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My Work Plan : A Summary

June 23, 2009
Silverman 1First of all, let me just say that I cannot believe that I have already been in Kakamega for over a month. Talk about how time flies! Even scarier, however, is the thought that I only have one month left to accomplish any of my goals at work. As I mentioned in my last post, I spent a lot of time during weeks 2 and 3 formulating my work plan. How could I have a sustainable impact on KES and the Kakamega community? This was a really difficult question to answer, and after hours of deliberation I decided not to focus on just one idea, but instead to work on a series of small projects that cold improve the cooperative’s effectiveness in Kakamega.

My first objective is to facilitate the involvement of current members and the recruitment of new members. KES has over 400 members, but suffers from a very high monthly default rate due to their “goodwill” debt collection procedures in which members are expected to pay monthly without any staff or loan officers to guide them. This high rate of default is detrimental to the cooperative’s growth and I believe it needs to be addressed as soon as possible if the SACCO is to reach its goal of being fully operational by 2012. My first idea is to create a quarterly newsletter, targeted specifically at members who have been dormant for more than two months. This newsletter (only 4 pages long) is almost complete and will be ready for KES’ Annual General Meeting scheduled to occur on June 27th. In addition, I am hoping to implement new incentive programs to encourage continuous payment of loans and member recruitment. Specifically, a member who makes loan payments every month for a year (a rarity in the current records) will receive the last month’s interest free, a member who pays his shares every month for a year will get the opportunity to take out a loan at a lower interest rate (.8% monthly instead of 1%), and members who recruit new members will receive a certain amount of money for every member they bring in. Finally, I have agreed to help the SACCO design a sign to help advertise their location on the main road of the town. These are all very simple ideas, but I hope that in combination they will give KES a boost in member recruitment and involvement.

My second objective is to update their accounting systems. Currently, the bookkeeper uses Microsoft Excel for all accounts, but none of her spreadsheets are dynamic. In other words, she adds everything up with a calculator (and occasionally makes mistakes along the way) instead of using formulas (as simple as auto sum) that could calculate everything automatically. I have already worked out a good system, but my goal is not to just teach the bookkeeper to use the system that I have created. Instead, I am trying to teacher her how to create general dynamic spreadsheets – that way after I am gone she will be able to design efficient systems of data management using excel as the need arises.

Thirdly, I am working with KES’ microfinance sector to jumpstart a new group of boda boda drivers. This is probably the part of my project that I am most excited about. A boda boda is essentially a bicycle taxi, who shuttles people around all day for about 15 cents per trip on average. Most of the drivers (there are hundreds of them) have no other way of making a living – many have even finished high school or university but just don’t have any other career options. Our goal is to get a group of 15 boda bodas to start saving monthly for four months, after which they will have the opportunity to take out a small business loan. After this loan is paid back, they will eventually take out a bigger loan and will thus be given the opportunity to work their way up out of poverty.

At first I was unsure that we would be able to get a group of bodas interested in this kind of project – as a matter of fact KES tried to implement this kind of project with an FSD intern last year and the project was ultimately unsuccessful – but last week I was happy to find that my fears were unfounded. I met with the bodas for the first time on Friday, and it was probably the most powerful experience I have had since coming to Kenya. We met for about an hour in a small hot room, with someone translating what I was saying sentence by sentence into Kiswahili and then translating their questions back into English. After their skepticism had been assuaged (many Kenyan workers have been victims of fraudulent pyramid schemes), I could sense the excitement and nervousness in their tone of voice. Nobody had ever before put their faith in the hands of these boda drivers, and I believe they saw in this newfound trust an opportunity to change their lives. Contrary to my expectations, they were very proactive about organizing their next meeting time and even asked if they could bring new members. At the next meeting (July 3rd) we will go over/amend the group constitution, and elect officers (chairman, treasurer, secretary).

My final project involves evaluating the KES Strategic Management Plan that was created in 2007. In the SMP, KES has set specific goals for each year from 2008 to 2012 (ie. number of members, amount of capital etc.) and I plan to go through their records and make a report detailing their progress.

In the end, I hope that some if not all of my projects will be sustainable, and will help KES to reach the goals outlined in their SMP.

Rural Discoveries, Religious Experiences

August 3, 2009
Silverman 2Around the 4th or 5th weekend I was in Kenya, I ventured into an extremely rural area on the outskirts of Kakamega. Actually the way that this trip came about was kind of funny – my host mom mentioned that her nephew was coming over and that I would go for a walk with him (people in Kenya don’t really ask questions in English – they just give polite commands). Apparently “go for a walk” meant get into a matatu for half an hour and drive out to his house where I would be staying for the night. You can imagine that came as somewhat of a shock but after the initial panic I just rolled with it. As we drove, paved roads turned into dirt roads, and eventually even the dirt roads disappeared until we were driving on just grass.

My host cousin’s name was Simon and he was in his mid 20’s. He took me to his house where I met his family and stayed with him for the night. The house was on a compound, which is the most common familial structure in rural parts of Kenya. The compounds generally contain 4 or 5 houses with members of both the immediate and extended family living there. For example: one house might be for the grandfather and grandmother, and the others for each of their sons and their respective families. In the morning Simon led me through the thick fields surrounding his house. While almost all of the crops I had seen in Kenya previously consisted of maize (corn), this field was filled with sugar cane. Sugar cane plants are huge, probably eight to ten feet tall, and once you are in the middle of a big field there is really no way to tell which way is out (unless you know where you are going). Simon ripped a smaller piece of cane out of the ground, and bit off the ends revealing the woody, sugary innards of the plant that cane sugar is made out of and that people commonly chew on. I took a piece to chew and it was delicious, although it was so sweet that I actually got a little bit light headed. I tried to bite the wood off a piece of sugar cane myself to get to the sugar on the inside and I swear I almost broke my jaw – to make me feel better Simon claimed that Kenyans have very strong teeth. My favorite conversation of that weekend (and possibly of the trip) went as follows:

Simon: I like to travel very much.
Me: Oh really? Where have you been?
Simon: Throughout Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.
Me: Cool! If you could go anywhere in the world where would you go?
Simon: America!
Me: Which state? (expecting New York or California – the most common answers)
Simon: Texas.
Me: Really? Why Texas? (surprised)
Simon: Chuck Norris.

No further explanation necessary.

The next weekend, I went to a church in Amalemba with my family. This was also one of the most interesting experiences of the trip. As you may know, I normally wouldn’t be the first in line to attend a church service, but it seemed like a great cultural experience and I figured I had to go at least once while I was there. I was surprised when I first arrived in Kakamega to discover how Christian most people there are. When you walk down the street on a Sunday morning, you see can see and hear a church service at almost every corner. One Sunday I even tried to go running at the track, but decided not to because there was a service in the stadium!

From my experiences, however, I found that the church service in Kenya is very different from the average American church service. While I imagine most services in America being more subdued, Kenyan church services are adorned with extremely loud music, and intense preaching and singing (and dancing of course). No matter how dilapidated the structure of a church may have been, I don’t think I ever saw one that was lacking a sound system equipped for a movie theater.

The church service I attended with my host family was somewhat small. While the structure probably could have fit about 200 people, I would estimate that there were about 30 people in attendance. At the front was an altar, and to the side a keyboard player who was essentially the church DJ, playing quiet, eerie music during solemn speeches, and slowly transitioning to uplifting music (fully equipped with keyboard driven techno beats) when appropriate. Upon entering the church I realized that there seemed to be some excitement among the congregants. I wasn’t sure why, but I thought maybe there was some kind of special event going on that day. It turns out that there was – me.

Before I walked in, three very old ladies approached me – they could not speak English or even Swahili, only the mother tongue of the Luhya tribe, Kiluhya. After some difficulty in their attempts to communicate with me, someone translated that they were very excited to have me at their church and wished they could express that to me in my language. That was a really moving moment.

After being welcomed into the church, I was asked to introduce myself to the congregation at the front of the room with a microphone. This was definitely a little bit nerve racking (and surprising), but I was happy to give it a shot. I used whatever Swahili I knew to say my name, where I was from, and why I was in Kakamega. The crowd seemed very grateful and applauded for me when I was done speaking.

Most of the service was in Swahili so it was difficult to understand, although I am aware that I was in some way part of the sermon because I kept hearing the word “mzungu” interspersed throughout the pastor’s speech. The best part of the service for me, however, was definitely the upbeat music and dancing. They also had a 4-part choir that sang gospel songs that were really cool. Also unlike in America, instead of passing around a collection plate, there is a period in the service when the collection plate is at the front of the room and each row approaches the plate, while singing a specific song, and makes a donation. I thought this was a really interesting ritual.

At the end of the service, everyone went outside and we stood in a large circle holding hands. Prayers were said for everyone in the community, announcements were made, and then we dispersed. Many different groups gathered – men’s groups, youth groups, women’s group etc. and began to talk about whatever other activities they had planned for the coming week. This made me realize that the church, more than any other institution, really was the center of the community for my host family and the other congregants. Besides the religious aspect, it gave them an outlet to talk about their community, their experiences and their individual lives.

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BlackwellJI had no idea what to expect during my 9 weeks spent in Kenya. I decided it would be best to keep an open mind in order to best handle any situations and experiences that lay ahead of me. All that was certain was that I would be working at MIMA, the micro-finance arm of an organization called LICODEP in a town called Likoni. Shortly after my arrival, I was inundated with a wave of new sights, sounds and emotions. Everywhere I looked it seemed to be chaos with poverty sprinkled in between. As I began to get settled with my host family and MIMA, I saw Kenya for what it truly is: a quickly developing country with positive change all around.

Kenya has a long history of corruption that is embedded deep into its culture; from the elected officials in government to the community run Non Government Organizations (NGOs) that are in place to take over where the government fails. There are many different causes of the deep rooted corruption, but the reason it is allowed to continue is the lack of empowerment of the people.

Immediately upon my arrival in the country locals inform me on how fed up they are with this corruption. They tell me that the only way to rid their society of this corruption is to have individuals begin to organize and speak out. Soon enough I began to see this type of activism by a shocking move at the federal government level. Justice Minister Martha Karua resigned her position citing her frustration with the government’s inability to enact change due to corruption. This shook Kenya as it was one of the most bold and controversial moves by an outspoken female official.

This type of activism is the catalyst for change, but development at the macro level is not possible without empowering the people of the community. My work with LICODEP’s micro-finance program is directly related to empowering people of the community. The majority of MIMA’s clients are female entrepreneurs. Because Kenya has a male dominated society, it is important for MIMA to focus on females in order to balance the power between the two sexes by providing these women with financial opportunities. As I continue to work with these women I have been amazed by their natural business sense. Having seen this first hand it just further confirms that all that is needed is someone to lend a helping hand and provide the opportunity.

While the primary goal of MIMA is to provide credit to promote growth and reduce poverty, the larger goal is to provide people with the confidence and means to promote change. Kenya is a country that is ready to take the next step in development. This next step will be made possible by NGOs such as LICODEP and their work within their community.

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gregoryj-11Following the introduction to my new family, I was to start my internship with the Jal Bhagirathi Foundation (JBF) the next day. Abi, my co-intern, and I arrived in good spirits, ready for organizational integration. We immediately set out with Sateesh, who is responsible for the Agoli Block Women’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs), to visit the Vishnu Nagar and Jashti villages. Our mode of transportation was an open-door jeep, which lacked seatbelts, but came fully equipped with a driver who had relinquished any sense of danger probably at birth. For anyone who has not traveled by open-air vehicle through a desert before, the best way to simulate the experience would be to turn on your hair drier and blast your face for two hours.

The Marwar region, located in the western portion of Rajasthan, occupies areas of the Northwestern Thorn Scrub Forest and the Thar Desert. It is known as an arid and inhospitable region, yet paradoxically is the most densely populated desert in the world. Climatologists typically define a desert as having an annual rainfall of 250 mm or less; the Marwar region receives somewhere between 100 to 500 mm. To make matters worse, its water table is falling at around 1 to 2 m each year, and up to 5 m in some areas.

Enter JBF, its genesis is based on the principle of developing “a persuasive alliance with the people of Marwar to make the region water secure.” Their modus operandi is to educate and mobilize rural communities around water issues, such that by providing them with financial support and engineering expertise, disadvantaged communities can empower themselves to achieve local water sustainability. JBF’s straightaway success encouraged generous grants from foreign development agencies, which has been used to employ over 100 people and facilitate the installation of over 250 projects in only five years.

gregoryj-2Ironically, our project has little to do with JBF’s core operations; rather, we have been instructed to develop a system for encouraging micro-enterprise businesses within their SHGs. These groups are bodies designed to build social and financial capital in disadvantaged communities; they have been integral to the microfinance movement within India since the 1980’s. Originally, they were established to allow the poor access to basic monetary systems, including savings and credit, by dispersing the risk amongst many women. Over time, they have grown into social empowerment tools for their members, and they are currently regarded as mechanisms which could facilitate diversification vis-à-vis alternative livelihoods and income generating activities (ALIGA). JBF has been establishing SHGs for about two years and presently operate a total of 54 groups. Predictably however, they are unsophisticated and wanting in comparison to their counterparts to the South, who have been operating in earnest for over 15. Both Vishnu Nagar and Jashti are among the A grade JBF SHGs, yet nonetheless appear woefully behind the progress in the rest of India.

gregoryj-3However, even possessing this knowledge cannot dampen the sense of advancement, ambition and optimism radiating from the women within these groups. Not all possess this glow, but presumably the ones that do will pass it on to those yet to fully comprehend their own potential. The Vishnu Nagar women have recently bought a mechanised flour mill for the bajra (a grain similar to, but coarser than wheat) grown in their fields. It allays the necessity of traveling four km by foot to purchase flour from Agoli; minuscule, but demonstrative progress.

The Jashti women have adapted the SHG model to their pre-existing wholesale embroidery business. Some women in the group have been practicing their craft for 25 years or more. The results are impressive and symbolically Indian. Upon asking one of the men if he has noticed any changes in his wife Meenakshi since the establishment of the group, he tersely replies “she has become more talkative,” which spawns an eruption of laughter from the group and one abashed lady. Although a couple questions later, her self-confidence replenished, she brazenly elucidates her desire “to be the owner of a shop at the Mehrangarh fort [in Jodhpur]” … and moreover, to have husband work for her! In the end, she gets the last laugh.

Our task at hand appears overwhelming at this stage of the internship. However, hopefully by the time we have crossed the last “t’s” and dotted the last “i’s”, some of these women will be on their way to achieving their dreams and escaping the poverty trap.

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I came to Jinja, Uganda with the excitement that I would learn a tremendous amount about subjects such as Uganda history, economics, politics, and social and cultural practices by interacting with my host organization, host family, fellow FSD interns and co-workers, and locals whom I would come across.

I also eagerly anticipated working in an unfamiliar business line (micro-finance and micro-lending), and employment in a full-time capacity that contradicts my New York City rat-race, Wall Street-driven, high-tech software consultant career: Philanthropy.

My assignment is a short one – 2 weeks, including FSD orientation training. “How much can I accomplish?”, and “how effectively can I be utilized?” are questions on my mind, as well as my FSD Project Director, Margaret.

I’m fascinated by current world events, and alert to recent rebel skirmishes in eastern DRC just west of Uganda, violent political incidents in Kenya to the east, the incessant carnage and tragedy in Sudan to the north, the recent historical genocide during the ‘90s in Rwanda to the south-west, and Uganda’s own chronicle of tyrannous rulers and vicious turmoil of the 70’s and 80’s. And with all of these conflicts come human displacement, rampant disease, and suffering.

Fortunately, it seems the political and economic landscapes have stabilized in Uganda over the last decade, allowing the micro-finance industry – an overwhelmingly successful tool for empowering disadvantaged women around the world – to take root.

To get started, I received a number of FSD preparatory materials, including the final report of a previous intern whose project on the above subject I was targeted to continue, in advance of the trip for my absorption.

The project is a straight-forward concept: Carry on the work of preparing, through basic business skills training, a local, economically disadvantaged women’s group, the Walukuba Maama Development Association, to receive micro-financing loans to fund their own businesses, and make a website used to solicit external donations more visible and effective for raising capital for these members.

This is accomplished by working with my host organization, Jinja Cooperative Savings and Credit Society (SACCO), who oversee the loan management and business preparedness of these women’s groups, along with paying visits to the Maama Groups to get their input on current needs and challenges.

Meeting these women was inspiring, to say the least. When greeted with a chorus of “You are most welcome!” and bestowed the title of “honored guest”, I could only respond with how humbled I was to be introduced to them. I was moved by the way they supported each other, worked as a team, and shared their personal experiences and struggles.

And to speak of the wonderful and unique craftsmanship in their handmade products – I explained that in the U.S., their work would be highly valued, especially considering how bland and uninspired today’s mass-produced goods are, and as compared to the brilliant colors, artistry, and precision they diligently put into their personalized crafts.

It is this point exactly which prompted appeals from many of the women to get assistance with expanding the marketing and advertising of their products. They had been trained in these business concepts, but could not reconcile how to formulate a strategy, nor develop partnerships with others who could assist them in a sustainable way.

As my time in Jinja is brief (and quickly coming to a close), I’ve focused on developing action plans and initiatives, along with documenting solution methods of my own into project proposals, so that the goals and objectives can be easily handed over to future FSD interns to follow through with.

I made a return visit to the Walukuba Maama group which produces beads and baskets and brainstormed the ideas I had developed, to get their feedback. They enthusiastically took to several suggestions, and were even more thrilled when I bought many strands of beads to take back to NYC and perform, what I called, an “experiment” – see what the price point and sales potential is for their product in that overseas market.

I promised to follow up with them in the near future to let them know how my experiment goes, provide further guidance on their marketing and advertising initiatives, and work on raising the traffic on the current website seeking donations for their businesses.

I extended my proposal writing to concentrate on the operations of Jinja SACCO as well, and developed some inventiveness around how they could scale their business to serve more underprivileged members of their community.

That they, like most businesses in the area, lack internet access and skills stands out to me as an opportunity to differentiate their team and accelerate on this advantage in developing new partnerships with large organizations for further philanthropic work. Once implemented (although not a simple task to get adopted, and one that comes with a considerable price), the internet will serve to expedite any research they perform, enable easier and more widely distributed communication amongst its partners and clients, and give them access to online tools for small businesses in order to replace a number of paper systems they currently use.

In other words, it will have a radical, positive impact on them, and the community they serve, in a sustainable way.

Volunteer work aside, another major highlight of my stay here in Jinja is the chance to live with my remarkable and welcoming host family, the Kintus.

To my delight, my host dad shares the same spirit as I do in understanding the world, seeking the truth, and challenging leadership and authority when their principles and values appear to be lost. We’ve had hours (maybe days’ worth!) of conversations and I’ve gained tremendous knowledge from him about a range of subjects that only an encyclopedia could encompass.

My host mom is the embodiment of poise and warmth, and graciously offers to help make me feel at home at all times. She is a fabulous cook, and keeps me VERY well fed with the local cuisine, sometimes trying to sneak even more food onto my plate! I’m not sure how I’ll wean myself off the delicious carbohydrate-overload I’ve enjoyed here, but I can guarantee you’ll see me in my local gym working out upon my return home.

The house also buzzes with their adult children and grandchildren coming and going, which is always a source of entertainment. They offer me a chance to practice my limited Luganda (the local language), which I think provides a source of amusement for them!

Living with the Kintus has been a sheer pleasure, and I feel as though I have a second family that I’ve connected closely with, despite coming from worlds apart.

Lastly, forging new relationships with the FSD staff and my fellow interns has been rewarding and important in that we’re sharing the same momentous journey and fulfilling an adventure that will provide a lifetime of memories. This experience impacts not only us, but people we’re here to work with and for, who are as hopeful about living a happy, meaningful life as any person with passion and dreams would want.

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I learned about the concept of microfinance about a year and a half ago, and the idea instantly captured my attention. Reading about Muhammad Yunus’ experience starting and building the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh gave me visions of leaving for an exotic faraway land where I would trudge through sweltering jungles to meet with loan groups in secluded villages, handing out funds and beaming as each proud entrepreneur in turn stood and ceremoniously handed me the coins she had toiled for that week, repaying her loan a few pennies at a time, and watching with amazement as they were able to achieve a level of stability previously impossible.

Every street is lined with small-scale entrepreneurs – clients and potential clients of Faulu Kenya

Being stationed in Mombasa, a city of upwards of one million people, my experience has, needless to say, differed quite significantly from that fantasy. Nevertheless, upon landing in Mombasa, it was immediately clear why microfinance is so critical in developing countries, and what the enormous gap between ‘developed economy’ and ‘developing economy’ looks like. In the absence of a Western-style job market, the economy here seems to be comprised, in the vast majority, of small-scale entrepreneurs selling all manners of consumer goods: peanuts, fruit, Safaricom cell phone credit, Coca Cola, beaded jewelry, secondhand clothes, each of them making his or her living on sales of less than a dollar. The prospects of those growing those businesses are bleak without the access to small amounts of capital that microfinance institutions like Faulu provide.

I imagined the typical microfinance office to be a couple of bare, dingy rooms with flickering computer screens and a small vault for the operating funds. Instead, I work in what could be easily mistaken to be a small, professional, American bank. Employees wear corporate polos and a row of tellers take deposits from behind a thick pane of glass. Operations are smooth and systematic, though they make do with a fraction of the technological equipment found in a Western bank. Attending meetings with loan groups, it was immediately clear that the system is well-polished. Faulu Kenya has, after all, been at it for more than 15 years. After my first few days, seeing how well everything is put together, I began wondering what I, as a foreigner and a mere student, could contribute to such a well-oiled operation. I couldn’t even understand much of the loan group meetings, only catching the words in my limited Kiswahili vocabulary and those sentences where the speaker would slip, as Kenyans so often do, into English.

Members of each group meet to repay their loans each week

Luckily, that contribution emerged and is now my project for the nine weeks of my internship. My supervisor, the area manager for the coastal offices of Faulu, asked me to look into the possibility of starting a welfare association for clients. Burial expenses are high and often very difficult to come up with, especially on short notice, and informal welfare associations are often frustratingly troublesome and unreliable. After researching similar ‘microinsurance’ programs started by microfinance institutions throughout the developing world, we have begun the mammoth task of surveying as many of the branch’s 15,000 clients as we can to request their input in the creation of such a program. The early signs are extremely positive; nearly 80% of those responding so far have indicated that they would participate when Faulu’s welfare association is launched. Faulu’s tagline is ‘Your Bridge to Success,’ and the new welfare association will help to ensure that those working their way across our bridge are not derailed by a tragedy along the way. Though my time in Mombasa will be done before the program is fully up and running, it is a truly amazing feeling to know my work is laying the foundation for an extension of Faulu’s services that will benefit clients immensely.

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I arrived in Rajasthan in September ready to learn about microfinance. I was dissatisfied with my previous life in the corporate world, and was yearning to do something meaningful and deeply fulfilling with my life over the next 8 months. Seven months later, my mind has begun to discover the intricately multifaceted nature of development work and my heart has found a life-long passion for alleviating poverty.

Rajasthan, IndiaI have been working with ACCESS Development Services, an Indian non profit company, which has a presence in several Indian states. ACCESS partners with local Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to upgrade the livelihoods of India’s poorest and develop local financial services that can support their income generating activities. I’ve been working with a microfinance consultant, a livelihoods consultant, an administrative assistant and our fearless team leader. I have been involved with various projects, but I will focus on my involvement with the Microfinance Insititution (MFI) incubation project.

I have learned about the steps involved in incubating MFIs by helping the team incubate the first 8 MFIs in the region. So, what have I actually been doing? I have participated in Institutional Capacity Assessment Tests; written Business Development Plans, funding proposals and operations manuals; organized workshops; participated in exposure visits, developed management information systems (MIS); and trained MFI staff on various financial, human resource and microfinance concepts. At the Towards Sustainable MFIs workshop that I was asked to organize, we spent 2 days walking the participants through critical concepts that they must master to become self sustaining organizations.

In order to reinforce some of the concepts shared through workshops, we organized an exposure visit to a well established MFI, the Maha Shakti Fountation (MSF), on the other side of the country. It was a long train ride! Below, on the left, the partners are learning to use MSF’s sophisticated MIS. On the right we are visiting a family that runs a very successful vegetable farm with a working capital loan from MSF. This exposure visit made a world of difference as vague theoretical concepts became concrete action plans in participants’ minds. Listening to MSF’s history gave participants the confidence to move forward. If they could do it, so can we!

Learning to use MSF’s sophisticated MISA family that runs a very successful vegetable farm with a working capital loan from MSF.

While group learning is very helpful, an important part of my role has been visiting partner organizations to give their microfinance staff one-on-one support as they gain confidence with some of the concepts shared in workshops. We have spent a lot of time with microfinance program directors such as Jayesh from PROGRESS (pictured below in red). One year ago Jayesh didn’t even know the meaning of the acronym MFI. At this point he is an empowered manager with ambitious expansion plans. On the left, I was enjoying some chai, while reviewing PROGRESS’ Operations Manual with Jayesh and Nomesh. On the right, Jayesh is appraising one of the lending groups that is benefiting from PROGRESS’ microfinance program. These 11 women are an example of the poor people that microfinance aims to help by providing contextualized savings, credit and insurance products that can support their livelihoods.

Reviewing PROGRESS’ Operations Manual with Jayesh and Nomesh.Jayesh appraising one of the lending groups that is benefiting from PROGRESS’ microfinance program.

As a team, our efforts over the past 7 months have enabled our partner NGOs to disburse an additional USD 125,000, giving over 1000 men and women in Southern Rajasthan access to a microloan. I am thrilled to have been a part of transforming the lives of those people! By interacting with consultants, managers, bankers, funding agencies, government officials and clients I have learned that microfinance is a small part of a larger package of solutions that must be delivered together in order to make a lasting impact. I am grateful to ACCESS because the experience that I have gained in India has prepared me for my next role as a research assistant in microfinance and livelihoods in Peru. Thank you FSD for putting me in touch with such a great organization!

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