Beyond Consulting

11: From Consulting to Nonprofit Microfinance

In this week’s episode of Beyond Consulting, we welcome Rajitha Swaminathan, a former Deloitte consultant, and current Vice President of Program Strategy & Member Services at Grameen America.

 

The Beyond Consulting Podcast is hosted by Ken Kanara.

 

 

Ken Kanara: Hello and welcome to Beyond Consulting, brought to you by ECA Partners. For those of you joining for the first time, the aim of our podcast is to helps listeners answer the question, “What can I do with my life after a career in consulting?” In addition to understanding the jobs after consulting, we try to put a story behind it. I’m Ken Kanara, host of Beyond Consulting and CEO of ECA Partners, a specialized project staffing and executive search firm focused on former management consultants and private equity. Each week, I host guests that have spent time in consulting and made some sort of pivot or career change. The goal is to help our audience understand all the options that they have and ideally, learn from our guests, both in terms of what they did right and things they wish they would have done differently. Today, we welcome Rajitha Swaminathan to the studio. Rajitha, I hope I pronounced that correctly.

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: Yes, I will give you a nine of 10, but thank you and great to be here.

 

Ken Kanara: I’m glad I got your last name…at least a nine out of 10. To start off, could you give our listeners a little bit of background about yourself?

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: Hello everyone, I’m Rajitha Swaminathan. I am currently the vice president of program strategy and member services here at Grameen America. That basically means I head program and operations at Grameen America. Grameen America is a microfinance institution. It is a nonprofit that works to provide access to finance to women entrepreneurs. If you’ve ever heard of the Grameen Bank, of Muhammad Yunus and the Nobel Peace Prize, on providing small dollar loans, or if you’ve watched A Dollar a Day, then you would know that it is the exact same model so it’s one of the very few imports that we have made from the East to the West quite a few years ago. It follows the exact same model as the Grameen Bank. I have been here for the last six years now, and it’s been quite a journey. Although we are a nonprofit, I like to say that we very much have a startup environment. It’s got a lot of ex-consultants, we have a lot of ex-startup people working here, so it makes for a great vibe with a lot of energy on the team. I came here from consulting, so I was at Deloitte in strategy and operations consulting prior to this. That was also a very eventful journey. I spent a few years there straight out of grad school. I went to school for public policy and international affairs at Columbia. I came into grad school with an MBA from India, so it’s been a long circuitous path. If we’re dialing way back into the past, then I’m originally an engineer from undergrad. I have taken like three different pivots from where I should have been. I should have been an engineer tinkering with something by now, but its been a great path and I am happy to be where I am at now and share my experiences. That was a lot.

 

Ken Kanara: No, that’s great! Thank you, Rajitha. We like to dial back here, but we promise what we won’t do is put years behind that. It’s really great to have you. I’m really excited to learn personally about micro finance in general and what you’re doing at Grameen America. The first question I have is how does it all work? Can you tell us a bit about how microfinance works in general?

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: Microfinance is what the word says—it’s everything scaled down. The biggest gap it seeks to address is for people who are not served by the mainstream financial system. What the primary service and the primary product is, is a microloan. That’s again, what the name says, it’s a really, really small loan. We make small-dollar loans that start from $500 up to $2000, that’s how small it is. It’s made to low income women only, who are unbanked or underbanked. They don’t have a credit score, they don’t get a loan at a bank, they likely don’t have a bank account, they likely don’t know much about how to read and write, they are usually first-gen immigrants. They come here looking to start a business to make their future—to set it up here. We are usually the first injection of capital and from then on we continue to provide capital as working capital, as investments, to help their business grow. They keep expanding their business—they sell fruit down the street, they bake bread at home, they have a cleaning service, etc., and we fund that until they are large enough to be banked. That’s one way we help. We also help them to build assets—to build savings. We fund one of the biggest needle wars in terms of generational mobility—financial mobility. We help them build credit, which in the US is a big deal. Almost 95% the people we serve do not come in with any credit history prior to coming to us and we help them build that. All of this centers around peer support, and that is what microfinance is. What we do in microfinance is kind of unique in its model. How do we lend to these people have no credit score, who don’t have a store front to show, who don’t have a lot of assets, no collateral…? I like to say that we go back to 18th century banking, to what the banking system originally was. How do you lend to a person? Because someone else gave me their word for it. “I know she’s really trustworthy…I know she sells down there every day. I see her kids at school every day…we go to the same church…. I’m vouching for her, that she will make good on the promise that she will invest her capital, she will grow her business and she will pay you back. That’s all that we base our loans on. That’s the underwriting. It’s one person’s word for another. That is the fundamental of the model. That’s basically what it is. It is banking that is for the millions that are unbanked.

 

Ken Kanara: That’s incredible. I’m sure you’re changing all sorts of lives, not only of the women you’re banking with, but their families. How do you as an organization identify people? Are they coming to you? Are you going to them? What does that look like?

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: We are very, very grassroots. That is likely why most people haven’t heard of us, except for our recipients, but we are very grass roots. We are a national organization, but we work in communities. We are very local in that sense. We hire from the community, and they are our frontline staff. We call them relationship managers, but you could call them ambassadors, case workers, social workers, what have you. They generally lead us from the community and would then go and speak about our program to the community. We have this in over 20 cities right now in multiple states. We have over 67,000 active borrowers. We have served over 160,000 women in the US alone. It is very, very grass roots—so grassroots that no one has really heard about us in mass marketing, so to speak.    

 

Ken Kanara: Wow, that’s incredible. I only discovered you through my own research. In fact, I had never heard of Grameen, but I didn’t realize the extent of the scale. I mean 67,000—that’s incredible. So, you have a grassroots approach and you talked about the way that you work with them up front, then on an ongoing basis in terms of savings and credit…could you tell us about a few examples or success stories so that we can put a story behind it?

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: Yes, sure. I mean we have 67,000 of them. I’ll give one generic story and then one personal one. We have this florist. Of course, “florist” is a fancy name, but we had this woman in Queens, New York, who had just come into the US. She’s a single mom, she had her three kids and was looking for a way to make ends meet and provide a good education for her children—provide a better life. She had just come in from South America. She was really good at flower arrangements back home so when she came into here she got her first loan to literally buy and sell flowers. She would go to the wholesaler twice a week, in the early morning, come back to Queens and sell them as a bouquet-seller. That was with her first loan, then she stayed with us for years. Two years down the line she’s one of those people that, on New York corner shops and deli’s, you see those little extensions that come out where they sell these flowers, and that’s what she was. She had a little refrigerator that would keep the flowers cool. Cut to five years down the line—she’s doing big wedding contracts and big party contracts and she’s a registered business. They moved into a home of their own—it wasn’t a big fancy home, but before they had been in this big, shared home with many families. To see them move, step-by-step, over just the time that I’ve been here, has been amazing. Now, whenever I go to Queens, I make it a point to stop there and get some flowers. It’s just been this incredible journey that I’ve seen because we both started with Grameen at the same time. I has been pretty cool in that sense.

 

Ken Kanara: That’s incredibly touching. Thank you for sharing that. You mentioned one other personal story as well?

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: It’s less about a single borrower but, we’ve all had a very difficult two years,  and…I wouldn’t say any less or any more, but very definitely this was the first population to be affected. Businesses back in March 2020…the first thing that happened was everybody was home, not sure what to do. You weren’t buying off the street, that was the last thing you would think of. People who were doing hair and nails were the first ones to stop having any business, and it was the most vulnerable population. There wasn’t food to put on the table. They don’t have a lot of excess cash to cushion them. We saw this as the most affected financially. What was sadder was that this was also the population that was most affected health-wise. We had our largest population in New York in March, in Amherst and in Queens. This is where our borrowers live, without proper access to healthcare—which is a whole different industry, and we don’t deal with it. It was heartbreaking to watch, but it’s also been a reminder of how resilient each one of these women are. We came out of the pandemic stronger than ever before. We were an extremely in-person organization before. We met these women every single week in the community—in their basements, businesses, and their living rooms, and now we’re fully virtual. Every one of our borrowers dials in at these weekly Zoom meetings—40 people on every Zoom, every hour. It’s amazing to watch the whole turnaround of borrowers going from selling on the street to selling on UberEATS. It has just been quite a lovely period, I want to say. It has been amazing to watch that resilience. It’s nice to say that on the other side of it, but it has been a hard two years. It is so inspiring to see all these women come together and help each other out and, not sail through, but make it through the last two years.

 

Ken Kanara: That’s incredible, especially when you think about the way poverty can impact a community. It’s often where we start in life that has a big impact on where we’re going. Not only are you helping these women entrepreneurs, but their children, and their children’s children, theoretically, are going to have a better shot at an opportunity, as a direct result of what you’re doing.

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: The fundamentals, or the philosophy, of the organization is that it is a hand up, and not a handout. We will continue to support you for years and years with loans. We will keep injecting capital. They are loans for a reason—this is not grant capital. We are embedded in communities, so we don’t enter and leave. Every community we have been in, we have never exited. That’s the piece that makes a generational impact—it teaches someone how to fish, rather than providing them with the fish.

 

Ken Kanara: That’s incredible. I like that, “a hand up versus a hand out,” I think that’s cool. What about you specifically? I know you’re a big part of the organization at Grameen. What is your role now and how has that evolved over the years?

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: Right now I sit in the senior leadership that manages all of our field operations, basically. We operate as a field structure in these communities and I manage all of that. I also manage program strategies. That deals with expansion—where are we going next? Which communities are we serving next, within terms of geography? Are we going to a new city, or which community do we serve more, or better? We know there’s a big need in the black community, as well, for access to capital, so how do we service that community? This relates to expansion, but I also deal with products and services, which includes the microloan, but also what is our savings product? What is our member education product? Is there a health component to it? All of the areas of products and services and what’s next, is also in my bucket. Then, there’s member services, which is, basically, what else do we provide for our members apart from the loan, through our standard model, which is through our field. So, what other value-added services do we provide for them to accelerate their growth? I manage all of that, of course, not alone, but with a lot of help. We have a field structure but we sit in the national office that manages everything here. I came in, very specifically, managing programmatic initiatives—a lot of special initiatives and special programs. Apart from the microloan, it was building the credit-building pillar from scratch….it was putting up an asset-building structure from scratch…it was a lot of special products. We are currently completely cashless and paperless. When I came in, that was a big transition. People were dealing with cash. These were $40 installments that people were paying us, so we were collecting a lot of cash—literal cash and putting it in trucks, etc. Right now we are completely cashless. People pay us electronically, or they pay cash to an agent and it’s routed to us. Our loans no longer go out as checks or cash, they all go out on a prepaid card or into their bank account. This whole digitalization transition was a big one for the organization, and I was here to move that along as well.

 

Ken Kanara: That’s incredible. If you think about what you focus on now, in terms of the end-to-end experience, and also where to go next, I’m curious to hear about the experiences that relate to what you ask from the women entrepreneurs that you’re working with? We talked about “a hand up versus a hand out,” but often times you can’t just give something…I’m probably not being very articulate, but you probably have certain requirements to make sure that it’s successful for them as well as for you?

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: Yes, that all falls within field operations. A big part of it is risk management. It is a large portfolio. Currently we have a $165 million portfolio, and we have disbursed over two billion dollars in loans. Two billion dollars in small, small loans is a lot of loans.

 

Ken Kanara: It’s a lot of complexity (laughs).

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: That’s right (laughs), it’s a lot of complexity. So it’s a big, massive engine, I want to say. It’s also a self-propelling engine. It’s a push mechanism up to the first 500 people in any community or location that we go to. Then, onwards, it becomes a word of mouth methodology and it quickly ramps up. It does come with a lot of risk. Lending to this population does come with a lot of risk. Risk management is a big part of the profile. We do have very stringent requirements, which is the bulk of the operational lift that the field does as it’s bread and butter. We meet with each one of our borrowers every, single week. It used to be rain or shine we meet with you in your community. We were at the business that you work—the salon, where this group of 30 women would meet, or we would be in someone’s living room—whatever the predetermined time and place was. Today it’s on Zoom. It’s different, but it still happens. If it’s Monday morning at 8:30am, everyone’s present. That’s a nonnegotiable to be a part of a program. We have a lot of other requirements. You can only come in as a group. It’s a group model, you don’t come by yourself. I come in with four other like-minded women—other entrepreneurs. They give their word for me, and I give my word for them. All from the same community, all doing their own, different businesses. That’s part of the due diligence. Who is doing the due diligence in my business? It’s these other people whose group I’m a part of. It’s not an individual program. The loans are individual, but you don’t enter the program by yourself, ever. That goes back to, is someone else willing to give their word for you…is willing to put their name and their reputation behind you? That’s a lot of work that goes on operationally. It’s dealing with our members on a daily, hourly basis. Does that answer your question, I’m not really sure?

 

Ken Kanara: It does, and in fact, you actually told me something else, which is, they’re also building their own…it sounds like, communities and informal success networks, if you will?

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: Yes.

 

Ken Kanara: So they work together?

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: They work together. Exactly.

 

Ken Kanara: Ah.

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: It’s a lonely pathway…entrepreneurship in general is a lonely pathway. You’re not part of an organization, you don’t have a role or a designation, so yes, these are networks. When I talked about the pandemic, it was in that context that these groups of 30 women have stayed through together…have stuck together. They’ve been together for years and years. We assumed when we started…we weren’t really sure how long they would last but they’ve lasted way more than we expected them to.

 

Ken Kanara: That’s great. How did you get involved with Grameen in the first place? How did you find them?

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: That’s a good question. I was in consulting, client after client…we talked a little about this before, but it’s hard to get off of the consulting train, right? It’s a hamster wheel.

 

Ken Kanara: The hamster wheel (laughs).

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: It’s a train…it’s also moving really fast. There’s rarely a moment where you actually get to pause and think about what you want to do to make this meaningful shift. I do consider myself incredibly lucky that everything actually aligned at the same time. This is a long way of answering your question, but I was very keen on coming back to what I always wanted to do, which is work in policy/nonprofit, or basically, economic development—less nonprofit and more economic development was my focus. In consulting, by virtue of being in New York, my industry focus was financial services. I worked with, mostly, Wall Street clients—a lot of investment banks and asset managers. It was so conspicuous to me that there was a population that wasn’t served. I knew what I wanted to do, more or less, I wanted to be in economic development, but I was also really into education and tech was a big field that was coming up. I thought I could make a lot of impact there. I still am very interested in that, but because I was in financial services, I felt I had this unique vantage point, or this unique view of what was not being done or what could be done better. We were working on retail bank transformations and that’s great, but there was also this huge population that this bank isn’t serving. I thought that this is an industry where I can make the most impact, given my experience, and it matched what I wanted to do. That’s how I came across Grameen America. I reached out—it was a cold email at that point. I hadn’t heard back for months and months. I forgot about it entirely and then I remember the person that hired me was the previous chief program officer. He reached out to me out of the blue and said, “well, we have this role, do you want to come in?” It wasn’t a time when I thought of leaving consulting, but I knew that this opportunity wouldn’t come again so I had to say yes. I’m glad I said, “yes.” It was a great decision.

 

Ken Kanara: There are two things that you touched on that I think are very important there. One is that you just researched it on your own, you did a cold outreach and look what happened. A lot of consultants fall into the trap of, “hey, if this job doesn’t exist online, then it’s not there.” The more proactive you are about reaching out and talking to people, the more opportunities you will find that, may not even be here today, but could be there tomorrow. The second thing, and I’m curious that you touched on this is, okay…you’re at Deloitte. You’re doing retail banking transformation, and you’re thinking about the folks that are not necessarily being served by those banks. Where does that thinking come from? Does it come from your upbringing? I know you’re first-generation American, but tell me a bit more, because not every consultant is thinking about that.

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: Yes, I can’t particularly point to one thing, but I come from India. I come from the south of India. I lived near Delhi most of my life in the large metropolitan, cosmopolitan cities, so I’m not very familiar with the rural market, but I also grew up in Indian of time when everything was going mass market. The buzzword at the time, I remember as I was going into college was “bottom of the pyramid.” You have this huge population that’s at the bottom of the pyramid but is moving up, and quickly, and the way to actually service them would be through either private sector, or through even the financial sector. It was this huge opportunity that would unleash what would then be the power of the developing markets, or the emerging markets, or BRICS and all these acronyms that were popular then. I saw that play out in a completely different industry. Prior to the US, I got my MBA from India and I interned at Unilever, and then I went to this mobile telecommunications giant called Airtel. That was…not the aggregate of, but the complete spike or the explosion of mobile services in India back then. I remember, I was this freshly minted B-school grad—from one of the elite B-schools, really expecting this fancy corner office working mobile communications, which is the next big thing. And how do you unleash the power when you’re having this introduction, or orientation, and you’re having the CEO come and talk to you—it’s amazing. Then I remember being posted to this really tiny village in the south of India just simply because I knew the language. I couldn’t imagine myself there ever, it was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. I was told, “you have to do rural expansion. You have to make sure every single person in this district…” which, if you know India, it’s millions and millions of people living in this tiny district… “has a mobile phone and they all use their cell phones to talk all the time. It’s your job to make sure they all have a mobile phone, and that they all have value added services…” which is data and stuff which no one had ever thought of. As much as I hated it going in, I absolutely loved it coming out of it because what an experience, right? It also, apart from the amazing experience that I never would’ve naturally had, was the revelation that the reason it’s this multibillion dollar industry now is not because the very elite 200 million people are using it but because the rest of the 800 million are talking on their phones every single day. That is the unleashing of it. It was the market that was always ignored because you always thought, “Oh, a cell phone is very fancy.” Getting a mobile plan is expensive, well, it was expensive then, like 10, 12…15 years ago. It was only for the elite. You don’t expect anyone else to be a random person in agriculture or someone that’s driving a cab, or working in Sirsa to actually have a phone. We saw that in both telecommunications as well as electronics so there was the cell phones that were reverse engineered and stuff. That was the unleasher. That’s what I understood…if you want to make it big, you have to service this big, massive market that you’re not really seeing. You’re not going to get ahead by just serving the very elite—the top of the pyramid. That thought always stuck to me. I see a lot of similarities between that and what I do now and it’s very similar. Again, we’re in banking—a huge industry like telecom and again, ignoring a pretty big population—knowingly ignoring, right? For good reasons…that’s not to say that they aren’t valid.

 

Ken Kanara: Well, yes, complexity…risk, it doesn’t fit with the model.

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: It’s highly regulated. I get that, right? But the point of banking is to provide liquidity to a system. That’s the premise, right? I keep going back to, “what’s new?? We’re doing the same things again. One bank’s trying to get the same mortgage from another client…but who are we not targeting? That experience motivated me to come and study international fairs and policy here, and I did that knowing that I would have this interplay between business and policy, or business and development, and it’s a very nice intersection to be in. It’s a difficult one to actually find opportunities career-wise, but that is why I came here and the long route got me here eventually.

 

Ken Kanara: That’s such a great story and it made a lot of sense too. Now I see the parallels and the connection. Going back to consulting, you were at Deloitte before you went to Grameen and you mentioned retail banking transformation projects, which, obviously are very different from what you’re doing now. Talk to me a little about where are you felt like consulting prepared you well for, we’ll call it this “chapter” and where you feel like you were missing some things?

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: I think consulting prepares anyone for any chapter. I’m a huge proponent of it. Right now, all the junior folk on my team, I keep advising them on the same thing: at the beginning of your career you have to be an analyst. It really sucks to be an analyst when you’re an analyst…

 

Ken Kanara: It does (laughs).

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: (laughs)…but you have to be an analyst. I think you miss not being an analyst when that’s missing…

 

Ken Kanara: Yes, I wish I could be an analyst right now (laughs).

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: (laughs) I wish you could have analyst working…so I’m really happy that I’m not an analyst.

 

Ken Kanara: You do miss it, though. I would say there are somethings you miss about being an analyst too, right? I know it sucks but at the same time, the lack of the responsibility makes it nice (laughs).

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: It’s great! I mean, I think it’s great now, I definitely wasn’t saying that back in the day. There’s one aspect that consulting teaches you and everyone will say, “oh it’s how to interact with clients.” I wasn’t doing that as an analyst. The maximum that I was interacting with clients is scheduling. When can I get this meeting…coordinating schedules from the MD from the client and the partner from Deloitte. We’ve all been there, done that—done our time with it. In consulting everybody is a doer. Everybody is a doer…or you’re a manager, but you have been a doer, and that makes life easier for you. If you’re not in the weeds of a spreadsheet, if you’ve not built the model assumptions yourself, or built the slide by yourself that includes all the important aspects that you want to communicate, it just makes life so much more difficult for you as you grow along any corporate ladder. I want to say, that’s a big difference and as I have progressed I have seen that play out. By being able to get into the weeds of what it means—what does this model actually indicate? Where are these assumptions coming from? I wouldn’t have asked, if, at some point, I wasn’t the builder of the model myself. I’m not doing the same thing now, but I’m able to ask that. I guess a fancy way to say it is “attention to detail.” If you’re sending a Word document, a paragraph… if it goes out of your outbox, it has to have attention to detail. How can you miss that full stop, right? How could this number be, “Oops, yeah, a typo…It’s not 15 million, it’s 15.2.” That is a huge consulting mindset. Attention to detail is everything. It’s contrary because everyone says, “the big picture…” and, “its strategy in consulting…” It’s all of that for the fancy partners…

 

Ken Kanara: Yeah, that’s when they’re convincing you to join that firm.

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: For the ones that make an exit…its attention to detail. Everything is a deliverable. Nothing is a half-baked thing and that’s a double-edged sword too. It can hold you back at a lot of things. I’ve had to outgrow it here, but the fact that everything’s a deliverable has its pluses. Where everything is a finished product, and somehow, anyhow, you make it happen is a big, big win from consulting. You can learn the industry later, you can learn judgment later, you will come across all these big, fancy, managerial things later, but it’s the doing, and the attention to detail, and getting down to the weeds that comes from consulting.

 

Ken Kanara: Yes. You bring up attention to detail in terms of it being a double-edged sword, and I couldn’t agree with you more. I still find myself aligning boxes and bullet points and it’s so not productive.

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: It’s not! It’s okay if there’s a box out of place…

 

Ken Kanara: It’s not going to fund one more loan for you guys, but you still can’t resist.

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: “You used two different fonts!” It’s two different sizes of fonts…it’s fine. It’s not going to kill anyone. It’s great to know you do the same.

 

Ken Kanara: Something I ask everybody that joins us is, if you’re at a consulting firm right now and you’re exploring a career in microfinance or non-profits, or something more that gives back, what advice would you have for someone?

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: In terms of logistically speaking? Or in terms of skill?

 

Ken Kanara: Just in general. Say that a current consultant knocks on your door and says “Rajitha, I’m thinking about leaving consulting, what advice would you have for me?“

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: Straight off the bat, I think it’s a great choice. It’s not something that comes to mind first because the assumption is that opportunities are very few, and they are few—fewer, but they’re not none. When you’re trying to pivot and you’re moving to any non-corporate fields, I would say—it doesn’t have to be nonprofit. It could be something that has a triple bottom line or a sustainability angle, etc. I have two main pieces of advice. One, is, if you’re moving from consulting into that, it’s better to have it be into the main business of the form you’re moving into. Grameen, for example, it’s operations, right? It’s run by the field, so I would rather be in program and operations rather than finance or tech, which are really important to it, but if you’re moving from consulting into this, I would rather be in the main bread and butter of the organization. It’s the same as if I were trying to move into education. What is the department or what keeps the engine running, is a big one. I think especially if you’re coming from consulting. You would think, “Oh yeah, I’m really good at modeling, so I’m going to be working on the finance team…” However, it’s probably not the same. If you want to do a functional role, I would say you go to a corporate—you go to your client. It’s a better choice. If you’re going more as a generalist, pick the main department of what you’re doing. If it’s Teach For America, you get into the school system. If it’s microfinance, you get into organizations. If it’s health, then you go into whatever the actual delivery mechanism is. What is the biggest department of your organization…I’d say that’s the first one. The second is… it seems a bit counterintuitive, because you think nonprofit is very laid back. I want to say it’s more intense than consulting, if that’s believable, because the good ones are all run very, very lean. They usually will employ consultants for large projects, but it’s very lean and most of the large ones are run as a startup. You’re constantly doing and managing and you’re making these decisions that very quickly impact the end person as well. Do not assume you’ll do it for work-life balance for example, that’s a bit of a misconception and it can play against you. I’ve seen people join and leave because there wasn’t work-life balance. It definitely is predictable. There’s a lot less travel, I don’t do the Mondays through Thursdays, anymore, but it is intense, as I would think most other well-run nonprofits are, or well-run B-corps are. Just keep that in mind. I would say there’s a very strong career growth path in any of these. There’s less earned money in this world, but again misconception. No one’s working for free…we’re all here to pull a good dollar out of it, so there is a career path. There is a promising career path with promising monetary and non-monetary aspects. It’s not charity, just to say that out loud, so you don’t sell yourself short when you are actually at the phase of…you made the decision, you’re interviewing, you’re negotiating…know you’re worth. You’re not volunteering your time. That is completely different from actually being a volunteer at a nonprofit. If you’re going to work here as a professional and take this to the next level, then consider yourself very much at market price. You’re not going to claim investment banking salaries, but you’re going to claim whatever is reasonable so to not sell yourself short. It’s a very tactical, logistical thing, but I think it’s important for consultants to remember.

 

Ken Kanara: That’s such great advice in general. I talk to a lot of folks that are transitioning from consulting to…we’ll call it their first grown-up job. The main focus for whatever reason, and I was guilty of this as well, tends to be salary, because that’s the number one thing that everyone is focused on. I presents this weird dichotomy in that, it’s important because it’s going to impact you for a while and it’s going to impact other people in your life most likely, and you should absolutely know your worth, but there are a million other things about the role and the job that matter a lot, that people don’t always take in the consideration. One thing I would add is also to consider the person you’re going to be working with most closely.

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: Yes! You bring up such a good point. Unlike consulting, you’re not going to be able to get away from this project. Yes, I would say 100% you have to have a great partner. That’s exactly right. It’s not like while I’ve done my 12 weeks and….

 

Ken Kanara: “I can move on…”

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: “I don’t want to see you ever again” and “I’ll make sure I’m never, ever staffed with you.” That’s not going to happen, so you really have to like people you work with because you’re going to see them every single day of the week.

 

Ken Kanara: Yes. You summed it up way better than I did and great advice just in general. Rajitha, the last thing that I would want to bring up is that we are all nerdy consultants so we are trying to build up a library, if you will, for our listeners. We ask every guest, what book would you recommend to somebody? It could be anything you want.

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: I’m not a very big business book reader but I am going to recommend my latest read, which I really liked but it’s called “Range,” which you’ve likely read. It’s got a lot to do with what consultants also do. The whole premise is that you must engage in a range of different activities that build up different skills that are, in the end, going to make you a more realistic person and make you better at the one thing that you choose to do. They use a lot of really good sports analogies, which we all love. Who doesn’t like sports and military analogies? There’s a great (Roger) Federer example of why he’s great at tennis because he didn’t really play a lot of tennis when he was growing up, he played a bunch of other things. I think it’s so applicable to consultants. We do a bunch of different things that knowingly or unknowingly make us better at something that we want to do after consulting. If you don’t want to do something after consulting, that’s just fine too, but I know that lately that being a generalist gets a bad rap. There are very specialized fields, including data science and product management, etc., which do take a lot of ex-consulting skills. I would say totally own the fact that you are okay at 10 different skills and that’s not a bad thing to do. I would recommend that book. I think it’s a great read for consultants and it puts things into perspective.

 

Ken Kanara: I wholeheartedly agree and I think a lot of what you do now encompasses range, right?

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: Yes, it does.

 

Ken Kanara: You’re dealing with and genuinely caring about everybody that you’re giving a loan to, as well as having a conversation with the CEO of…

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: …funders and donors, yes, exactly.

 

Ken Kanara: Exactly. Whether you call it being dynamic, or whatever, I think it’s an important thing to have. Great recommendation. We will add it to the library. I just want to wrap up. If anybody is interested in learning more about Grameen America or is a woman entrepreneur that’s looking to get funded, where can we find you?

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: Yes, please reach out to us. We are at grameenamerica.org. You can always reach me directly, I’m on the website but it’s [email protected] I also want to say that, if for whoever is in consulting or…if you want to connect with me, feel free. I’m happy to make connections, I’m happy to share experiences—good and bad.

 

Ken Kanara: Rajitha, thank you so much for joining us. I have personally learned a lot and I know our listeners will enjoy this episode in particular. For those of you joining for the first time and those who want to check out past episodes, you can learn more by subscribing to our podcast on Spotify or Apple. If you’re looking to learn more, we have a website called www.beyondconsulting.info. If you want to get in touch with me directly, it’s www.eca-partners.com, but until next week. Rajitha, thanks so much for joining us, and I look forward to speaking with everyone next week.

 

Rajitha Swaminathan: Thank you.

 

Ken Kanara: Thanks.

 

 

Connect with Rajitha on LinkedIn and visit www.grameenamerica.org for more information.

 

 

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