This post is part of a series, based on my experiences as an intern at the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh in Feb-March 2012.
I was recently in Bangladesh for an internship with the Grameen Bank, a Nobel Peace Prize (2006) winning microfinance institution. Frankly, it was my curiosity and I like to believe destiny, that led me to Bangladesh. As a student of Finance who sometimes got frustrated with how in-the-box it can all be, the term ‘Microfinance’- one that I had never heard during the course of my education intrigued me the more I read about it. Before I knew it, I was off to Bangladesh, with an open mind, wanting to learn everything I could about the Grameen Bank. Before I made the decision to go, I asked former interns about their experiences, and the advice was mixed. Personally, the experience was an eye opener, and to anyone considering this internship, I would say that this is an educational internship. The kind that requires an open mind, curiosity, flexibility and willingness to learn- not only about microfinance, but also the subtleties of a culture that is very different from that of the developed world.
The Grameen bank is a microfinance institution that operates in the villages of Bangladesh, hence the name, ‘Grameen’ meaning village. In the first week of the internship, I learnt about the various types of loans, deposits and other products offered by the bank. It was remarkable to see how the bank’s systems and products had evolved over the years to adapt to the socio-economic changes. It is impressive that it has a range of programs, for the benefit of not just poor villagers, but also of beggars (struggling members). What is even better, is that their work does not just consist of providing access to credit, but extends to education, healthcare, vocational training, renewable energy, technology and many other areas, through a network of sister companies. The first week also consisted of a few day trips to nearby villages to attend village level Centre meetings. The Centre meeting is where the actual loan collection process takes place.
For me and many interns I met, the most enlightening part of the internship, was the second week that is spent living in a village Branch office. The day consists of attending 1 or 2 Centre meetings, learning about the operations of the bank, the daily tasks and challenges, interviewing borrowers who have taken various types of loans, visiting their houses and businesses and getting to know them. This is an eye-opening experience because of several reasons. Not only did I get a taste of life in a Bangladeshi village, I also got to meet some amazing women and learn about their life stories, their dreams and aspirations, and the socio economic impact of the work done by Grameen Bank. I will be sharing some of their stories such as that of Comilla Begum in subsequent posts, but there is one common theme present in all the stories- one of hope and a sense of empowerment. Whether or not their efforts turn out to be successful, the access to credit has given them the courage and optimism to persevere.
It was amazing how simple and warm the people were- they welcomed us into their humble homes, sometimes spoke to us as if they had known us all their lives. The villages of Manikgonj are beautiful, green and clean with fields of masoor, paddy and maize. The week in the village was a fresh respite, away from the hustle and bustle of noisy Dhaka. It was a great opportunity to see how the Grameen bank works in reality, and to form our own opinions about various aspects of their operations and principles.
To read more about my experience in Bangladesh, visit my Bangladesh Travel Blog.