Ms. Alexa Russo
Specialization: Economic Development
Home institution in US: Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts
Host Institution in India: Seva Mandir, Udaipur, Rajasthan  
Start date/Month in India: August 2012
Duration of grant: 9 months

Brief Bio:
Ms. Alexa Russo is a 2012 graduate of Amherst College, where she double majored in economics and religion with a focus in Indic religions. During her junior year, she studied for a semester in India through the Antioch Buddhist Studies Program and completed an independent research project in Varanasi and Sarnath comparing Hindu devotees of the god Hanuman to Sri Lankan Buddhist pilgrims. Ms. Russo worked for the past two summers at Morgan Stanley and J.P. Morgan in their credit risk divisions: first in wealth management and then in public finance. Expanding on her work in public finance, Ms. Russo wrote her senior thesis on the increasing level of unfunded state pension liabilities and the detrimental effects of these liabilities on state functioning. She has also worked for several non-profit institutions worldwide, including the Pasteur Institute in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she investigated social issues surrounding public health by performing zoonosis fieldwork; and the Ford Foundation in Beijing, China, where she assessed applications for individuals in developing countries who aspire to work for social justice. As a high school senior, Ms. Russo taught English in a rural school in Oaxaca, Mexico and returned to form a fundraising campaign for the school. At Amherst, she was president of the College chapter of Amnesty International and founded the Amherst yoga club.

Ms. Russo’s Fulbright project, “Expanding Access to Women’s Self-Help Groups,” will examine the impediments that prevent women from participating in microcredit programs in order to help women in poverty gain access both to additional financial resources and to mechanisms of social empowerment. She plans to survey and interview women who have joined microcredit programs, as well as those have chosen not to join, about the obstacles involved in participation. She hopes that the findings from this study will contribute to the effectiveness of microcredit programs throughout India and help them to develop a deeper understanding of those they hope to serve and the range of their needs.