I wrote this post back in Spring of 2010 when I was just starting to make the transition from my corporate job in Richmond, VA to volunteering with HOPE International.
Hope in an MBA, Hope in Microfinance
It was about two weeks after I submitted an application for business school to the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) that a friend of mine connected me with a senior fellow at the Acumen Fund (Acumen Fund is a non-profit global venture fund that uses entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty.) In our conversation about non-profit international development she asked me what I was hoping to learn from business school. I said that with an MBA I wanted to learn about sustainable development and that I wanted to travel and see how it works.
What she said next caught me completely off guard and coincidentally helped to chart the course for my life over the next six months. When I mentioned UPenn, she said that she not only got her MBA from there, but that she also served on the admissions staff. She complimented me on my career experience and enthusiasm for getting a graduate degree, but she urged me to consider two things:
1. There are hundreds of applications every year from well-deserving candidates who gained a lot of experience and made a big impact at their companies. (So don’t think you’re going to get in just on your experience.)
2. More importantly, if I really wanted to learn about international development. I should experience it directly.
Never had such career advice sunk in more saliently than with that last phrase. I knew she was right, and I knew that I wouldn’t be going to business school right this year. If I was really serious about this, if the words I wrote on my application were true, then I really needed to quit my job and learn first-hand what international development was like.
It’s funny how you feel like sometimes you are swimming against the current and then as soon as you realize it and face the other direction, everything flows smoothly. This is how I felt after that conversation. I knew that I had to seek out other opportunities.
So at church a few weeks later, I mentioned to the associate pastor of my church www.wepc.org that I was interested in serving overseas. He immediately brightened up with excitement and offered a few suggestions, including one that he said would be a good fit for me. He asked if I’d ever heard of Microfinance and the work that HOPE International was doing.
That organization sounded familiar to me and yes, I knew a bit about Microfinance after learning about www.kiva.org four years ago. (Microfinance is the practice of making small loans to individuals to buy goods, equipment, or livestock so that they can use their own skills and business smarts to get out of poverty.)
The next day he emailed me the contact information for HOPE International and I sent out an email asking about opportunities to volunteer for them. This was all still in January, only about a month out from when I sent in my application, but seemed like that application process didn’t matter as the one I was embarking on.
A Desire to Speak Spanish to Serve Overseas
In my phone conversation with HOPE International I said that I was really interested in learning how Microfinance works, and how it helps the poor, and that I really wanted to work with a Christian organization as I felt it would be true to my beliefs and how God was active in the world seeking to reclaim those who were devastated by poverty. I also mentioned that I wanted to learn Spanish.
Well, as it turns out, my only opportunity to work with HOPE International where I could speak Spanish was in the Dominican Republic. (HOPE International is a network of Microfinance institutions operating in 14 countries around the world.) I guess the DR was my answer, and I paddled on downstream.
Here’s more information about HOPE’s work in the Dominican Republic (taken directly from: HOPE International)
HOPE in Dominican Republic
“The Dominican Republic (DR) suffers from a large income gap dividing the rich and the poor and is one of the poorest countries in the Caribbean. The government has made great improvements in limiting inflation in recent years and in growing the economy, yet unemployment is still a major challenge. The DR shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, its poorer western neighbor. Many Haitians illegally relocate to the DR to seek higher paying jobs, but in many cases they find brutal working conditions and discrimination.
HOPE Dominican Republic makes a special effort to meet physical, economic, and spiritual needs by offering a variety of programs to its clients. Many clients have begun groceries or convenience stores, allowing them to offer better services to their communities. HOPE makes a special effort to reach Haitians living in the DR, a highly oppressed population.”
Learning about Microfinance and HOPE International
I’m on book number #3 of Microfinance, and with every page I read, I get more and more excited about seeing this play out in real life. So in early July, I’m quitting my job and signing on with HOPE International to do an intern project for 3.5 months in the Dominican Republic. I’ll be volunteering in a branch with Esperanza, and I’ll have to speak Spanish to get to know the staff, the organization, and the customers. I’m responsible for a specific financial project and I’ll spend those months gathering information to submit a final report.
My departure date is fast approaching and as I think about this whole phase of my life, I realize that I don’t really do finance or speak Spanish right now, and I really have no idea what it’ll be like down there. I feel like going back to school was a “known” or a “certain” thing and this feels completely open and unstructured. But you know what? That’s ok. Like I said, I feel like I’m swimming in the right direction, and I’m headed for a lot of adventure where I’m going.
I guess I’m putting my faith in what is hoped for and my certainty into things yet to be seen.