For the coming ten days or so, English will become the primary language of this blog as I will be externing at Grameen Foundation in Washington, D.C. and recording my adventures here as a journal for myself as well as for the wonderful people at Burton D. Morgan Foundation who have helped make this experience happen.
The key person in my externship adventure is Ms Kate Griffin, and I would really like to thank her for giving me this opportunity. My path to her was through Kenyon's Alumni Network: she was a Kenyon student from 1995 to 1999, an International Studies major (I was that... almost). Here is a (blatant) copy-paste from the GF official website, which gives a brief overview of her academic and professional career:
Kate Griffin, Director, Solutions for the Poorest
Kate Druschel Griffin is a microfinance professional with regional experience in Asia. She currently leads GF’s initiative to reach the world’s poorest people with access to reliable business opportunities and financial management tools. She has also overseen programs in the Philippines, East Timor, and Indonesia, and led GF’s strategic expansion into China. She is currently an adjunct faculty member at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and is a board member of Women Advancing Microfinance International. Previously, Kate focused on microfinance policy and poverty measurement tools at the IRIS Center at the University of Maryland. A Mandarin Chinese speaker, Kate holds an MA in International Development from American University and a BA from Kenyon College.
This introduction got me really excited, because Ms Griffin a) went to Kenyon b) led GF's expansion into China, and c) is a Mandarin speaker! In addition to this information, the Kenyon Career Network informed me about which Special Interest groups Ms Griffin is willing to mentor, and I happen to belong to all of them. :) At that point I knew that Grameen Foundation was the externship I wanted. This wish was fairly quickly transformed into a real plan with the help of Kenyon's Career Development Center, a big thank you to them as well!
Here is a short video of Ms Griffin talking about the Solutions for the Poorest program in the Philippines, India and Indonesia.
Important point that I picked up on: Although GF is all about providing technology solutions for the poorest, it also stresses the importance of the people and their ability to make this new technology help them. There needs to be education both about the safety and security measures that go along with bank account information, as well as financial education.
Grameen Foundation was founded by Alex Counts in 1997 with a seed grant of $6,000USD by Muhammad Yunus. GF's mission is, "To enable the poor, especially the poorest, to create a world without poverty." The way GF goes about making this mission statement reality is through continued innovation and social entrepreneurship. It supports microfinance (MFI) institutions around the world through funds and technological assistance. Today, Grameen Foundation has grown to a leading international humanitarian organization with an annual budget of approximately $25 million. Its technology projects include:
* the Mobile Technology for Community Health (MOTECH) initiative in Ghana
* the Community Knowledge Worker initiative in Uganda
* the Mobile Money initiative in Kenya
There are many ways Grameen Foundation reaches out to MFIs. Some of them include:
- Help them find financing, either through loan-guarantee programs (Growth Guarantees) or direct funding (Pioneer Fund)
- Improve their IT systems, through Mifos, its open-source MIS software
- Ensure that their staff are as productive as possible, through services and consulting provided by its Human Capital Center
- Measure whether their efforts are reaching the poor, though its Progress out of Poverty Index (PPI)
After this little introduction, I now provide the agenda which I received today by e-mail from Ms Griffin.
Extern week at Grameen Foundation – Jan. 9-13, 2012
Monday, January 9
8:00am Solutions for the Poorest Team Meeting
9:00am Office tour, set up (Chris, Operations)
9:30am Introduction to GF – Kate Griffin, Director, Solutions for the Poorest (SfP)
10:00am Join meeting with Kate and Julia Arnold, Program Associate, SfP
12:00pm Lunch with Kate, joined by Kimberly Davies, Program Asssociate, SfP’s Microsavings Initiative
1-1:30 pm Discuss MicroLead Proposal project with Kate
1:30 – 1:50pm Meet with Jimmy Harris (Social Performance Team – SPMC)
2-2:20pm Meet with Stephanie Simpson (Capital Markets Team – CMAC)
2:30-2:50pm Meet with Maria Luque (Human Capital Team – HCC)
Tuesday, January 10
12:00pm Join Africa Coordination Call with Kate
1:00pm Join MicroLead Proposal team call with Kate
2:00pm Meet with Jacqueline Wiseman, Development Department
Thursday, January 12
9:00am Join ACSI Bi-weekly call with Kate and Microsavings Initiative team
11:00am Join call with MEDA on SEEP Network Practitioner Learning Program
Projects to Complete:
Conduct research and create brief write up on the country of Rwanda to contribute to a large proposal (MicroLead proposal).
Help Development Department with mailings and filings (Friday, January 13)
I can't wait to get started! Monday seems to be the busiest day, with meetings from 8AM until 3PM. I hope I won't be completely overwhelmed! But it promises to be a really exciting day with a tour around the office, an official introduction of GF by Ms Griffin, and meetings with leaders of several teams within GF. Tuesday and Thursday seem to represent the international cooperative spirit of GF as the meetings that I will be attending are all described as "calls," implying distance. Finally I'm excited to see that besides shadowing Ms Griffin, I will also be able to give my little contribution to the work of GF by conducting a bit of research and helping out at the Development Department.
Since this is my first time doing an externship, I am not really sure how to prepare for it. I think a good thing to do for starters would be to try and verbalize my goals for this week:
1) Get to know the inner workings of a fairly large international NGO, the day-to-day work and how the different departments function together;
2) Learn about the strengths and limitations of social entrepreneurship;
3) Be active and ask good questions! (this is a reminder to myself as I tend to be more of a passive listener and sometimes a bit timid when it comes to asking questions)
In addition to these goals, over this week I am trying to find answers to some of the following questions:
How does GF identify the critical areas in which the Foundation's work could have most impact?
How long does this process take, and how much involvement (help/guidance) is there on the side of the target country's government?
Does this involvement differ by country?
GF has an annual budget of $25 million. Where does this money come from? Has the funding been affected by the economic recession?
Mostly, I am just looking forward to being inside an NGO and seeing what it is all about. A senior at an American college with a major in Modern Languages and a foreign passport, I am interested in ways I could put my language skills and energy into good use. I know that apart from languages, I have few other 'concrete' skills - the beauty of a liberal arts degree -, but I assume most skills are actually obtained while working, so I hope that these almost-four years at Kenyon have prepared me well. :)
Counting down until January 9th... Stay tuned!