Archive for the ‘Volunteering’ Category

Asking the Right Questions Makes All the Difference

September 1, 2012

Sally Salem was an Atlas Corps Fellow at Grameen Foundation, where she worked with the human capital management team for a year learning and designing toolkits to support the strategic adoption of human capital practices at microfinance institutions.  Sally has more than a decade of experience in non-formal education and development and has worked with adults and young people on issues ranging from youth participation, volunteering, intercultural learning and human-rights education.

After working with Grameen Foundation’s Human Capital Center for a year as an Atlas Fellow, it was time to return to Egypt.  Looking back now on my year-long stay, I realize that I was lucky to have had Grameen Foundation as my host and to have worked with the human capital management team.

Thanks to good timing, one month after my fellowship ended, I had an opportunity to put all the theory I had learned into practice. I was invited to support an engagement with the Lebanese Association for Development-Al Majmoua, a leading microfinance NGO in that country, part of a collaborative effort between Grameen Foundation’s Human Capital Center and Grameen-Jameel Microfinance Ltd., a joint venture between Grameen Foundation and the ALJ Foundation, a subsidiary of the Abdul Latif Jameel Group.  My task was to help facilitate a human capital management assessment – the starting point for aligning an organization’s people practices with its business strategy.  As a native Arabic speaker with working experience in Lebanon and deep familiarity with the assessment, I was eager to volunteer my services through Grameen Foundation’s skilled-volunteer initiative, Bankers without Borders®.

In Sidon, Lebanon, Sally (right) met Osama – a photographer and Al Majmoua client – who is carving out a niche in her city’s male-dominated photography industry.

In Sidon, Lebanon, Sally (right) met Osama – a photographer and Al Majmoua client – who is carving out a niche in her city’s male-dominated photography industry.

Lebanon has an interesting (and somewhat tragic) modern history that some say sums up the story of the Middle East in the last 60 years or so. It is a country with a strong Phoenician heritage – sea people who made great ships using their mighty cedar trees and who explored the unknown Mediterranean at a very early stage of human history. This is still reflected in the adventurous character of today’s Lebanese people. There are more Lebanese outside of the country than in Lebanon. They are known for their entrepreneurial spirit, and wherever they go they prove to be clever merchants, excellent hosts and good cooks! What a great environment for microfinance to thrive and grow.

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Overcoming the Barriers to Fighting Poverty

July 27, 2012

Ananya Mukkavilli is a Bankers without Borders® (BwB) volunteer who served as an institutional relations intern for Grameen Foundation’s External Affairs team in 2012. She is a rising junior at Haverford College, majoring in political science, with a minor in economics. Ananya will spend the next academic year studying international relations at The London School of Economics and Political Science.

When I first learned about microfinance, I was a freshman in high school in Bangkok, Thailand. Professor Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank, had just won the coveted Nobel Peace Prize, and by happy coincidence I was representing Bangladesh in the Economic and Social Council of our Model United Nations Conference. The subject of microfinance could not be more relevant. I found the idea of microfinance revolutionary. It wasn’t about charity or donations; it was about giving people opportunities to economically sustain themselves, as part of an overall effort to address the ever-increasing global income gap. Cutting poverty in half by 2015 was a big part of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, and the actors involved were always striving to look at bigger-picture, long-term solutions to poverty. Prof. Yunus had created an effective and simultaneously empowering means of doing just that.

Bankers without Borders volunteer Ananya Mukkavilli, pictured here during a trip to Dubai’s Old Town, discovered some essential truths about fighting poverty when she served as an intern at Grameen Foundation this summer.

Having grown up in Vietnam, Thailand and India, I am no stranger to the realities of absolute poverty and the importance of “giving back” to one’s community. What drew me to the subject of microfinance was that it challenged the “us versus them” mentality that often differentiates givers from receivers. Microfinance opened my eyes to what is now a widely accepted idea of creating shared value among everyone.

But the more I have been exposed to  microfinance and international development through my academic, cultural and extracurricular experiences, the more I have realized that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of poverty. When the Andhra Pradesh crisis was unraveling in 2010, I saw for the first time how microfinance can fail when practitioners don’t put the poor at the center of their efforts. Working at Grameen Foundation this summer, I have seen the benefits of approaches to microfinance that innovate and cater to the needs of the poor, rather than those that follow a cookie-cutter, formulaic approach.

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Connecting the Dots – From Seraphina to Prime Minister Odinga

July 26, 2012

Shannon Maynard is Director of Bankers without Borders®(BwB), Grameen Foundation’s skilled-volunteer initiative. 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 the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency. This is the final post in a four-part series; you can read her first post here, her second post here, and her third post here.

BwB Director Shannon Maynard (left) presents Seraphina (right), a women’s group leader and entrepreneur, with a cook stove that the other group leaders purchased as a thank-you for her wisdom and leadership to them.

As a U.S.-based employee of a global NGO, the small amount of time I spend in the field is incredibly helpful in checking assumptions around what’s possible and what’s needed with our work in particular places, and in gaining a better understanding the realities of my employees based there. Of course, being surrounded by abject poverty on a daily basis, combined with getting to see – in person – the hope and progress that takes root in poor people’s lives when they gain access to credit or savings, redoubles my own personal commitment to the work of Grameen Foundation and Bankers without Borders (BwB).

In addition to gaining such perspective during the two weeks I spent in Kenya, I was able to help better position BwB to benefit Kenya-based social enterprises such as the Visionary Empowerment Program (VEP), Paradigm Kenya and Paddy Micro Investment, among others. I also had the chance to shake hands with two very important people: Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga, and self-identified industrialist Seraphina, an elderly woman who lives in a rural village outside Thika town and makes soap to support herself and her family.

What do these three social enterprises and these two people have in common? Let me connect the dots – because that really is what Grameen Foundation is all about. We bring together the people and facilitate the collaboration required to foster significant, scalable financial- and information-related solutions for the world’s poorest.

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Poverty Waits for No One

July 17, 2012

David Washer is a Bankers without Borders® volunteer who recently returned from a project in Ethiopia. Upon graduating from Yale University, Washer began his career in portfolio management at McKinsey & Company, where he currently works as a financial analyst. During his time at Yale, he was actively involved in human rights advocacy and research, and now looks forward to using his knowledge of finance and international development in the service of colleagues overseas.

I’ve always had a healthy skepticism about short-term volunteer projects abroad. But as a Texas expatriate living in a Manhattan closet that passes for an apartment, I started to go a little stir-crazy as my heart for social justice from my undergraduate days began to beat again. The irony of it all? As an undergraduate, I had plenty of time – but no true, concrete skills to offer to development organizations. Once I began my work career, the opposite initially held true.

David Washer (center) spent a week meeting clients and lending his skills in finance to Eshet, an Ethiopian MFI, as part of BwB’s Financial Modeling Reserve Corps.

David Washer (center) spent a week meeting clients and lending his skills in finance to Eshet, an Ethiopian MFI, as part of BwB’s Financial Modeling Reserve Corps.

I began to research and critically examine different service opportunities, and eventually came across Grameen Foundation’s Bankers without Borders (BwB) program. Convinced that through this program I could help empower others to lead sustainable, grassroots development in their own communities abroad, I decided to join. I was not disappointed. ‪Once I became a member of the Financial Modeling Blueprint Reserve Corps, BwB provided me with the training, templates and tools I needed to apply my financial analysis and modeling skills in a development context.

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Risk Management: It’s a Mindset, Not a Budget Line Item!

July 3, 2012

Michelle Katics, CEO of BankersLabTM, supports the MFI sector by providing pro-bono risk-management technical assistance to microfinance institutions (MFIs). BankersLab, through its corporate social responsibility program, supports Bankers without Borders®Bankers with VisionMFIOpenSource and Kiva. We have excerpted a portion of her blog post, followed by a link to the full post.

I recently returned from a Bankers without Borders (BwB) volunteer engagement in West Bengal, India, with Society for Model Gram Bikash Kendra (GBK), a small non-profit microfinance company. As many BwB skilled volunteer-corps members can attest, volunteers typically feel they gain as much or more than the recipients of the services they provide. In this case, the experience for me highlighted important factors for success in risk management, some of which we forget from time to time in the traditional banking sector. Much of what I learned came from observing the energetic and curious discovery process of the GBK staff as they tackled typical risk management challenges.

When working with partners around the world, BwB (a Grameen Foundation initiative) recognizes that MFIs have a common need: risk management. MFIs face similar risk management challenges across the board, including how much risk to accept, how to mitigate the risk that cannot be avoided, and how to manage the real risks that are part of their day-to-day business and operations.

It’s free to change your mindset and habits.  The GBK staff expressed concern about how they could improve their risk management while remaining in control of their budget. They worried that IT systems and additional staff were the main (and costly) requirements for successful risk management, yet were delighted to discover simple and easy ways to improve their operations, with minimal cost. Many of these ways don’t apply to the traditional banking sector, which already has strong systems, but some of the simple ”mindset” changes are a relevant reminder for us all.  For example, GBK decided to research and implement new best practices in areas such as accounting and audit. Taking a step back to examine and improve the process can be the key to success. By doing this, they also realized the need to create contingency plans and other methods of dealing with crisis before facing one.

Another observation was the impact of GBK’s collegial and open collaboration among departments to jointly tackle risk management. In other words:

Cost of coffee and snacks for the meeting:  $20

Value:  Priceless

Continue reading the full blog post at the BankersLab blog >>

Things Move More Slowly in Africa

June 27, 2012

Shannon Maynard is Director of Bankers without Borders® (BwB), Grameen Foundation’s skilled-volunteer initiative. 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 the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency. This post is the third in a four-part series; you can read her first post here, and her second post here.

“Things move more slowly in Africa” – this is a common refrain for many of us at Grameen Foundation when we find ourselves experiencing hurdles with our work in places like Nigeria and Ethiopia. In fact, African countries and the organizations we work with do often lack the infrastructure – particularly the Internet connectivity – that contributes to the fast-paced, rapid-response world that those of us based in the United States have grown so accustomed to. Slower is also a word I’d use to describe Bankers without Borders’ own presence in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Joining Grameen Foundation after primarily working with US-based NGOs, I remember my own first experiences arranging a call with a microfinance institution (MFI) leader in Sub-Saharan Africa – fumbling around with Skype to enter the correct phone number, then getting a voicemail message in a language I couldn’t understand. It might take a few weeks of trying to connect at a time convenient for us both. In those early days, Grameen Foundation did not have local offices or staff in places like Nairobi, Accra or Kampala. Cultivating relationships and managing projects is difficult to do from a different continent, which is why I am amazed we were actually able to do any work in places like Ghana and Nigeria in those first few years of BwB.

Over the past year, however, BwB has been able to gain some traction in the region, thanks to the regional leadership of Erin Conner and Steve Wardle, and BwB Regional Program Officer Martin Gitari, all based in Nairobi.

David Washer (right) spent a week meeting clients and lending his skills in finance to Eshet, an Ethiopian microfinance institution, as part of Bankers without Borders' FiDavid Washer (right) spent a week meeting clients and lending his skills in finance to Eshet, an Ethiopian microfinance institution, as part of BwB's Financial Modeling Reserve Corps.nancial Modeling Reserve Corps.

David Washer (right) spent a week meeting clients and lending his skills in finance to Eshet, an Ethiopian microfinance institution, as part of BwB’s Financial Modeling Reserve Corps.

Grameen Foundation’s own programs, particularly our MOTECH work in Ghana and Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) program in Uganda, are BwB’s biggest clients. In our early days, we had a hard time convincing Grameen Foundation’s own technology teams of the services we could provide, because Grameen Foundation’s own employees assumed BwB was only focused on connecting bankers with microfinance institutions (a fair assumption, given our name). Thanks to some education on our part and the willingness of these programs’ leaders to give us a try, we’ve been able to place volunteers such as Chris Smith and Gillian Evans (a husband-and-wife team) with CKW and Roche employee Lynda Barton with MOTECH, in year-long placements. We’ve worked with CKW to establish a local collaboration with Makere University to provide interns to our Uganda office each semester. And we’ve just finalized arrangements to engage a Glaxo Smith Kline employee with the CKW team on a six-month assignment, starting this month.

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Reporting from Hong Kong

June 14, 2012

Shannon Maynard is Director of Bankers without Borders®, Grameen Foundation’s skilled-volunteer initiative. 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 the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency. This post is the first in a four-part series.

The summer after I joined Grameen Foundation to run Bankers without Borders (BwB), I had the pleasure to travel to Shanghai, China, where we had amassed a significant pool of advocates for our work – the “Shanghai Volunteers.” I met with these inaugural members of our BwB community (organized by uber-volunteer Susan Place Everhart) and joined Jennifer Meehan, our Regional CEO for Asia, in meetings with potential corporate partners for Grameen Foundation’s work in the region.  After spending time in Shanghai, I then traveled to Bangalore, India, where BwB was undertaking one of its first corporate collaborations and field-based projects in Asia, with Grameen Koota and a team of volunteers from Accenture, Dow Chemical and Citi.

It’s now three years later, and I am headed to Hong Kong – Grameen Foundation’s regional headquarters for Asia – to spend time with Sharada Ramanathan, the extraordinary woman behind BwB’s presence today in Asia. Working with Grameen Foundation’s regional staff, we’ll brainstorm how to continue to deeply integrate volunteers into the way Grameen Foundation does business – from helping us fundraise and addressing our own capacity gaps, to creating standard roles for volunteers in delivering our programs and services in Asia. We’ll also look at how we continue to share the skills and expertise of volunteers in our database – more than 20% of whom are based in Asia – with other social enterprises that have a market-based approach to improving the lives of the poor.

BwB Regional Program Officer for Asia, Sharada Ramanathan, and Director Shannon Maynard are spending a week meeting with volunteers and supporters in Hong Kong.

BwB Regional Program Officer for Asia, Sharada Ramanathan (left), and Director Shannon Maynard are spending a week meeting with volunteers and supporters in Hong Kong.

As I prepare for this trip, I think it’s worth reflecting on some of BwB’s successes, failures and insights from our three-year history in Asia.

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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.

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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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