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Securing America’s Future:

The Power of Liberal Arts Education

Pilar Ramirez

Founder and President, Confie Holding SL
College of New Rochelle (NY), Class of 1972
Pilar Ramirez founded the NGO Centro de Fomento a Iniciativas Economicas (FIE) (Center for the Support of Economic Initiatives), in La Paz, Bolivia in 1985. Today FIE is the majority shareholder of Banco FIE, a microfinance bank which, in number of loan clients, is the second largest bank in Bolivia, with micro-loans of an average of US$3,500.

Ramirez received a BA in psychology from the College of New Rochelle in 1972, an MA in psychology from the New School for Social Research in 1976, and an MPA from the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University in 1984. She has two sons.
As a citizen of Bolivia, South America with a university education in the United States (at the College of New Rochelle, New School for Social Research, and Harvard University), I am stunned when I read on the internet American articles such as: “Best majors to land a high paying job!” Whatever happened to studying for higher learning and “training the mind to think,” as Albert Einstein insisted?
 
I am one very fortunate graduate of a private liberal arts college. A major in psychology, along with lessons in world history, philosophy, literature, other social sciences, physics, and mathematics opened my mind and emotional life to many other essential concerns of our human existence. One of those concerns, the poor living conditions of the majority of the population in my country, drove me to choose dedicating my professional life to a highly successful career in microfinance. This, I am sure, would not have been possible had I chosen, from the start, a “high paying” career such as finance or business administration. It was a liberal arts education which opened my mind enough to become aware of the differences and inequalities we are born into, as well as the opportunities to affect and change these. 
 

My college experience, from the first day, became one of constant discovery about myself, the world we live in, and how one can use one’s education to work for changes that improve the lives of others.

 
The year I entered the College of New Rochelle (CNR), 1968, was the first year the college accepted eight African American students from the Westchester area in New York. Coming from South America, a racist and discriminatory society as well, my college experience, from the first day, became one of constant discovery about myself, the world we live in, and how one can use one’s education to work for changes that improve the lives of others. The liberal arts experience at CNR led me to seek further learning in institutions that also offered opportunities in a variety of disciplines, not pigeon-holed in one area of specialization.
 
The turning point in my professional career came when I was heading a “primary health” team in a mining town of Bolivia. There, the population lived on very small daily earnings from work in self-organized cooperatives. I realized then that our “services” there were only partly effective. As a health team, we initially believed that “contributing to care for and improve the health of the workers would result in better work which would therefore improve their living conditions.” It did not take long for us to realize that what these workers needed were not “better health conditions.” Looking at the situation from different points of view—the social, economic, and financial opportunities of those workers—convinced me that what they really had to have was access to loans of money for the growth and economic success of their cooperatives, for the lasting improvement in the incomes and living conditions of the workers and their families. That moment of awareness led me to microfinance and personal fulfillment.
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