Volunteers work with the Grameen Foundation’s Bankers without Borders to help microfinance groups reach small businesses in Manila.
Volunteers work with the Grameen Foundation’s Bankers without Borders to help microfinance groups reach small businesses in Manila.
Volunteering & Giving
June 22, 2016

‘Passion and commitment’ intersect with expertise

Volunteers work with the Grameen Foundation’s Bankers without Borders to help microfinance groups reach small businesses in Manila and Dubai.

A key part of the job for development officers at a microfinance organization in Manila, Philippines, is to go out into the field and collect loan payments from clients. Field work like this presents its own set of challenges, however, so the microfinance group — Ahon sa Hirap, Inc., or ASHI, — is working to develop a mobile payment system, making the process easier for staff members and clients.

Through Wells Fargo’s Global Fellows Volunteer Program, working in collaboration with Grameen Foundation’s Bankers without Borders® volunteer initiative, team members are using their expertise to help.

Jerry Johnston of the technology team in Charlotte, North Carolina, spent six weeks as a volunteer in Manila (pictured above), working with ASHI and interviewing staff and clients to develop the mobile payment system. “Hearing clients’ stories about the hardships they face and how much the microfinance loans mean to them brought tears to my eyes,” says Jerry, one of 11 Wells Fargo team members who participated in the program. Some of the volunteers were on-site and others assisted virtually.

Arcelia Gomez, program specialist for Bankers without Borders, says, “The managers overseeing the volunteers told me how impressed they were by the volunteers’ passion and commitment, and having access to their expertise was a real blessing.”

Volunteers work with the Grameen Foundation’s Bankers without Borders to help microfinance groups reach small businesses in Manila.
Wells Fargo’s Agnes Ubalde (second from left, a former team member) and Jerry Johnston with ASHI borrowers and staff members in Manila.

‘Making a difference’

During the program, the Wells Fargo team members served as volunteer consultants for ASHI and another microfinance organization, Grameen-Jameel, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Both groups provide financial services for low-income residents. The volunteers consulted on a variety of subjects, including technology, operations, human resources, and finances.

“This is a volunteer experience and maybe an opportunity to travel, but it is work,” says Jennifer Myers, who manages the Global Fellows program for Wells Fargo. “It’s not a free trip. It’s making a difference in these organizations.”

Six team members volunteered with Grameen-Jameel, which works to alleviate poverty by providing technical and financial assistance to microfinance institutions in the Middle East and North Africa. The volunteers helped Grameen-Jameel establish a fund so it can provide financing in new markets, and reviewed and offered recommendations on Grameen-Jameel’s strategic plan and business model.

“Grameen-Jameel now has a tool it can use to capture more, and better, market information.”

The other five team members volunteered with ASHI, which provides women with direct access to noncollateralized loans so they can increase their incomes. The volunteers worked on ASHI’s business and operations strategy, technology, finances, and human resources.

While Jerry says he most enjoyed getting to know the people in Manila, seeing the hardships they face was the most challenging aspect of the experience. “I was proud of our team’s ability to adapt to the challenges, which included borrowing the equipment we needed,” Jerry says.

Jimmy A. Ramos, head of operations for ASHI, says, “The volunteers helped us understand what, and where, we need to maintain our services or to improve. The knowledge they shared with us is invaluable.”

Consulting in Dubai

Connie Crabb Petersen, a program manager in Jacksonville, Iowa, served as a strategy and operations expert on-site in Dubai, examining Grameen-Jameel’s business model. Connie and her team created an interview guide for Grameen-Jameel to collect more details about microfinance institutions and improve its knowledge about the market. Connie says, “Grameen-Jameel now has a tool it can use to capture more, and better, market information.”

Volunteers work with the Grameen Foundation’s Bankers without Borders to help microfinance groups reach small businesses in Dubai.
Wells Fargo’s Connie Petersen (third from left) and Susan Szechenyi (right) with Grameen-Jameel staff members in Dubai.

She adds that the team was able to optimize the benefit of having some volunteers on-site in Dubai and others who worked remotely from the U.S.

“The team’s analysis and research will be really useful for our work,” says Fatina Abu Okab, general manager for Grameen-Jameel. “The recommendations on the markets to tap into, and the newly developed policies and procedures, are important tools for our work.”

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