Anderson School of Management
Claim to Fame: The FAB Project
Education: University of Chicago, PhD, Finance
At Anderson Since: 1988
Before Anderson: Graduate Student and Lecturer at the University of Chicago
Fun Fact: Buddhist Atheist
If I wasn’t teaching, my dream job would be: Conversations with smart people and reading
Best part of the job: The ability to think and work on creative ideas with smart, intellectually stimulating colleagues and students
Worst part of the job: Paperwork, filling out forms
A simple dinner conversation between two colleagues has led to one of the “big ideas” to shape the future of finance. Two years ago, UCLA’s Bhagwan Chowdhry was in India sharing an evening meal at the home of Vijay Mahajan. Mahajan, known as India’s father of microfinance, and Chowdhry, who has studied microfinance for a decade, were discussing a dreadful statistic which they had been repeatedly confronted with: more than half of the world’s poor population lack means to achieve financial savings. What’s more, this segment of poor doesn’t even know how to save.
“We also learned that many children who are born go unregistered,” says Chowdhry. “Thus the world doesn’t even know they exist. For financial services to be provided and to teach people about saving, this makes things very difficult.”
By the end of the evening Chowdhry and his host had come up with a FAB idea to address these critical issues.
Financial Access @ Birth (FAB) is a new venture designed by Chowdhry to increase access to financial savings. Here’s how it works. A child is born. The child is assigned an electronic ID which also serves as a birth certificate. At the time of birth, $100 dollars is deposited into an online bank account to jump start savings. The FAB idea is to repeat this process for every child born across the globe. Simple right?
“Yes,” says Chowdhry. “Some 134 million children are born each year. 100 million children times $100 each equals just $10 billion. In order of magnitude and when you think about our government spending billions to bail out banks and auto industries, this is truly achievable.”
As he states his case to world governments and organizations such as the World Bank, the United Nations, and UNICEF, Chowdhry makes clear he is not proposing new funding or new tax dollars to support FAB. “We’re suggesting we need to rethink how government aid is currently distributed.”
Chowdhry’s big idea, though radical to some, has generated plenty of buzz. He has granted interview requests to CNN, The Economist, Forbes, and others. Yet there was one telephone call Chowdhry did not expect.
“This was pure serendipity and something I didn’t see coming,” says Professor Chowdhry about a call from the casting director of the HBO television series Entourage.
In an episode from this year’s final season, the producers constructed a scene in which the star character, Vince, was confronted by a media reporter for his lack of social awareness. FAB—and Professor Chowdhry—were plugged into the scene as an illustration of social ventures impacting the lives of people in need.
Prior to this 60 second television debut, Chowdhry admits he’d never heard of Entourage. When friends and colleagues informed him that President Obama was a fan, that was all it took. “That’s it. I’m in.”
In addition to his accolades as a top business professor, Professor Chowdhry’s name can now also be found in the Internet Movie Database.
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