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Microfinancing is Bigger Than You Think

The tables stretched the length of the Meredith Room in Spangler and at the very end sat Nancy Barry (HBS ’75), President of Women’s World Banking (WWB). The table was full and the room steadily filled until people were standing to hear about Women’s World Banking. WWB is very different from the “regular” World Bank, for whom Barry worked until she joined WWB in 1990. WWB serves 14 million clients in 70 countries around the world. The twist is that all of its clients are poor women who need access to cash for entrepreneurial activities that will increase their standard of living.

Until 1975, poor women in developing countries were considered passive players in their countries’ economies and thus were discounted when people thought of financing needs within the country. Women’s World Banking operates on a model that everything they do must 1) work for poor women, and 2) be sustainable. The results have been tremendous. They currently achieve a 98% payback rate on their loans with costs per unit loan steadily decreasing–some affiliates have achieved a cost as low as US$0.04 per loan. The size of the average loan is US$300. Approximately 35% of clients create their own mini-enterprises, and the positive impact of these loans on women’s lives can be seen in the countries where WWB and its affiliates operate.

Sound interesting to you? Barry was also at HBS to discuss summer internship as well as full-time employment opportunities. Summer interns work on discrete technical projects such as the role of equity investments in microfinance, or the use of loan scoring and palm pilots by affiliates. Ipsita Dasgupta (OB) spent her summer internship at WWB looking at MIS issues in India. Although, Women’s World Banking often looks for a finance background for their summer interns, there are full-time opportunities that require a general management background. These opportunities will be posted in the job bank in December.

Not sure if you can afford this type of career or if it is the right path for you? Margot Dushin (mdushin@hbs.edu) reminded the audience that the Initiative on Social Enterprise provides funding for students that choose to work with a non-profit for the summer as well as loan forgiveness for students that choose to work with a non-profit after graduation.

As Nancy stated, “People thought I was crazy when I left the World Bank to join Women’s World Banking. But I believed in the principles of the organization and knew that change would only come from helping other small organizations.” What an opportunity to make a difference with your HBS degree.

For more information on Women’s World Banking, go to www.womensworldbanking.org.

October 15, 2001
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