in my life. We had already helped hundreds of people escape a life of misery. I got to meet the women who once suffered from food insecurity. I met the children who proudly told me that they're now in school and I spoke with our staff who were filled with joy by the work they were doing. I was so proud, so happy, just to play a role in this company's creation.

I knew at this time, without a shadow of doubt, that starting this business was not an accident. It was a higher power that guided me. And once I felt that alignment in my spirit, I was filled with more more passion, purpose, and aliveness than you could ever imagine possible.

It's the type of energy that athletes feel when they achieve flow, it's the "stay up all night working, because I just can't sleep" sort of passion and it took over every ounce of my being. This is my God-given purpose, my calling on this planet, there is no denying it.

By the grace of God, I found my calling at such an early age, by taking time to reflect, following my instinct, and moving forward towards "impossible" goals with fearless passion. And it's that passion and excitement that helped us fight through the hardships of the pandemic with a "never-give-up" attitude.

As of the time of this writing, I'm happy to say that it's been three years running and as of our 2021 impact report, we've helped:

  • Stimulate $12 million of new economic activity in Uganda's poorest slums.

  • Fed 16,000 people three meals a day who were previously malnourished.

  • Put 9,600 kids in school who previously couldn't regularly afford school fees.

  • Built 2,400 brick homes for people who used to live in mud huts.

And this is seriously just the beginning.

We plan to 10x in 2022 and with the support of our generous investors. By 2023 we'll be in Rwanda and Burundi. By 2025, our plan is to become a certified bank. By 2030, we will lift a million people out of extreme poverty. And by the time I die, my mission is to put an end to slums.

Never again will people live in communities where all they know is poverty, all they see is hopelessness, without ever getting a good education or the OPPORTUNITY to thrive. Am I crazy for thinking this is possible? Yes. But I have a long life ahead of me and it's the crazy people who achieve the impossible.

The long term vision for Muvule is to use the power of microloans and housing (real estate) to put an end to slums and then to reinvest 10% of our profits in schools, to ensure long term economic development.

Afterall, putting children (girls especially) in school is the world's best investment. We're going to build schools in a sustainable way by using the profits of our business like an ever-growing endowment.

This is my life long mission. And I invite you to join me on it. Here's how you can get involved:

  1. Come to Uganda and see it for yourself. My journey started by booking a spontaneous flight. Yours can too.

  2. Consider a donation or an investment. Investors earn 10% per year. Donations are tax deductible and allows us to donate the 10% return you would have earned to fund schools.

  3. Simply stay in touch. If you're not in a place to take action right this second, that's totally fine. Life gets busy. I get it. If now is not the right time then just be a fan and an advocate.

Big goals can't be achieved alone. It takes a community and in the case of putting an end to poverty--it will take a mass movement. Let's stay connected and build this movement together.

Invest in the world you want to live in!

Clark Varin

Co-Founder, Muvule Financing

P.S. If you want to keep following my journey, joinery newsletter.




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