Women leadership in India via microfinance

Guest post by Cynthia Sánchez (UW English major, graduating in 2011)

I used to believe microfinance pertained only to those in the banking industry. However, I’ve discovered this is not the case. Microfinance can be utilized by many banks, but also individuals seeking to help others. I learned microfinance does more than lend money. It helps people save, build their resources and reduce their vulnerability.

Microfinance repayment gathering in India
Microfinance repayment gathering in India

Meeting with Grameen Bank in Bangalore, India allowed me to witness the difference the bank makes by giving 97% of their loans to women while they also strive to educate the next generation. Our meeting with Grameen Bank began by attending a repayment meeting. We arrived at the gathering location—encountering a few goats along the way—and entered an open space. A group of women sat leg-crossed chanting the sixteen decisions, a set of values, followed by the recitation of a vow. This was the way they commenced meetings. They welcomed us with smiles and requests to sit next to them, tapping the floor beside them to signal open spots. The women wore saris and a few cradled their children. We took our seats barefoot and watched each member sign in. Their glass and golden bangles slid up and down, synchronized to the movement of their arms.

The session was quick. The women were prepared with the money stacked in their hands, like a deck of cards. They all sat attentive waiting to hear their name to pass the payment to the lender. The money circulated, hand in hand, until it reached him. He counted the amount and recorded the amount in the borrower record sheet which contained the borrower’s picture, her name, the names of her children and spouse and dates of all the past payments.

We learned from the women that with the money they borrowed they had paid for their children’s education, started businesses, resolved personal issues and emergencies and also had the opportunity to expand their knowledge of business. Obtaining a loan from Grameen Bank had empowered them to decide what was best for their families and their future. Women who were once considered “uncredit-worthy” are now beginning to move away from poverty in a country where 41% of its population is still “unbanked”—demonstrating the difference a small loan can make.

Cynthia is a University of Washington student participant in the Foster School of Business study tour during fall quarter 2010. The trip, focused on Women Leadership in India, was organized by Foster faculty member Cate Goethals.

Business women in India and America share hope

Guest post by Emily Gerloff (UW business major, graduating in 2011)

“Nearly everything you do is of no importance, but it is important that you do it.” -Mahatma Gandhi

I was told that India is life-changing.  After hearing this on several occasions, I remember thinking to myself: What a strange concept. How can a country be life-changing?

After spending a month on the Half the Sky Exploration Seminar via the UW Foster School of Business, I am still unable to express exactly how India changed my life, but I know with absolute certainty that it did.

Emily (far right) sits with Indian women at a microfinance repayment gathering.
Emily (far right) sits with Indian women at a microfinance repayment gathering.

During the micro-lending meetings I expected to see poor, impoverished women with sob stories capable of making me instantaneously empty my pockets. I was surprised and relieved to find it was nothing like what I had imagined. These women did not have an ounce of desperation in their voices as they told their stories. They are an absolute testament to the power of hope and determination.  They live their lives with an innate sense of duty and purpose I can only compare to an American’s sense of equality and freedom.

Another surprise was how closely the lives of these women parallel my own. The micro-loans they receive are similar to the loans that fund my education.  I come from an underprivileged family (by American standards) and would be unable to attend college if it weren’t for the grants and loans provided to me by the government. Although I am occasionally jealous of my fellow students who will graduate with zero debt, it doesn’t change the fact that I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to better my life. I don’t think I am any less deserving of an education just because I was born into a family that couldn’t pay for one. This is a similar stance these women take regarding the micro-loans they receive. They possess gratitude and a humble belief that they deserve the right to prove their worth.

India changed my life.  I have seen first-hand the power of hope and determination and won’t deny myself the chance to see how far my own hope and determination will take me.

Emily is a University of Washington student participant in the Foster School of Business study tour during fall quarter 2010. The trip, focused on Women Leadership in India, was organized by Foster faculty member Cate Goethals.

Expanding cosmos—women in leadership study tour

Guest post by Melanie Sharpe, Foster MBA 2011 with a global business focus

BananaLeafIn the pre-trip brief just hours before we left for India, our professor Cate Goethals made a preparatory comment I’ll always remember as I weave my way through the world: “Becoming cosmopolitan means expanding and pushing the current boundaries and edges of your world.”

The trip to India expanded my cosmos in that very way. It exposed me to a diverse array of Indian leaders that redefined my perspective of business leadership as a woman—an aspect of business school that is largely overlooked and one I admittedly had not taken the time to consider prior to the transformative trip.

Inspiring women entrepreneurs

We encountered a colorful gamut of inspiring women. From workaholic bankers to avant-garde filmmakers to powerful lawyers and wealthy philanthropists to arguably the most influential female spiritual guru in the world to rural tree harvesters—all incredibly ambitious and driven women who seemed to have something very profound in common: They all seemed to be working to uplift others around them.

Call it social entrepreneurship or call it a compulsion to help better their community or family. Sometimes this innate desire compelled them to work 16-hour days to allow their fatherless children to have a better future. Sometimes that internal murmur told them that funding clean water was the only way to ensure the success of future generations of Indians. Sometimes that calling told them to hold and convey love to thousands of people everyday. In each instance, the evidence of that desire to give was palpable and tremendously inspiring.

TajThe pinnacle of the trip was hearing Rohini Nilekani, wife of the Infosys founder, speak at her clean water non-profit, Arghyam. Her profound statement: “Your generation no longer has the luxury of pessimism” was galvanizing. No longer can we absentmindedly guzzle water from plastic bottles or live in first-world luxury flushing away our waste with fresh water without considering the ramifications to the earth or other members of the world community. Her CEO Sunita Nadhamuni was an example of such awareness. Nadhamuni and her husband had reinvented the American business school dream of Silicon Valley wealth, prominent management positions and a constant search for “more” by transitioning their careers to work that directly helped communities of people have access to clean water.

Globally interconnected economy

The trip to India opened my world to the interconnectedness of the global economy. Imagine Dharavi: Asia’s largest slum, prominently featured in the blockbuster film “Slumdog Millionaire” as an impenetrable, crime-filled, filthy dystopia. The reality? The living conditions were certainly difficult: On average there is 1 toilet per 1,500 people! But the families inside the neat and tidy (albeit tiny) apartments were hardworking, entrepreneurial and contributing to global economic epicenters of recycling and clothes dyeing. In fact, many of the raw materials that we consume in the United States are sourced straight from Dharavi.

I left India transformed. The trip confirmed what I had suspected for my own career path: My own compulsion to serve was an innate calling that could be aligned with both business ideals and women’s leadership. Arriving at this realization completed the goal of the trip. My cosmos is expanded forever.

Melanie is an MBA student participant in the University of Washington Foster School of Business study tour during fall quarter 2010. The trip, focused on Women Leadership in India, was organized by Foster faculty member Cate Goethals.