Peg Ross, director of Grameen Foundation’s Human Capital Center team, recently returned from research trip to India. This is part of the Next Generation Leadership Development initiative to help develop the vital middle management level of microfinance leaders.
It was already 100°F when we loaded into cars at 6 a.m. to head out to the most rural branch at CASHPOR, a microfinance institution (MFI) based in Varanasi in India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh. The branch is two hours away, and we stopped before heading out of town to buy a case of bottled water—something we would need to stave off dehydration in this extreme, dry heat. The temperature later climbed to 115°F.
CASHPOR was the starting point of a two-week research trip to four diverse Indian MFIs where we hoped to deepen our knowledge of the role of the field operations middle managers from multiple perspectives. Armed with this data, we plan to develop a scalable, replicable leadership development solution that will enhance their ability to perform their current jobs more effectively and begin the process of grooming them for senior leadership roles within the MFI.
We were a diverse team: an Indian-born leadership expert from the Center for Creative Leadership; a partner at Bangalore, India-based CoCoon Consulting; a former Fast Company writer who now heads the social innovation practice at Continuum in Boston; an envisioner, also from Continuum (on her first trip to India); Grameen Foundation’s India representative who grew up on a farm more than 60 miles outside of Delhi; and me, a former corporate HR leader.
Our Continuum colleagues are here to guide our ethnographic research and analysis using design thinking, an approach that focuses on gaining a deeper understanding of what middle managers value, as well as their aspirations and their experiences in their current roles, in additional to considering the problem and possible solutions/features. When we bring these two separate lines of inquiry together we should be able to come up with the “big idea”—a potential solution that keeps the person who will use the solution (in this case, the middle manager) squarely in the center of it all. Design thinking has been used successfully to solve other social sector problems (you can learn more from my previous blog post on this topic) .
Once the temperature hit 115°F, we retreated to the shade of a large mango tree at the back of the branch office in Ghazipur to conduct the afternoon’s interviews. There, we learned that CASHPOR has no formal development program, but has a strong practice of informal mentoring that supports learning at all levels. Encouragement is appreciated and develops middle managers’ self confidence, which in turn motivates them to work hard to achieve their performance goals. We also learned that field managers are passionately committed to helping the rural poor improve their economic circumstances. In fact, the Ghazipur branch manager, Omprakash, told us how proud he is to be reaching the very poor who have historically been marginalized and ignored, and who now understand their rights and can “look after their children better” through the help of microfinance.
The team went on to meet with senior, middle and first-line leaders at three more MFIs: Asomi, which is based in the northeastern state of Assam, and BASIX and Ujjivan in the southern cities of Hyderabad and Bangalore, respectively. Look for further updates on this project in the weeks to come as the team analyzes the research data and begins to explore possible solutions.
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