Archive for the ‘Bankers without Borders’ Category

The Power of Microbusiness

April 30, 2012

Shannon Maynard is the Director of Grameen Foundation’s skilled volunteer program, Bankers without Borders®. Maynard has more than 15 years of experience in nonprofit management and volunteer mobilization. Before joining Grameen Foundation, she served as Executive Director of the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, and managed strategic initiatives for federal agency the Corporation for National and Community Service.

One of the books that has been on my reading list for a while but I haven’t gotten to yet is The Coming Jobs War, by Gallup CEO Jim Clifton.  As a busy working mom, I’ve read reviews and excerpts, and have promised myself to read the entire book by the end of the summer.  I do know that the premise of the book, which is based on the findings of Gallup’s World Poll, is that what people in the world want most is a good job.

Here in the United States that typically translates to a formal job and steady paycheck. In the developing world that includes informal jobs, but the message is the same – people want steady, reliable pay in return for a hard day’s work.  Clifton argues that over the course of the next 30 years, economic force will trump political and military force in terms of determining which countries have power and influence and which do not.  The top U.S. cabinet position will be the Secretary of Job Creation – not the Secretary of State or Defense.

Shannon Maynard, Director, Grameen Foundation's Bankers without Borders volunteer initiative.

Shannon Maynard, Director, Grameen Foundation's Bankers without Borders volunteer initiative.

At Grameen Foundation, we focus our time on creating ways to give the poorest people, in some of the world’s poorest countries, access to information and financial services that will help them improve their livelihoods, most often through the creation of informal jobs.  In the United States, there is a similar effort afoot to provide greater access to financing and technical assistance to help microbusinesses – those businesses with between one and five employees – grow and create more jobs.  The Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO), the voice of microenterprise development in the United States, argues that if just one-third of these microbusinesses were able to hire one new employee, the United States would be at full employment. (more…)

A 21st Century Trifecta: Two Months at Grameen Foundation

April 25, 2012

Matt Inbusch worked as an intern for Grameen Foundation’s Marketing and Communications team during the spring of 2012.

What a moment to come back from the field! After three years as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Peru, I briefly returned to my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, over the Christmas holiday, and then – probably a little too soon for my mother’s liking – bought a one-way ticket to Washington. I was fortunate to be offered an internship at Grameen Foundation’s headquarters, and jumped right into the day-to-day work of what I believe is one of the most innovative development organizations around.  My eight weeks at Grameen Foundation have given me a good perspective on the incredibly exciting crossroads facing the development “industry” in 2012.

In his final year as a Peace Corps volunteer in Peru, Matt worked in Santa Lucia, a small village in the coastal department of Ica. He’s shown here with beneficiaries of the work he did as a rural-sanitation consultant, building eco-latrines and clean cookstoves for poor families as part of an earthquake-recovery project funded by the German government.

I was in for more than a few shocks upon my return to the US , but my own cultural readjustment pales in comparison to the changes that non-governmental organizations (NGOs), aid agencies and governments are making in response to new developments in developing countries. Actually that’s not the whole story; it’s really a two-way street, where unprecedented innovation is happening both from the top-down and from the bottom-up. The result is a total paradigm shift.

I know I’m not the first to observe some serious flaws in the traditional development model, but I have to say I count myself very much among those who want more than the  “aid” concept, which – for most of the last 60 years – has meant hand-outs and feel-good solutions, rather than a hand up and a focus on organic, sustainable systems. That’s why it’s so exciting to be getting my feet wet in this space right now. Technological innovation, market-based strategies and a growing public consciousness are combining to drive game-changing approaches that I see in three big 2012 headliners: David Roodman, KONY and Occupy.

(more…)

Why Skills Matter: The Importance of Cross-Sector Collaboration

April 19, 2012

Rhia Bakshi is an international student from India currently living in Washington, DC. She will graduate from American University in May with a double major in international development and business studies. Her interests range from social entrepreneurship and innovation to youth development and the arts. Rhia previously worked with several D.C.-based nonprofits, including Ashoka and the International Labor Rights Forum, and currently serves as a volunteer with Bankers without Borders®, helping the team with communications and social media.

Rhia Bakshi, a Bankers without Borders volunteer, believes in the power of cross-sector collaboration.

Imagine a world without clearly defined roles — a world where we are able to contribute our time and skills outside of the traditional structure of industry, a world where there is ample opportunity to expand our perspectives, interests and, most important, exchange ideas and skills in an open, unrestrained environment.

I believe this is the type of world we need to achieve progress and alleviate poverty. The world has changed rapidly over the past decade. We have witnessed unprecedented growth in technology and innovation, contributing to the creation of a global village — a trend that has fostered a culture of shared benefits and responsibilities. The scale and complexity of the problems we face as a global society cannot be tackled unless we revamp our course of action and work together.

The concept of collaboration has altered the way we pursue social change. Whether through formal partnerships or by simply exchanging ideas, organizations are beginning to realize the value of engaging with one another, both within and across different sectors. We are learning that isolated action is no longer a feasible strategy to create change. To truly serve the needs of the poor, we must combine our areas of expertise and think creatively about the issues they face every day.

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Falling in Love … with Microfinance

April 17, 2012

Tânia Sousa works in the Microcredit unit within the Portuguese banking firm Millennium BCP, where she is responsible for marketing. A Portuguese native with more than 10 years of experience in the financial-services industry, Tânia studied economics, and has an advanced degree in marketing. She joined Bankers without Borders®, Grameen Foundation’s skills-based volunteer initiative, in February 2012 and recently completed her first field project in Varanasi, India, with Grameen Foundation’s Microsavings team. Tânia, who currently lives and works in Lisbon, hopes to continue volunteering with Bankers without Borders.

Tânia volunteering in Varanasi, India.

When I was a little girl and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said that I would like to be a medical doctor. I didn’t imagine myself in a traditional hospital or office. I always imagined myself in a distant country, helping the kids that I saw on TV who were living in extremely poor conditions, with no food, no healthcare and no opportunity to just be … well, kids.

Life carried me away from medicine — my soul wasn’t really there — and I eventually studied economics, later graduating with a master’s degree in marketing. After graduation, I started working in a small investment bank called Activobank, which is owned by the largest private Portuguese bank, Millennium BCP. I remained at ActivoBank for 11 years, until March 2011.

Then something amazing happened: I was invited to lead the Marketing department at Microcredit Millennium BCP. I didn’t know much about microfinance, so the challenge was huge. I immediately started to do a lot of research and, to my surprise, I fell hopelessly in love with microfinance.

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The Future is Now

March 30, 2012

Yolanda Walker is a South African living and working in the US. She is a graduate of Oberlin College, where she studied Economics. During her college career she studied International Business in France and Mandarin in China. Yolanda also lived in Ghana, where she volunteered at an orphanage. Most recently, Yolanda volunteered with Grameen Foundation’s Capital Markets team through our skills-based volunteer initiative, Bankers without Borders®. An associate at Capital Group Companies, an investment management company, Yolanda is based in California.

Bankers without Borders volunteer Yolanda Walker (center) attends a borrower’s group meeting in Kenya.

One of the many perks of being a part of The Associate’s Program (TAP) at Capital Group Companies is having the opportunity to leave our company for four to five months and completely immerse ourselves in a non-profit organization – with the flexibility to choose any organization, in any industry. As I was contemplating my various service opportunities, a manager at Capital Group handed me a book about a group of individuals whose lives were affected by microfinance. As I perused the document, it became clear to me that this emerging form of finance fosters genuine empowerment for marginalized communities. I was hooked.

I grew up in a family of six that, for many years, survived on only $4 a day. My personal experience enabled me to closely relate to the issues that microfinance clients face. Growing up outside of Cape Town, I knew hunger, and remember often having to stand in food lines when my parents couldn’t afford to feed us. I knew about sleeping in the cold and dark. I knew, at age 10, what it meant to have a job, as I swept classrooms after school in exchange for a loaf of bread. I also knew the fear of potentially having to drop out of school – like my brothers – to take on another job that would bring extra money into our household.

These vivid and profoundly life altering elements of poverty were very real for me as a child. So, how did an individual like me end up working at one of the biggest mutual fund companies in the world? My response: hard work, chance encounters and the grace of God.

When I read about the impact of microfinance around the world, I became fascinated and wanted to know more. As I learned more about it, Grameen Foundation quickly became the obvious choice for my non-profit rotation. (more…)

Finding Your Calling as a Skillanthropist

February 7, 2012

Shannon Maynard is director of Grameen Foundation’s Bankers without Borders initiative.

In today’s dynamic world, the importance of volunteering – to both the recipient and the volunteer – cannot be exaggerated. Unfortunately, volunteering is often perceived as a form of charity or something that only the recipient benefits from. What is not emphasized enough is the fact that volunteers gain just as much from the experience.

Lynda Barton took a sabbatical from her job with a pharmaceutical company in Switzerland to work with Grameen Foundation’s mobile health initiative in Ghana.

Since Grameen Foundation’s Bankers without Borders® (BwB) initiative was launched in 2008, 800 volunteers have logged more than 65,000 hours of service – worth more than $5 million – helping poverty-focused organizations and their clients around the world. Listening to their stories and learning from the insights they have gained through those experiences has been invaluable.

In this post for international-development portal Devex, Shannon Maynard, director of Bankers without Borders, discusses some of the ways in which volunteers benefit from donating their time and skills to social enterprises fighting poverty. She contends that experience and professional standing don’t really matter when it comes to “skillanthropy.” Whether they’re expanding networks or building cultural and professional skills, she says, everyone has a chance to leverage their volunteer experience to best fit their needs and rise within their respective organizations.

>> Read the full post for all  seven ways that volunteering services pro bono have helped advance our volunteers’ careers in development.

Everyone Can Offer Something

January 24, 2012

Emily Gordon is a graduate of Lehigh University, where she studied International Relations, Spanish, and Business. She spent a semester in Buenos Aires, Argentina studying foreign relations and working with a human rights organization. Emily has worked with a variety of international non-profits, including interning with Grameen Foundation’s Bankers without Borders® program in 2011.

Emily Gordon’s experience as an intern with Grameen Foundation’s Bankers without Borders® volunteer initiative showed her that “Everyone can offer something when it comes to making the world a better place."

After spending four years studying international relations and international development in college, I graduated bright-eyed and eager to go out into the world and start making a difference. I spent the summer researching different jobs and opportunities, looking for some way to get involved in the world of microfinance. When I was offered an internship working with Grameen Foundation on their Bankers without Borders (BwB) initiative, I immediately packed up, moved to Washington D.C., and never looked back.

As a recent graduate, it can be hard to find a place where you feel you are truly able to contribute. It seems that most internships and entry-level jobs consist of filing, answering phones and taking notes. Volunteering at Grameen Foundation could not have been more different. From the moment I started, I was given interesting and exciting tasks. I helped critique and perfect the BwB’s “Blueprint Projects,” creating clear guides for volunteers working with microfinance institutions (MFIs) on risk management, financial projection modeling, human capital management and Progress out of Poverty Index™ (PPI™) certifications. I was also able to use social media to create awareness and help recruit volunteers for BwB. I interacted with staff members around the world and heard first-hand accounts from volunteers completing their projects.

Working with Grameen Foundation was an invaluable experience. I met great people, learned a lot about microfinance, technology-for-development and social enterprise, and most importantly, felt that I was able to use my skills to help make a difference in the world. That feeling of accomplishment was one of the best parts of volunteering with BwB. Many students, business professionals and retirees hear about microfinance and are eager to learn more and get involved, but without direct microfinance experience, it can be difficult to find a place to volunteer or gain experience. BwB helps people use the skills they already have to make a substantial impact on organizations fighting poverty all over the world.

You don’t need to be an expert on development to create positive change. Poverty-fighting organizations need experts in all different fields. During my time at Grameen Foundation I saw lawyers, marketing experts, graduate students, engineers, bankers and others help with different BwB projects. Everyone can offer something when it comes to making the world a better place.

Working with Grameen Foundation helped me see how microfinance and technology can change the lives of the world’s poor. I plan on taking what I’ve learned and continuing to work in international development. Wherever my life takes me, I know I will continue to be a BwB volunteer – part of a smart, passionate and hardworking network. I encourage anyone who is interested in helping others to volunteer with Grameen Foundation. It will be an eye-opening, life-changing experience.

For more information on volunteering with Grameen Foundation, please visit BankersWithoutBorders.com.

The Ultimate (Social) Performance Review: Impact in India

September 30, 2011

Dr. Marcela Gutierrez recently returned from India, where she completed a Bankers without Borders® volunteer assignment for a 10-branch microfinance organization. Dr. Gutierrez used her skills and expertise to help the organization evaluate how their program helps the poor.

My interest in microfinance started when I first heard about Kiva on National Public Radio. Next, my daughter, a sociology student, took a class on microfinance, visited programs in the Dominican Republic and Belize, and taught me a lot about how microfinance institutions (MFIs) operate. I started researching opportunities to work as a consultant in program monitoring and evaluation, but I wasn’t getting much traction. But when I contacted Grameen Foundation, they told me about Bankers without Borders volunteer consulting opportunities and I signed up. I was later approached to help an MFI in West Bengal, India, develop a survey to understand the social impact of their loans to women borrowers.

Designing the survey strategy

Marcela & the MFI team designing the survey

I agreed to take on the project … and then started to panic. I was skeptical that, in just five days, we could accomplish the goals we had set for ourselves. I had no idea what the evaluation capacity of an MFI based in India would be, and assumed it would not be very strong since their main focus was on making loans. In preparation for the assignment I searched for pre-existing tools we could adapt to the MFI’s needs, and the week before I left for India I found a good match.

With the dedicated participation of the MFI’s executive director, in the first two days of my visit, we drafted a 24-question survey using the template I brought. Next, we took the draft survey to a branch office and tested it with five clients – which involved a five-hour round-trip train ride to the village in the midst of the monsoon season! Once back in the office, we worked on strategy for the next phase – a quasi-experimental study that would ultimately involve 450 clients and non-clients. When I left Kolkata, we had a clear plan for finalizing and translating the survey, training data collectors, drawing randomized samples, and dealing with data entry and analysis. All of this was accomplished in just five days, with a little time left over to wet my feet in the Ganges River!

Marcela in Kolkata

Marcela in Kolkata

After returning home, I reflected on this phase of the project and realized that my original concerns about the MFI’s evaluation capacity had been unfounded.  That said, I had been wise to come prepared rather than re-inventing the wheel in the field. I found my work with the MFI very productive, rewarding and fun. Most important, I learned that people who work in microfinance – with the poorest clients – are dedicated, determined, selfless and will not take “no” for an answer. I am looking forward to finishing the project working with the team in Kolkata now that I know no matter how much I push them on something, their answer will always be, “No problem, Marcela!”

Mobility and Microfinance in Kenya

August 11, 2011

Kim Kerry-Tyerman is a volunteer for Grameen Foundation’s Bankers without Borders® initiative who was based in Ghana and Kenya for eight weeks to help the BwB team develop relationships with local organizations (companies, associations, microfinance clubs and institutions of higher education) there.  She recently posted a blog about her experience working in Kenya; an excerpt from that post is below, with a link to the full post.  If you’d like to read her first two postings about her BwB experience in Ghana, you can read Part 1 and Part 2.

Many find it difficult not to be condescending about Africa. Some might argue that referring to 54 diverse countries with thousands of cultures as “Africa” alone is demeaning, and yet it happens every day (just look at my blog address). Footage of kids with big bellies and stories of corruption seem to be the only stories to travel across the ocean, and they are typically only salvaged by some agency telling the world not to worry, they’re working on it. No, I am not immune. I’ve been known to lament the inefficiency of “Africa” while sitting in Nairobi’s unbearable congestion or one of Accra’s power outages. At the same time, I feel fortunate to tell a story that I hope will travel across these borders and demonstrate that “Africa” is indeed a place of innovation and hope.

Exhibit at the National Museum in Nairobi.

Nairobi is one of the continent’s star children: the one who may place third in the spelling bee but won’t mind because she has a good shot at winning the science fair competition. The region serves as a lab for innovative ideas, and the microfinance sector here is a great example. Like Ghana, each MFI in this region has varying models of delivery and a unique portfolio of products. Unlike Ghana, every MFI in this region has a website. Is this a key indicator of success? Surely not, but it indicates that microfinance is a visible and competitive industry here. Microfinance institutions here are not asking “what can we do?”, but “how can we do more?” For them, it’s not just about lending money. It’s about finding ways for that money to create things that generate a larger return for the community. Two trends have emerged here to ensure that microfinance is doing just that: mobile services and partnerships.

>> Read Kim’s full blog post

Experiencing Microfinance in Ghana, Part II

July 19, 2011

Kim Kerry-Tyerman is a volunteer for Grameen Foundation’s Bankers without Borders® initiative, based in Ghana and Kenya for eight weeks to help the BwB team develop relationships with local organizations (companies, associations, microfinance clubs and institutions of higher education) there. She recently posted a blog about her experience working with another BwB volunteer on behalf of Grameen Ghana, helping to implement a financial-modeling approach by Grameen Foundation that we hope to replicate at microfinance institutions (MFIs) throughout the world; an excerpt from that post is below, with a link to the full post.  If you’d like to read her first posting about her BwB experience in Ghana, you can find it here.

I’ve been counting down the days to this.  Not that thunderstorms, tigernut cocktails and weekend stays at oceanside eco lodges haven’t kept me busy – my stay in Ghana has been a fascinating combination of experiences both new (opening a coconut with a machete) and surprisingly normal (watching too many episodes of “The New Adventures of Old Christine” while dogsitting for a friend).  But I’m not here just to drive around with locals to chop bars with dancehall music blaring out the open windows to join in the cacophony of Accra streets.  Certainly part of the fun, but not the goal.

I’ve been talking up the Bankers without Borders program to MFIs across Accra, and this is finally my chance to watch it in action.  Grameen Foundation asked me to shadow a BwB project for a partner MFI called Grameen Ghana in the northern city of Tamale (surprisingly no affiliation despite the shared namesake).  A volunteer from an investment bank in NYC, Noah, is delivering training on a new financial model over a 4-day assignment.  This is only the second time this Grameen Foundation model has been passed on to another MFI, but BwB hopes this will eventually lead to a standard for financial projections across the industry.

On the Road to Tamale, Ghana.

On the road to Tamale, Ghana.

My role on the project varies depending on who you talk to.  BwB would like me to evaluate the project from both volunteer and client perspectives with an objective third eye.  Not having a chance to introduce myself during the kick-off meeting with the MFI, however, gave the director the opportunity to task me with a different role.  “And Noah has brought this pretty woman,” he announced to the team, “so everything we do will be prettier.”  Challenge accepted.

Read the rest of Kim’s blog post >>