A world away from his home in the U.S., Vishal Joshi saw the determined look in the eyes of a clothing store owner, a tailor, and a grocer in New Delhi, India.
And it changed his life, says Vishal, a technology manager for Wells Fargo in Charlotte.
Those fiercely committed entrepreneurs in a poverty-stricken part of New Delhi once eked out a living by hand-gathering recyclable trash from a landfill, says Vishal, who was a volunteer in India earlier this year.
But the three have put that work behind them and are launching new ventures with the help of a financial services company in New Delhi — called Shikhar Microfinance Pvt. Ltd. — that uses a small-dollar lending approach to reach economically challenged communities.
Through Wells Fargo’s Global Fellows program, Vishal volunteered with Bankers without Borders®, a volunteer initiative operated by the Grameen Foundation that sends business professionals to help people in poverty around the world. His goal: Help Shikhar leverage technology to expand its lending business and reach even more people in need of capital.
Meeting Shikhar’s clients was a “transformative experience,” says Vishal.
“In one sense, it is really heartbreaking what these people have been through,” he says. “They have overcome so much. That was extremely powerful to see. It made me realize how helping in such a small way can dramatically change someone’s life forever.”
The native of India spent six weeks advising Shikhar, which provides small loans between $100 and $250 to tens of thousands of people in the New Delhi region. He was joined in India by Raymond Magpantay, another Wells Fargo technology manager, who was also the overall project manager and strategic business management consultant for Shikhar.
Raymond says he has worked on volunteer projects with a number of organizations — including the Harvard Business School Community Partners — but the experience in India was most rewarding and very memorable.
“Of all the volunteering opportunities I’ve had in my life, the Shikhar engagement was by far the most gratifying,” says Raymond, a native of the Philippines. “Despite some challenges — the culture shock and language barrier, for example — nothing affected me more than the experience of helping create opportunities for the poor in India, and contributing to significant social and economic impact.”
Since its inception in 2010, Global Fellows has selected 21 volunteers for humanitarian projects abroad, says Jennifer Myers, program representative for Wells Fargo’s Global Social Responsibility area, which oversees the program. This year, four consultants worked virtually to support Vishal and Raymond on the Shikhar project. Last fall, a team of six on-site and virtual consultants supported Grameen Foundation Latin America in Medellin, Colombia.
Through the program, Wells Fargo has helped those in need globally while providing team members with life-enriching — and paid — volunteer experiences, Myers says. Applications for the next program will be accepted in June.
“In addition to the individual development experiences, Wells Fargo also is providing technical expertise to organizations that are working to make the lives of people and communities better,” she says.
Pilar Hilst, an operations risk consultant for Wells Fargo, worked on a project to bring financial services to the rural poor in her native Colombia. “It was such an amazing feeling to be back in the country where I was born,” she says. “It was so beautiful, and the people were just as I remember — kind, helpful, patient, warm, welcoming, and friendly.”
A virtual helping hand
Mark Schaffer says he jumped at the opportunity to volunteer remotely on the India project. The computer systems architect worked virtually with Vishal and Raymond to assess Shikhar’s modest technical resources and help it see how even a small investment in technology could make a big difference.
Having mobile tablets in the field, for example, would enable its staff to scan loan documents and send them to headquarters, Mark says. Until now, Shikhar’s couriers would sometimes drive hours to deliver the papers.
“The gas savings alone would help offset the cost of the tablets,” Mark says. “I think that was probably an ‘aha moment’ for them. I don’t think they were expecting that something so dramatic could happen so quickly.”
Overall, the experience fulfilled a lifelong goal to help the people of his native India, says Vishal, whose parents worked hard to pay for his education, despite having few financial resources.
“At every stage of my life, their hard work has made me respect and appreciate everything that I have,” he says. “After getting the opportunity to come to the U.S., it was always in my mind to contribute, to give back, to the community in India.”