Alum founds organization to help combat poverty

Inspired by the altruistic actions of a Tanzanian school headmistress, Sanjay Patel ’95 has founded Epic Change, an organization that aims to provide modest loans for improvement efforts in impoverished communities worldwide.

Epic Change intends to provide small-scale, interest-free loans to enable local efforts to provide positive change in poor areas. In theory, the organization facilitates loan repayment by helping the borrowers to develop income-generating projects. They then plan to “recycle” the repaid loans into other projects. 

During a volunteer-tourism trip taken to Tanzania in January 2007, Patel found himself amazed by the beauty and hope in the poverty and disease-stricken nation. In particular, Mama Lucy Kamptoni, a woman who had established and kept up a primary school outside the Tanzanian city of Arusha, moved him.

“Here’s a woman who used the minimal income she was getting from selling chickens to establish a school so that she could provide a quality education for the children living in her village,” Patel said.

“She also subsidizes the costs completely for local orphans that can’t afford to pay the tuition,” Patel said. “I really liked her model – it’s sustainable, doesn’t segregate children based on their financial status and really provides an excellent education, which for many, will be their only vehicle out of poverty.”

However, the viability of Kamptoni’s Sheperds Junior Academy was threatened when the landlord sold the property on which the school was located. This predicament helped Patel crystallize his desire to help, and Epic Change was born.

Within two months, the organization was formed, incorporated and granted tax-exempt status. Six months later, the first loan to the school was made.

A new location for the school was found and purchased. Four newly constructed classrooms were added to the new venue, and 200 students were allowed to stay in school.

Patel dipped into his own personal savings and came up with creative fundraising ideas such as dance benefits, lemonade stands, poker parties and garage sales to supplement the organization’s bread-and-butter online donations.

In just over six months, Epic Change raised over $40,000. The organization also received pro bono assistance in legal services, graphic design and online advertising. Dynamic loan repayment in action is shown in the schoolhouse project. A line of postcards featuring students’ stories has been created. These postcards are to be sold in the hotels and other attractions in the tourism market of Arusha.

Though at the moment, the Sheperds Junior project is the only one that Epic Change is focused on, Patel sees expansion in the near future.

“We’re thinking big, but we’ve started small,” Parel said. “We’ve made a conscious decision to focus our efforts on only one project at a time right now to really refine our model and ensure the success of this specific effort in Tanzania.”