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Microcredit in Belize and the Dominican Republic, “Change ONE life, change the world ENTIRE.”

Finally Finished!  Recap and Promo Video for the Northeastern Social Enterprise Institute Latin American Microfinance Field Study 2010:

Ah, yes, learning to live with imperfections and calling it done.  Definitely discovered that I STILL LOVE editing videos and hoping to continue perfecting the art.

I kept an official blog for the program so did not have any extra minutes to write here, but our 4-week, 2-country field study had these objectives:

Belize:
In Belize, we worked with the microfinance organization BEST – Belize Enterprise for Sustainable Technology. They asked us to work on 3 tasks – to complete borrower surveys for a report, to create an impact measurement tool for them to use, and to assist new borrowers in starting their new businesses.

Dominican Republic (DR):
In the DR, we will be working with the microfinance organization Esperanza International.  They asked us to guide them in improving their borrower business training program by interviewing current borrowers and then compiling and analyzing the results in order to propose changes to the program.

For More Happenings, Lessons, and Revelations from this Microfinance field study, click here to check out the Official Blog Rachel, Dahlia and Myself updated with daily details and PHOTO BLOG. – http://seilafsp2010.shutterfly.com/

Posting my last and favorite entry below (yes, long… but worth it, really wanted to include everyone’s thoughts 🙂

Microcredit, Perspectives and Inspirations – “Change ONE life, change the world ENTIRE.”

After two weeks in Belize and just one week in the Dominican Republic (DR), the students, staff, Professor Shaughnessey, and the 6 guests (long-time Social Enterprise Institute supporters who joined us for a week in the DR to see the Field Study in action), all gathered on the terrace of our hotel for a special reflection session.  We all offered our personal reactions on the impact that the trip has already had on us, and even how it has changed some of our future goals and aspirations.  Thinking about everyone’s comments and piecing it all together in this post has really enabled me to process what I have seen, accomplished and learned, and will hopefully give you all some second-hand insight into what we have experienced.

We are learning about Microcredit and seeing it in Action.

Dahlia told us all that growing up living next to poverty in Guatemala, she saw many non-profit organizations fail, and it is refreshing to see the hope and success that Esperanza’s microcredit program is bringing to so many in the DR. Interviewing countless borrowers and hearing how their loans have impacted their lives, how much they love Esperanza, and the solidarity and support they have gained from their bank groups really has proven to us the viability of microcredit to help the poorest of the poor.

One topic mentioned in class became clear to us in the field very quickly – poor does not equal stupid. All the borrowers have been extremely smart and resourceful – helping us realize that they are not poor because they are not smart, but rather because they lack opportunity, which Esperanza is working to change.  Sam talked about how microcredit’s fame for empowering people to use their own intellect along with business to bring themselves out of poverty was coming to life more and more each day in the Dominican Republic.

Not only are the Belizean and Dominicans we have talked to in the field intelligent and savvy business-people, but also they are incredibly warm-hearted and generous. Although this was not a surprise, Gwen relayed how she was so impressed and humbled by the overwhelming kindness of everyone we met, despite their race, class or poverty levels. They did not shun us as being stereotypical “rich Americans.” We were always welcomed with a chair for each and every person, usually a cold beverage, and constant warm smiles, despite our interruption of their day.

Jen reminded us about one of our biggest lessons gained from Muhammad Yunus, “the Father of Microfinance,” who endeavored to flip banking upside down when he began lending to the poor who did not have collateral. She emphasized that we need to remember Yunus’s determination to not accept the way things are, to look for innovation, and to take risks with new ideas to solve problems. Microcredit would not exits if Yunus did not do just this.

Ryan notably admitted, with many heads nodding in agreement, that one day in the field was for him a learning experience that is equivalent to, if not better than, 1000 days of class work and lectures.  This program has proved to all of us the common belief that 90% of learning is listening, observing, discussing, and later performing, and we are so lucky to be getting a first-hand peek into so many aspects of microcredit in the developing world.

We are growing as leaders and expanding our perspectives.

John emphasized that the sense of leadership all of us have displayed has enhanced everyone’s learning – whether it be in small interviewing groups translating Spanish, or stepping up to head the organization of a service project. Ryan echoed this by stating how he has seen cooperation and teamwork result in real impact– by the borrowers in their bank groups and by all of us throughout our service work and project preparation.

Dan described how seeing so many people’s different perspectives on life has really opened his eyes to how much more there is for him to learn about the world.  Most of us could relate to Dan’s belief that this trip has been more than an inspiration, and how lucky we are to have the opportunity to experience these other perspectives and apply them to everything we are learning at Northeastern.

We studied extensively in class about the importance of metrics and measuring impact, as it enables an organization to confirm for themselves and their supporters that they are doing what they say they are (i.e. reducing poverty and creating jobs).  However, when in the field, we noticed that not all levels of impact were necessarily measurable, such as a women’s sense of empowerment upon opening a business.

Tim, who is currently researching social impact at his Co-op, stressed, “I had become so used to seeing impact academically in numbers, that I didn’t appreciate the intangible impacts that no metric can prove, like the confidence a woman gains from a loan.”

Building off Dan’s comment, Tim went on to describe the amazing feeling that comes from connecting perspectives, whether he was dancing with a borrower outside her store or talking to kids about baseball in a Haitian sugar cane batey. Interacting with the people in these simple ways actually had phenomenal results – enabling many of us to better imagine us all belonging to an interconnected “global community,” where we depend on each other.

We are constantly inspired and filled with hope.

Gretchen said that all the stories she has heard from borrowers continuously reinforces the hope and inspiration that she thought a microcredit organization like Esperanza could bring to those living in extreme poverty.

Jeremy talked about how he has been inspired to put more effort into spreading awareness about the conditions of the poor. Yet, he does not only want to tell people about what we are doing here with microcredit, but also recognized that he himself wants to change his character and way of life on a day to day basis.  He wants to remember everything he has learned this month, including being humble and appreciative of everything we have.

Andrew has been motivated by the passion we are seeing everyday in the borrowers and Esperanza staff, and said how much he appreciates the power of choice most of us have.  Using this power to help others is where he hopes to take this motivation.

 

Shelagh has been inspired by the instinctive and natural way in which all the borrowers are so quick to share any small amount of wealth they may have with each other. One thing we noticed throughout our interviews was that no borrower said they had competition, because they all just help each other stay afloat.  This was an eye opening perspective for many business students who are drilled marketing skills and taught to outsmart the competition as a vital business strategy.

Stephanie surprised us all as she described her new goal to go home and raise money to build a school for the many children in need that she has met in her Mother’s home country, the Dominican Republic.

Sarah H. told us all that one completely unexpected outcome of this trip for her is that after understanding the influence of development work on children, she now knows she has to work with kids in whatever life path she chooses.

Ulysses, who just graduated with an International Affairs major, admitted that this experience has altered his thinking completely. He is now motivated to get an MBA to deepen his business knowledge and apply it to helping the poor.

Shilpi told us that this program and Professor Shaughnessey’s mentorship have been an inspiration for what she can and should be doing – dedicating time to assisting the poor. After talking to Professor and realizing that he spreads his knowledge and time in so many different directions (teaching, legal counsel, coaching basketball, the SEI, family, etc), she was reminded that we should not make excuses or undermine what we are capable of.  She then recited a quote to help us remember that we do have enough hours in the day to help others: “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein” — H. Jackson Brown

We are preparing to extend our reach, spread the word, and live in a more socially-minded way

Many of us may not dedicate the rest of our lives to microcredit or directly to advocating for the poor.  However, one of the main results of this field study is that a seed will be planted in each of our minds so that no matter what we choose for our careers, we will incorporate social impact and serving the less fortunate into our lives.

Jackie G. talked about how sometimes its just simple awareness that people in our country are lacking.  After she told her parents about KIVA.org and that they could lend money for a poor person in the Dominican Republic or another country to start a business, they were so excited and signed up right away.

Lia went further with this, and challenged us all to reach out and tell our friends and family about what we are doing here with Esperanza. To go beyond saying that it was just a school trip working with the poor, but to actually explain what microcredit is and how it is really helping the poorest of the poor.  Lia has virtually kept her Mom involved with everything we’ve done through daily Skype phone calls.  Now her Mom, a non-profit organization consultant, is inspired to learn more about Esperanza and dig deeper into microcredit.  She hopes to eventually bring microcredit to the poor sectors of her home country, Argentina.

One of our guests, Tom Spittle, threw out a homework assignment – to embrace the ever-growing world of social media with our own awareness campaigns, and to write one email about our experience.  By posting our first-hand knowledge of microcredit on blogs and facebook and sending one email out to our many friends and family, he assured us that the people who care about us will automatically take an interest in the things we care about.  Consequently, we will be an important part of extending microcredit’s reach past the small margin it is now touching.

 

One of the last to speak was Lucas, who conveyed to us his thoughts while incorporating our prominent historical surroundings. He said that the famous explorers and conquerors Fransisco Pizzaro, Hernando Cortez, and Christopher Columbus bridged the new and old worlds, changing our lives today in ways so fundamental we cannot even begin to understand what our world would be like without them. All three of them lived only a couple blocks from our hotel in the Dominican Republic. Lucas said he believes that there may be three people in this group right here today who will have just as great an impact on alleviating global poverty.

 

From there, another one of our guests, Denise Discenso, talked about how impressed she has been by our performance and dedication throughout the week, and how she does believe there are more than 3 people in our group who will have an enormous impact on the world. By supporting the Social Enterprise Institute, “I am investing in you, not a program. You are the hope,” she said.  She reflected on our worlds’ history being over 4 billion years old, and how we are such a small piece.  For this reason, it is out duty to not only do good in our lifetimes, but also, to set the direction for good to be continued in the future.

 

Personally, each day of this program has pressed me to test my limits, build my business acumen, and strengthen my leadership, so that I can be a powerful agent of social change.

 

 

As the field study in Belize and the Dominican Republic comes to and end, it is clear that the Social Enterprise Institute is fulfilling its mission within all of us, creating a next generation of globally aware business leaders.

Although we will all take something different away from the program, no one leaves without being changed in a profound way.  As the SEI strives to accomplish, we have all been opened up to a new perspective on life, while at the same time gaining responsible business knowledge. Now, we are ready to continue learning how to use all of this in a sustainable way, to truly build our interconnected and social-minded global community, and to grow the movement to eliminate poverty.

Especially huge thanks to our partner MFI in the Dominican Republic, Esperanza International (click for website).

This Post Has 1 Comment

  1. JMR says:

    Sounds like everyone drank the coolade! Fabulous and encouraging. It’s amazing how much travel and empathy allow one to change the lens and change themselves for their own benefit and for the global good. Everyone should be afforded this kind of experience. Thank you for sharing!

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