I have wanted to work in developing countries since forever. I don’t know why, I can’t really explain it, other than to say it was one of the things that kept me up at night.
(In the words of Steven Pressfield: I had no choice).
But when I finished university I had a boyfriend I adored, no money and a fantastic job I totally loved in Sydney. I wasn’t ready.
Four years on and I was single, about to be promoted and still not ready.
I could feel the draw of what I wanted tugging at the edges, but I just was not ready.
I never thought I’d say this: Anthony Robbins changed my life.
In Robbin’s book Unlimited Power (yes I know, best title EVER), he takes his readers through a goal setting exercise called “Limitation Disengage” (yes, yes, it gets better).
The first time I did this exercise I came out with a whole heap of useful information about how I wanted to be a professional surfer. (Especially useful for someone who has never graduated out of the beginner category in any sport). Being a surfer had never, ever kept me up at night. I had no idea where this came from. I laughed at myself.
I just was not ready.
The second time I tried it, something happened. I came out with a heap of interesting ideas. Stuff that really did keep me up at night.
I realised I wanted to work on things that I could see were real. I wanted to actually see things get built, to see how people really did things.
I wanted to spend time one step closer to the process.
I also did not want to spend my entire career working for people at the top of the food chain – the likes of the big banks and law firms. (This is despite totally respecting these people. These people will probably contribute more through their income taxes then I EVER will through my work).
I wanted to see what I could do to work directly for those at the other end.
Enter Mohammad Yunnus
I did a heap of reading. And found Yunnus’ Banker to the Poor.
I have never had a book make me cry so, so much. But this crying was not just out of sorrow. Many times I cried out of joy.
It showed me microfinance in a way I’d never seen it before. It showed me its humility – the way it said to people that they themselves knew what was best for their lives. It showed me how I’d be able to see how the smallest businesses operate, how it is that they do things.
A long period of thinking, reading, job applicating (!) and speaking to people led me to what my potential contribution could be. My experience with renewable energy coupled with my desire to travel to work overseas.
So I’ve taken a job with Good Return, starting in exactly one month. I’ll be rolling out a microfinance program involving solar lanterns throughout South East Asia for the following 12 months.
That’s it. That’s all I know so far.
So, you want to learn?
I know what my brother is going to say – there are no “take aways” from this post. And I know that’s what people want from blogs. They want to learn.
Well, what can I say?
I’m still learning.
(1) I am told if you are interested in microfinance and only want to read one book, make it this one. It is brilliant, informative, simple and funny.)
(2) One of my favourite extracts from Yunnus’ Banker to the Poor (apologies for its length):
I was walking along a village road alone to get to our branch after attending a centre-meeting. After a while I met a young man (around 30) who was walking along the same road. He greeted me, I greeted him. We walked side by side.
“Are you with Grameen Bank?” he asked. “Yes”, I said, “but how do you know?”
“I saw you at the centre-meeting in the village. My wife is also in the group.”
This immediately changed my relationship with him. I became interested in him. He told me his name was Joynal. He was an agricultural labourer. His wife Farida had joined the Grameen Bank eight months earlier, and they had a little daughter of five.
“Farida works very hard to make sure she pays back every single weekly installment on time. She has not missed a single instalment yet.”
“Did she have consent before she joined Grameen”
“She did. But in the beginning I was not sure I was doing the right thing. Then the other women in the village were also joining Grameen. She kept asking permission. Finally I gave in.”
“Are you happy that she joined? Or looking back to you think it would have been better if she did not?”
“No, no, I am happy that she joined. She used to complain that we didn’t have enough food, but now she does not complain. We have enough for the three of us”
For me this was like getting good grades in the final exam. I was pleased that things were working well. Both Joynal and I kept walking silently.
The long silence was broken when Joynal spoke out in a negative tone: “There is one thing, however. I used to enjoy beating my wife. But the last time I beat her I got into trouble. The women in Farida’s borrowing group came to be and argued with me and shouted at me. I did not like that. Who gave them the right to shout at me? I can do whatever I want with my wife. Before, when I used to beat my wife, no one said anything, no one bothered. This is no longer going to be true. Her borrowing group threatened they will get really mean if I beat my wife again.”
I tried to console Joynal:
“Well, maybe it is time you left your wife alone. After all, she is working very hard. She needs your support. You can find something else to do to release your tension.”