Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Microfinance in the 21st Century: An Experience with Zidisha Inc in Dakar, Senegal

By Paige Klunk

This past summer, I interned with Zidisha in Dakar, Senegal, as a Senegal Ambassador. Zidisha Inc is an American non-profit microfinance organization, offering small-business loans via the internet in nine countries. Founded by director Julia Kurnia in 2009, Zidisha is based on the key principal of lowering interest rates for borrowers. It offers a unique peer-to-peer platform, allowing clients in developing country to projects on their website and lenders to finance loans in small increments.

The non-profit has two or three paid positions (the director and website designers), and with only online interns and local volunteers, the non-profit is able to cut interest rates to just 5%. Zidisha’s premise is what one could call 21st century microfinance replacing the traditional in-country team for an online team of volunteers. It was what originally attracted me to join the organization’s team because it cut down on the expense in microfinance which was traditionally paid by the borrower!

Even though every working experience has its challenges, Zidisha has really helped shape my future career goals. I have been truly lucky to work so closely with the Zidisha’s volunteer mentor program in Dakar as well as having the chance to meet with many borrowers to see how loans have helped them grow their businesses and some support their families!

Engaging directly several clients and working closely with the volunteers, many friendships emerged that will last for a lifetime. Zidisha has helped shape my career through the realization of the importance to work closely with those who are impacted by the development project. I hope to work someday for a similar grassroots non-profit where I can have a direct impact on people’s lives.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Stitching & Microfinance: An Experience with EduCare in India

By Mila Pestun

As a MicroEmpowerED Project Manager in Rait Center within two months my partner and I managed to kick off a new microfinance activity, i.e. stitching self-learning platform, take mushroom farming – the other microfinance activity that has been already in place – to the new stage and we are holding the new training for mushroom farmers in couple of hours from the moment when I started writing this post.

Another factor that has made my work experience in EduCARE very diverse is that I was part time Operations Assistance – that was an opportunity for me to polish my admin and NGO management knowledge and skills. Though I prioritized microfinance in-field activities over any other job I was doing in EduCARE I’m very glad managed to contribute to other areas of the organization’s work.

I’ve been involved in SWASH project activities, Girls Club and Fun Club, and even visited migrant camp in Rajhol where we teach those who are deprived from formal school education basic literacy (it is surprising how wide is the age range of our students in Rajhol). I’ve prepared monitoring plan and evaluation design for microfinance activities in Rait that can serve as an example and template for other projects in EduCARE.

Initially monitoring and evaluation (M&E) was my focus as I plan to center my career in international development on these activities, but to my own surprise I got so engaged with project activities that it even makes me reconsider my career focus.

Apart from work in just two months I’ve visited six different states, and saw the most treasured spots in India (Goa, Amritsar, Jaipur, Agra, Delhi, Manali, and other amazing places). Every place I’ve visited for work or leisure purposes is fascinating and unique. And every time I had the feeling that I don’t have enough time to get better understanding of new places I visit and people I meet. Still, no matter where I went I always loved being back to Himachal Pradesh, to the village of Rait.