For my fellowship, I am posted in the Washington DC office. In my three months here, I have enjoyed getting to know the staff and working on projects in the Financial Services department. And while I appreciate how readily I was integrated into the work flow and entrusted with substantive writing and editing assignments, I was really looking forward to my first trip to the field. On September 21, I traveled with Program Officer Kimberly Davies to the Philippines to work both in the CARD Bank office in San Pablo Laguna and to Manila to work in the Grameen Foundation office and attend the Micro Credit Summit. I enjoyed my time being in country, as it was a great way to see up close the work that GF does and the impact that it is having.
My greatest impression while in the Philippines was that clients who have savings accounts and/or loans are incredibly resourceful and entrepreneurial. Two success stories in particular struck a chord with me. One is the case of Christina, an independent bank agent living and working just outside San Pablo. I traveled with a donor group to visit her and was able to see for myself the work that an agent does. Christina told us how she came to be involved with CARD Bank. She said she used to sell airtime for mobile phones in her village and that she used to be a center treasurer. Then she became an agent and the familiarity and trust she has with her neighbors helps her to do business. As an agent, she helps clients make transactions. She also teaches clients how to use their phones for payments. We could see that there were no banks in the rural area, so agents like Christina bring financial services out to the countryside.
Christina also benefits from her work as an agent. She explained that she takes her extra earnings and invests them in her crops. She was able to buy better quality seeds and grow more eggplants and bananas. Also, she built a small café on the side of her house and sells snacks such as hot dogs and longanisa to members when they stop by to make payments. Christina demonstrated great business savvy and we weren’t surprised when she said she has a business management degree. I appreciated that Christina took time to explain her work and process to us. It was clear that the opportunity to be an agent could provide someone with additional income while they were providing a service to others in their community.
It was again at the Summit that I heard a similar story to Christina’s. As part of the opening ceremony, the interviewer on stage spoke with a woman named Flor. She says she lived in extreme poverty and while she owned a few pigs, she struggled to provide for herself and her children. With small loan, however, Flor was able to invest in her livestock. Over time, she grew her business and she came to own over 300 pigs. She also expanded into quail egg production, saying she has over 5,000 heads and she also owns chickens. Flor did say that her husband helped her by building an incubator for the chickens. But Flor was the borrower and the business owner. She now has 10 employees working for her! As a small microfinance enterprise, Flor is not only providing for her family but she’s creating jobs for others as well. She even takes the bio gas coming from the waste of the pigs and uses it for her house. When asked whether she thinks women are better with money, Flor said she thinks women are more approachable and disciplined. Flor’s growing businesses certainly are the result of her discipline and determination.
At the opening ceremony of the Summit, Professor Yunus told the crowd that the future of poor people is in creation of entrepreneurial opportunities, not just job creation. In his address, Yunus emphasized that everyone has the potential to be an entrepreneur. I never doubted that women are strong and can create businesses that provide for their families and create jobs for others. Now I have been fortunate enough to see evidence of this firsthand.
Abby Addis is a Financial Services Fellow, based in D.C.. Check back for more about Abby's experiences.