Elon economics department hosts collegiate microfinance challenge

Students from nine colleges and universities participated in the data analytics consulting competition.

Sixteen undergraduate teams played the role of consultants for a nonprofit organization during the 2022 Elon Microfinance Challenge.

screenshot of people in 12 computer screens
The 2022 Elon Microfinance Challenge finalists during the virtual awards ceremony.

This is the third year the Department of Economics and student organization Elon Microfinance Initiative have co-hosted the competition and the first time students from other institutions participated. This year’s challenge brought together teams from Boston University, Elon University, Brigham Young University, University of Texas at Austin, UMass Dartmouth, Wake Forest University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, College of William and Mary, and Georgetown University.

The challenge tasked teams to consult for Seed Effect, who operates village savings and loan associations in refugee settlements in northern Uganda. Seed Effect provided teams with a dataset and asked them to assess its microfinance program to help the organization demonstrate its impact to donors and granting agencies.

In three weeks, teams analyzed the data and submitted a multimedia presentation of their assessment. Seed Effect evaluated submissions based on teams’ demonstrated understanding of the client; professionalism; clarity, accuracy and validity of statistical analyses; ability to communicate the meaning of statistical analyses; and communication of insightful implications for the microfinance program.

Five teams advanced to the final round, which included a live question-and-answer session with Seed Effect.

The Top 5 teams:

1st place

  • Brigham Young University – Mikayla Cheng & Aaron Chan

2nd place

  • Elon University – Jack Shea, Ryan Merrigan & David Sawyer

3rd place

  • Elon University – Gwen Hollingsworth, Julianne Jarek & Jane Ragland


  • Georgetown University – Dennis Zhong, Joe Kleban & Reid Benjamin
  • University of North Carolina – Steve Draughn

“It has been such a joy to get to participate in the Microfinance Challenge hosted by Elon University over the past three years, and especially exciting to see how its reach has grown to not only encompass more schools, but also up the level of competition,” said Grace O’Hara ’18, chief of staff at Seed Effect. “Each year I am impressed by the technical skill students display in analyzing Seed Effect’s dataset, as well as encouraged by their thoughtfulness to choose to do this extracurricular challenge, entirely independent of their course work. Their findings, research, and recommendations from an arm’s length perspective is truly meaningful, especially given Seed Effect’s lean size stateside.”