The Styles section of Sunday's New York Times featured an article about Unithrive, an organization founded by the three Harvard alumni pictured above to connect students seeking small loans with alumni lenders, "I’m Going to Harvard. Will You Sponsor Me?". The maximum dollar amount of the loans is fairly small: $2,000 -- an amount a college student could accumulate with a part-time job, or put on his credit card, if need be. Money isn't the main issue here; bonding with alumni is. As the article notes,
The appeal of direct donor-to-student loans, Unithrive’s founders say, is that alumni will have a personal connection to current students: those requesting loans list hometowns, majors and classes they have taken. Alumni can lend to students with whom they feel a bond. They are promised updates three times a year from students they support — not unlike the letters that sponsors of poor children in Africa receive through the Christian Children’s Fund.
This is a clever idea, based on an old, counter-intuitive principal of human nature: the quickest way to make someone your friend is not to do him a favor, but to ask him to do a favor for you. That this was the brainchild of Harvard alumni isn't surprising considering that Harvard seems to have the most effective alumni network of any elite school. Perhaps that's because it attracts students who are savvier and more aggressive about networking than those who attend other schools. Other elite schools may have similar academic prestige (e.g., MIT) or a similar Ivy League pedigree (e.g., Penn), but their alumni don't seem to have a network in the same league. If they did, then, presumably, an MIT alumnus wouldn't have had to resort to wearing a sandwich board in Midtown Manhattan to get a new job, and Atlantic blogger and Penn (and University of Chicago GSB) alumna Megan McCardle wouldn't have recently posted her latest lamentation about how she couldn't afford to go out with her friends while she was unemployed after earning her MBA.
As smart as this idea is, Unithrive co-founder Joshua Kushner, whom the article describes as "a scion of a wealthy real estate family", may get some heat from some New York Times letter writers for his apparent disdain for the sort of jobs many college students work part time for extra cash:
Mr. Kushner noted that the college still asks scholarship students to contribute a few thousand dollars a year from summer and school-term jobs.
“I have friends who would spend 10 hours a week when they are not in class working at a coffee shop or in the dorms,” said Mr. Kushner, 24, referring to time that he considered wasteful. “I think the most special thing about college is not just what you do in class, but what you do out of class.”
I doubt Mr. Kushner will be troubled by any opprobrium from lumpen letter-writers though, and he may be right not to be troubled by it: working a mundane part-time job might teach a college student humility, but what Harvard student needs humility when he can get the money interest free for 5 years and build a bond with potential alumni mentors at the same time?
The image above, of Unithrive founders Nimay Mehta, left, Joshua Kushner and Tanuj Parikh, accompanied the article and was credited to Michael Falco.