Returning to New Hampshire after spending a year abroad in South Africa I had no idea what my next step was. I knew that I was interested in Microfinance and loved how the Small Enterprise Foundation, the microfinance institution that I was working at, had such a strong dedication to balancing its double bottom line objectives of social and financial sustainability. I learned firsthand how financial mediation can lead to great social improvements in the lives of the poor. When done right I believe microfinance has excellent potential to make positive impacts in the lives of the millions of impoverished people in the world.
With this new found confidence and experience in the microfinance sector paired with my bachelor’s degrees in International and Developmental Economics and Spanish from the University of New Hampshire it made perfect sense to continue working in that field somewhere in Latin America. Truth be told when thinking about what I wanted to do next I kept returning to the desire to work with savings groups, a type of microfinance, in Latin America. That being said, I had no clue how I was going to make that happen.
Previously while at UNH I participated in the Carsey Social Innovation Internship. It was the first year that the Carsey Institute was offering this new type of internship focused on working for a social enterprise. It was through this internship that I became interested in using the power of business and market based strategies to do good in the world. I then went on to start an undergraduate chapter of Net Impact, “a leading nonprofit that empowers a new generation to use their careers to drive transformational change in the workplace and the world”, and worked towards promoting these social concepts on campus. We had a few successful events in the first year and I am proud to say that Net Impact UNH is continuing to grow and has been making great progress in educating the UNH student body about concepts such as the triple bottom line, which is the balance between financial, social and environmental sustainability within an organization.
This background ended up helping me down the road when I was asked to give an introductory speech at the third annual Carsey Social Innovation Internship Showcase. While planning my speech and my role within the event I was in regular contact with my previous faculty advisor for Net Impact UNH, the creator of the internship, and the executive director of the Center for Social Innovation and Finance at the Carsey Institute, Yusi Turell. Yusi had been chatting with Greg Van Kirk, the founder of Community Enterprise Solutions (CES), while at the Ashoka U conference in Arizona. CES has worked with savings groups in the past in places such as Haiti and Nicaragua, but has not gone in depth to find a sustainable way to offer a savings group training and creation service. That is where I come in.
With my background in microfinance, economics, and Spanish and my relationship with the Carsey Institute it made for a great fit to sign me on as a consultant for Community Enterprise Solutions. The purpose of my research will be to discover the feasibility, interest, and need for creating savings groups within CES’s microconsignment network. You can learn more about what CES does here: http://www.cesolutions.org/. I will also be learning a lot about savings groups and will be sharing those learning experiences with anyone who is interested in the form of this blog. I’m very excited to have this opportunity to continue my work in microfinance and hopefully help shed some more light on what does and does not work when working with savings groups abroad.