Wesley Prewett (Russellville, Ark.) is spending his summer in Cape Town, South Africa working with Zoona, a mobile technology company developing financial products including money transfers, savings accounts, and credit products for underserved consumers in Zambia and Malawi.
Prewett, who majored in finance and economics at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, entered the Clinton School with public service interests in international development, economic growth, and financial inclusion among others.
This International Public Service Project is Prewett’s second journey to Southern Africa in three summers, following his work in Mozambique with an undergraduate study abroad program in 2016. Prewett conducted economic impact research on a Mozambique chicken farm through the Global Community Development program at UAF.
That trip, Prewett said, helped show him how to turn his degree in economics and finance into a service-oriented career. “That’s when I really decided that economic development and international development were things that I was passionate about,” he said.
Pronounced “Zona,” Zoona was started by two brothers who had a vision of a cashless African economy. Without cash, they thought, the economy would be much safer, faster, and effective for people across the socioeconomic spectrum. The pair created a system within Zambia to provide cheap, safe, and effective ways to move cash from one place to another within the country.
How did you become interested in public service?
I knew going into college that whatever I ended up doing was going to be something service-focused. That’s always been something that interested me – ways that I can use my skills and talents to make the biggest difference possible in the lives of people around me. No matter what I decided to study, I wanted to tie it to service.
Really, I came into economics and finance serendipitously. I didn’t know what I wanted to major in. I always thought of myself as a generalist who was interested in and knowledgeable about a lot of different things. I started college as a biological engineering major, but I realized I didn’t enjoy engineering. I felt like it was stifling.
I switched to the College of Business, took a finance class, and really enjoyed it. I decided to major in finance, but after I got into some of the upper-level finance classes I worried that I wouldn’t be able to turn a finance degree into a service-oriented career.
Then, I went to Mozambique and did economic research and saw that there were places around the world where the financial sector was underdeveloped. There are places around the world where people don’t have access to financial services, and those financial services can be transformative for them.
Was there a catalyst for your service interest?
No, I wouldn’t say there was a specific catalyst. It’s just something that I feel like I have been interested in my entire life. I don’t really have an answer – there’s no specific moment. I just have always felt that I owe the public more than to just go out there and do a job to make money. People who have talent and the ability to help people have the obligation to.
There was never a specific moment, but probably one of the biggest turning points was going to Mozambique. That’s when I really determined that economic development and international development were things I was passionate about. Global economic development is the way to make the most effective use of resources to affect the most people.
I probably could have told you that I would have considered the Clinton School before I could have told you that I was going to graduate with a degree in finance and economics.
What drew you to working with Zoona?
When I was an undergrad, I became really interested in the idea of financial technology as a means of large scale economic development. I thought it was really interesting that technology is becoming increasingly prolific in the developing world and has the power to reach so many people. Increased access to technology could be used as a means to help people out of poverty.
When I was looking for my IPSP, I knew that I wanted to do something related to financial inclusion work in a developing economy. I started looking for organizations by looking at the top investors in the field, people who knew a lot about financial technology and inclusion and I looked at who they were investing in.
A lot of the big investors that I was really impressed with had relationships with Zoona. That caught my interest. I also really wanted to spend an extended amount of time in Cape Town and it just felt like the right fit for me.