Microfinance reconceives core ideas in banking, such as due diligence and field operations, and in doing so, it brings finance to drastically underserved populations, empowering women and communities.
Strategic insights are often born out of attention to detail born in early-career consulting and those insights can reshape sectors far beyond the corporate sphere.
Microfinance is built around a powerful idea: empowering women to build self-sufficient communities by providing small-scale capital to the rural poor to start viable income-earning businesses. The idea originated in Bangladesh following the famine of 1974, as future Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus founded Grameen Bank based on microloans, and it has spread around the world to become a billion-dollar enterprise.
In the recent Beyond Consulting podcast episode, Ken talks with Rajitha Swaminathan, Vice President of Program Strategy & Member Experience at Grameen America, a U.S. non-profit built on the principles of the Grameen Bank. They provide life-changing microloans to women entrepreneurs often for no more than two or three dollars per day. Grameen America helps these women rise out of poverty by providing seed funding for their small business, capital as their business grows, and banking resources to build their savings, credit, and financial education.
Rajitha spoke about using her skills developed in consulting at Deloitte for nonprofit microfinance. She manages products and services, field operations, risk management, and program strategy, including determining which communities Grameen America will serve going forward.
“Field operations” will sound unfamiliar in many areas of finance, but for microfinance, it is the core of their business. Microfinance is based on an 18th century banking model, where a woman is taken at her word and community members vouch for her trustworthiness in investing funds in a small business. As a result, Grameen America is embedded in communities and never leaves.
Microfinance also provides an entirely new definition of “due diligence,” where a group of four like-minded women borrower meet each week to discuss their loans and also vouch for each other. Microfinance harnesses the power of the community in building oversight and accountability.
“At the beginning of your career, you have to be an analyst.”
For Rajitha, her consulting experience was primarily focused on financial services and retail banking, mostly on Wall Street, but she remained keenly aware of the population that are left out of traditional forms of finance. She reached out in a cold email to Grameen America with the idea of using her skills to connect this underserved population to the financial world. Drawing on her experience in sales for a telecom company in rural South India, Rajitha sold her skillset in seeing the market in a more expansive way.
Consulting was key in this step, but not because it caused her to think more broadly. In consulting, everyone is a doer and everyone is in the weeds. This attention to detail allows ex-consultants to consider problems in new ways and reconsider the assumptions. For Rajitha, that involves reconceiving banking, its target population, and its methods of ensuring payment. More broadly, this shows how attention to detail leads to strategic insights far beyond the corporate world.
Daniel Baker, JD, MPP, Ph.D. is a Project Manager at ECA. He can be reached at email@example.com