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CELEBRATE! profile: Erika Lamanna ‘09

Improving the health of children in Third World nations may be as simple as offering $40 loans to parents who want to start a small business. That finding and more was shared this week at SURF by Erika Lamanna ’09, whose interest in developing economies is the latest topic in a series of E-net profiles to highlight undergraduate research during CELEBRATE! 2009.

“Our results confirmed what I had seen abroad, but had not been empirically shown before,” said economics major Erika Lamanna.

In “Measuring the Impact of Microfinance on Child Health Outcomes in Indonesia,” a paper co-authored with economics professor Steve DeLoach, Lamanna examines data from the Pacific island nation that shows “children living in communities that gained access to small-scale microfinance institutions experienced significantly higher rates of weight gain.”

Why does that matter?

Weight is a leading indicator of health, Lamanna said, and it is closely tied with future educational and earnings potential, which can lead a region out of poverty. When parents in Indonesia received small loans from community banks, they turned that money into a profitable enterprise.

“First, they’ll pay back the loan. But then they’ll focus on their families and make sure their children have proper nutrition and are going to school,” Lamanna said. “They put their income right back into their family.”

The data analyzed by Lamanna and DeLoach is the first to their knowledge that have studied the link between loans and juvenile health. Lamanna presented the material twice this spring – first at the Unite For Sight Global Health Conference at Yale University, and again on April 28 during SURF.

Lamanna’s interest in developing economies was sparked by a trip to Senegal during her junior year, where she worked with SEM - the Senegal Ecovillage Microfinance Fund, a program that assists villagers throughout Senegal. Lamanna saw the effect of micro loans – small denominations to people with no access to regular banks – but realized little empirical data existed to prove such efforts worked.

She consulted with DeLoach upon her return and a project was born. Lamanna found data for weight and access to credit in the Indonesian Family Life Survey from 1993-2000. “Our results confirmed what I had seen abroad, but had not been empirically shown before,” she said. “I had seen mothers talking about how it had helped them.”

“It was the small banks that were really making a difference.”

Lamanna, the oldest of three siblings, is the first in her family to attend college, and her studies won’t stop in May. The Business Fellow from Kentucky learned this spring of her acceptance into the PhD program for economics at Vanderbilt University, and her hope, she said, is to continue studying how economics affects developing nations.

Research outside of class is but one of the things faculty members say they admire about Lamanna. Tom Tiemann, an economics professor who helped recruit Lamanna to Elon, lauds her for her dedication in helping classmates understand complex material.

“She’s smart and she works very hard. The combination of the two puts her above just about everyone else,” said economics professor “You like having her in the classroom. She makes everyone better.”

Eric Townsend,
1/6/2010 12:36 PM