As the room fills with MBA graduate students, hair trimmers take the place of laptops in wall sockets. Synthetic and authentic moustaches replace perspiration on upper lips, and a PowerPoint lists various facial hair trimming designs and beard trivia.
The College of William and Mary MBA students organized the first annual ’Stache for the Cash, the Nov. 11 mustache auction. All $1,370 raised benefitted the establishment of a microlending account with Kiva.org, an organization providing loans to people without any access to traditional banking systems.
In this month of “Movember,” males everywhere insulate their chins, cheeks and upper lips not only to display their manhood, but typically also to raise awareness for men’s health issues.
“‘Movember’ is generally associated with awareness of diseases that affect men’s health, such as prostate cancer, but we decided we wanted to do something that could be more long lasting,” graduate student and co-chair JD Waterman said.
Kiva lenders set up a perpetual fund for borrowers to receive loans through a Field Partner. The borrower makes repayments to the Field Partner, who will in turn send funds owed to Kiva, who repays the lender. Lenders can then continue lending, donate to Kiva or withdraw the money. When individuals and groups decide to become Kiva lenders, they have the option to select the world region, gender and occupational sector — for example, education or agriculture — of the borrower.
“So instead of just giving this money to one cause and never seeing where it goes, we actually have control over where our money is being spent and who is actually receiving it,” Waterman said.
Many of these MBA students attribute their passion for the cause to their firsthand experiences overseas. One of these individuals, Tom Innes, served as the other co-chair for the charity event and described his time in a Southeast Asian community.
“Twenty-five dollars here doesn’t mean much for starting a business but $25 in other countries is going to stretch a lot more and have such a greater impact,” Innes said.
Innes discovered Kiva when he read “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.
“The book talks about how you bring in more resources to women and people who wouldn’t traditionally have access to capital in these communities and help them get involved in business,” Innes said.
Innes pursued Kiva because the book recommended it as an organization. He then became an individual lender before the start of ’Stache for the Cash.
“By providing these funds, we’re allowing people to better themselves and their financial positions, and by helping this one individual, we believe it will eventually help the whole community,” Waterman said.
Eighteen business students committed their facial hair as canvases to the auction. The bids began at $25; the highest bidder won the opportunity to give the men any sort of beard design of his or her choosing. The men are required to keep the reverse goatees, Charlie Chaplin moustaches, checkerboard cheeks and other facial artistry for one week.
“The participants have to sacrifice their appearance for a week for the good of the world,” Innes said.
Matt Torpey received the highest bid for the evening. One of his fellow classmates paid $175 to shave his full beard down to a moustache.
“I haven’t been clean shaven since 2007,” Torpey said, “and I think there was so much excitement because no one in the business school has seen me with less than a goatee since I have been here.”
Torpey chose to participate in the event to support his classmates and because he is familiar with the cause.
“I knew a little about Kiva because of my interest in microfinance as a finance guy, and I hope there will be more organizations like that in the future,” Torpey said.
Based on Friday’s success, Waterman and Innes hope to recreate the event in the spring with a “Moustache March,” but in a larger setting.
“Our vision is to reach out to the other graduate and undergraduate programs at William and Mary in the future,” Waterman said. “At our next event, we hope to have more college-wide participation and backing from the student body, so we can help even more people with a collective William and Mary fund.”