I have supported global poverty reductions since I was a kid. This included sponsoring children through World Vision, ambulance sending money for relief efforts on many disasters, site funding people volunteering their time to go on mission trip projects to help people with building projects and in many other ways.
While much of this felt good, I have always wondered in the back of my mind whether my contribution were making any long-term impact. Hey, survival-oriented initiatives are important, but they are just that, survival centric, not long-term in their mission. It seemed like for all of our money (multiple trillions of dollars) and good intentions we were making very little impact on poverty … and I was right.
In 2002, my father introduced me to microfinance. My father has been a long-time volunteer board member for World Vision – both on the Canada board and the international board. He often traveled to areas where World Vision was doing their development work to see firsthand how things were going meeting the local World Vision staff, board and clients being served. Being a business person, he immediately was attracted to the new microfinance services organically developing in the local World Vision projects. Today, he is the chairperson of Vision Fund, World Vision’s microfinance arm.
So, I was almost instantly intrigued by the concept of microfinance because of my experience in the venture capital-intensive high-tech business world and my degree in business. I had lots more questions about how microfinance worked and whether it might be having a long-term impact. I began an intensive learning process reading many books on microfinance and scouring around on the Internet for information about how microfinance was developing. I was invited to join an inside strategic planning summit with World Vision where I learned a lot more about the inner workings of microfinance from a business and operations standpoint.
Later I discovered Unitus, a very innovative microfinance organization staffed by socially-minded business people who are attempting to dramatically reduce the number of people in poverty by dramatically accelerating access to microfinance by leveraging global capital markets and applying proven management consulting practices for high-growth businesses. I really liked the Unitus people and I really liked their innovative commercial approach and entrepreneurial culture. I almost immediately volunteered to join with the Unitus team on potential partnership due diligence trips to Argentina, India and Mexico. I joined the Unitus board and then helped facilitate a leadership conference for senior management of some of the world’s most entrepreneurial microfinance institutions (MFIs) in Malaysia. I was continuing to learn about microfinance and using my skills in leading and managing high-growth businesses in return.
As I got interested and involved in microfinance, I started to bump into a variety of thinking and ideas around how to sustainably defeat poverty. One of the common themes was that unless poor people were enabled to increase their income (an economics issue), the poor would stay poor. The interesting fact is that the #1 activity which is leading people sustainably out of poverty is the much maligned and misunderstood globalization movement. Globalization is literally resulting in 100’s of millions of people stuck in generational extreme poverty to start on a new positive cycle of hope. Yes, there is need to fight disease, reduce corruption, create physical infrastructure, more & better education opportunities … all of which are tied to economics and generating more income for poor people.
And so, now I write this blog … read about why I write this blog.