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Sasha Fisher '10

Co-founder, MicroGrants non-profit

Sasha Fisher '10

Just a few years post-graduation, alumna Sasha Fisher '10 has wasted no time putting her self-designed "human security" major to use. Spark MicroGrants, the non-profit she's co-founded, has already helped humans in eastern Africa achieve security of one kind or another, by funding projects to improve access to education, clean water, healthcare, food and more.

When she arrived at UVM from New York City, her plan was to investigate aid work with a multidisciplinary approach. "I ended up realizing that in economics, the goal is to have poverty reduction -- that's not actually my goal. In political science, it's about the state -- that's not actually my goal either," she says. "What I want to do is to enable all the humans on Earth, even if they're in an illegitimate state or a corrupt state, to meet all their basic needs. And that doesn't necessarily mean money -- that means that they have food, that they have health care, that they have a house, that they have access to clean water."

"When [Fisher] was a student, she took my African policies class, and what continued to strike me was not just her level of intellectual engagement and real enthusiasm for the material but also her applied understanding of the material and capability for thinking about real-world problems," says Peter VonDoepp, associate professor of political science, "Sasha's not stuck in the abstract, it's all about this world for her."

Fisher, inspired and educated by her work as an undergrad with the New Sudan Education Initiative, another non-profit created by UVM alumni, co-founded Spark MicroGrants with Georgetown and Columbia University graduate Teddy Svoronos, who conceived of the organization as a Fulbright Scholar in Tanzania, and computer scientist Neal Lesh, who specializes in using information technology to address poverty. With an initial $10,000 investment, Fisher moved to Rwanda.

So far, Spark has funded more than 24 projects in Rwanda and Uganda

Spark's model is simple: let community members drive development in their villages by offering a sum of money (typically $5,000 or less) and working with the community to identify needs and draft a project proposal. The group has expanded from a full-time staff of just Fisher to now about a dozen.

"It is so exciting to think about Spark in the long run, because one of the things we're doing is we're building a model for microgranting, and this model could be used everywhere in the world," Fisher says. "Hopefully we'll have proven that this model is the model we should be using for development."