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Meet Amit Gupta, Methodology Specialist at ACCION and Smart Assessor

November 19, 2010

It’s time to write about my colleague Amit Gupta in this blog! He has a long history in the development field and is newly promoted Smart Assessor, a good excuse to write about the Smart Campaign!

Amit has been in the development sector for over 10 years and has some very interesting experiences to share. After his master at IIFM Bhopal in Economic Development Amit wanted to experience in the fields what development is and started working on development educational programs for Eklavya, a small NGO in Madya Pradesh, Central India. RUDA (Rural Non farm Development Agency), the Government of Rajasthan agency to promote micro-enterprises, was Amit’s next step. He worked there for 1.5 years in the area of livelihoods promotion, in particular facilitating market development of various products crafted in Rajasthan such as leather goods, ceramics, textiles… I really like this idea! By joining forces, many different micro-entrepreneurs had the chance to make their products known not only in other Indian states but also in other countries. Amit travelled to several fairs and conferences around the world, advertising the work of many different craftsmen. Following this, Amit joined the NGO CARE in Gujarat, working on several disaster recovery and rehabilitation projects after the massive earthquake in this region in January 2001. Amit also worked on the establishment of 3 Self-Help Groups (SHGs) including over 10’000 households and the development of insurance schemes covering life, health, household, accidents and disabilities. After having worked for CARE for almost 4 years, Amit left India for London where he spent 1 year at LSE (he holds a Master in Social Policy and Planning in Developing Countries from LSE).

He then joined the ACCION team in India as a resident advisor.  A resident advisor is an employee of ACCION who spends 100% of his time working for an MFI ACCION is partnering with. This is a really interesting method; ACCION is interested in long-term partnerships. Instead of sending their specialists for a few days or weeks only, the ACCION employees work full time at the partner MFI, really gettting to know it from the inside and being able to give the best advices on how to improve processes. Swadhaar for example, the MFI I visited in Mumbai, has several employees from ACCION working there on a daily basis, in particular in Operations and Risk Management.

Amit cheering for India

After having been promoted Smart Assessor for the Smart Campaign in October, Amit now spends approximately 50% of his time working on this campaign. So what is the Smart Campaign?

The Smart Campaign is a global effort to unite microfinance leaders around a common goal: to keep clients as the driving force of the industry. Is the client still at the center of microfinance? As an MFI, are you adversely impacting the client? Are the client’s interests protected? The Smart Campaign aims to help the microfinance industry remain both socially and financially sound, embedding client protection practices into the institutional culture and operations of the microfinance industry. For that purpose, the Smart Campaign is working with microfinance leaders from around the world to provide MFIs with the tools and resources they need to deliver transparent, respectful, and prudent financial services to all clients.

The Smart Campaign was initiated in spring 2008 at a meeting in Pocantico, New York, where Deutsche Bank brought together several microfinance leaders to discuss the future of microfinance and examine potential risks to its ongoing growth and success. Following this meeting, 6 Client Protection Principles were determined in order to develop an industry-wide code of conduct .  A global and diverse coalition of microfinance institutions, networks, associations and other professionals working within the microfinance industry was formed under the name “The Smart Campaign”. Both ACCION and Credit Suisse are among others sponsors of the Smart Campaign.

So what are the 6 Client Protection Principles, and what is Smart Microfinance?

The Client Protection Principles are the minimum standards that clients should expect to receive when doing business with an MFI, the building blocks of the campaign:

  1. Avoidance of over-indebtedness
  2. Transparent and responsible pricing
  3. Appropriate collection practices
  4. Ethical staff behaviour
  5. Mechanisms for redress of grievances
  6. Privacy of client data

Summarizing the above points, Smart Microfinance is being fully transparent in the pricing, terms and conditions of all financial products. Smart Microfinance is working with clients so they do not borrow more money than they can repay or use products that they do not need. Smart Microfinance employs respectful collection practices and adopts high ethical standards in the treatment of clients. Smart Microfinance gives clients a way to address their complaints so they can be served more effectively. Smart Microfinance ensures client data remains private. Smart Microfinance protects clients, businesses and the industry as a whole.

Looking at the 6 Client Protection Principles above, does this remind you of the latest critics MFIs had to face in Andhra Pradesh? Over-indebtedness, transparent and responsible pricing, ethical staff behaviour etc…  It is very important to realize that microfinance industry leaders did not wait for the Andhra Pradesh situation to happen to take actions. The Smart Campaign is quite new but still shows that these leaders have recognized the potential risks of microfinance and are working hard on creating global standards for the industry.
Read more…
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Making Microfinance Work training

November 3, 2010

One of the highlights of my assignment with the ACCION Global Training Center was to attend one of their trainings in Bangalore. Great experience, I had the chance to meet many microfinance practitioners from different MFIs and learn a lot! The training is called Making Microfinance Work (“MMW”) and is a 10 days course initially developed by the International Labor Organization. The Microfinance Banana Skins Report 2009 (http://microrate.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/microfinance-banana-skins-2009-2.pdf) describes the main risks facing the microfinance industry. It has identified management quality as the top 4 risk (out of 25). Looking at a particular region, Asia even places management quality as the top 3 risk. Therefore, there is a strong need to build capacity among middle and senior level managers of microfinance institutions, and this is what the MMW course aims to do. It is intended for mid to senior level managers of microfinance institutions to equip them with a comprehensive understanding of microfinance management.

The course is divided into 24 modules including themes such as an Introduction to Microfinance Management, Markets and Marketing, Managing Risks, Organizational Architecture and Greater Efficiency and Productivity. The training is divided in 2 weeks; I could attend the first week, which covered the first 3 themes, including modules on The Manager’s Mandate, Financial Services and the Poor, Strategic Direction, Microfinance Market Research, Product Development, Communicating Value, Customer Service and Customer Loyalty, Credit Risk, Staff Fraud, Security Risk and External Risks.

Tanwi Kumari, who has been working with ACCION India since October 2007 and is one of the trainers of the MMW course, was kind enough to share how ACCION came to partner with the ILO to offer the training. Discussing capacity building in microfinance with some practitioners, ACCION realized there was a gap at the middle management level of MFIs. There was a need for support, globally and not only in India. ACCION’s Global Training Center had received funding from Credit Suisse to develop trainings, and started exploring different options before deciding that the content of the ILO course was a good match with the existing demand, which included training on risk management, marketing and management soft skills. Moreover, developing such a course is a costly and lengthy process, and ACCION wanted to put more energy in the delivery of the trainings rather than content management.

A partnership with the ILO does not happen just like that. ACCION had to let her trainers be certified by the International Training Center at the ILO, a daunting exercise according to Tanwi. During their assessment, future trainers had to teach the different modules during the day, were judged by ILO experts and then spent their evenings discussing what went well and what could be improved…most of the time past midnight! And the next day, back to the training room for more modules! During the week I followed the training as a participant/observer, I found the four trainers amazing! Not just because of their strong technical background as experienced microfinance practitioners, but also because of their facilitation skills! They managed to get everyone participate, get the best out of the participants as I really had the impression that towards the end of the week, the thought process of the attendees had changed, they were able to move away from their daily tasks, in operations for most of them, and think more like managers. And this despite the fact that they had an entire week of training behind them, from 9am to 6.30pm with a 45-min break for lunch!

For our MMW training, 17 participants from 8 different MFIs (Grameen Koota, Maarg Financial Services, SKS, Janalakshmi Financial Services, Prayas, Swadhaar, Growing Opportunity and Sambandh) attended. It was a good mix of bigger and smaller MFIs, seasoned practitioners and newcomers to the microfinance industry, all with different backgrounds such as branch managers, risk analyst, operations managers.

Valerie Kindt, one of the trainers, explaining a group exercise to some of the participants. Valerie Kindt is a Senior Director at ACCION, based in Washington, with 15 years experience in microfinance. She is also a member of ACCION’s management team in India and has been providing technical and strategic advice to ACCION’s partners for the last 10 years.

The three other trainers, Shweta Pereira, Tanwi Kumari and Amit Gupta. Always smiling even after a week of hard work! Shweta Pereira is Risk Management Specialist at ACCION and is currently the Chief Manager of Credit and Risk at Swadhaar FinServe in Mumbai. Tanwi Kumari is a Training and Product Development Specialist at ACCION and also the coordinator of the Global Training Center in India. Amit Gupta is a Methodology Specialist with ACCION, active in the fields of consumer protection, equity investments and training and methodology audits.

The goal of the training is to help participants think as managers, put their day-to-day tasks into a larger context.  It is not a technical training and does not provide toolkits to execute a particular task. Still, it is very practical and requires active participation all the time. I found the training very demanding, both for the trainers, who have to act as facilitators, engage everyone, listen to the participants, relate their comments to the content of the course, and also for the participants, since they are constantly required to take part in group activities, perform in focus groups etc.

But this active participation is also the key to the training’s success, as attendees are not just listening to a lecture, but have to relate every part of the course to their own experiences in order to contribute! And this is what I truly enjoyed during the week. You could feel how proud the participants were once they had contributed by giving examples, a correct answer, a relevant comment. I regret not being able to attend the second week of training in December, as it would be very interesting to see what everyone has implemented in their respective MFI following the first week of training. After each module or exercise, the participants had to fill out an action plan. A copy of this action plan was given to the trainers, who will follow-up to see what has been accomplished. And this is another thing I very much like about the training. There is a real follow-up, since the trainers are all experienced in working with MFIs to improve processes and are at the disposal of the participants for any guidance needed.

Some examples of our activities during the week:

In the module on Customer Service, we had to design a Complaints and Suggestions System. Two groups focused on external clients while we had to design a system for internal clients, the employees in our branches/teams. All the exercises were challenging, as we usually had 10 to 15 minutes preparation before presenting our work. We came up with a system emphasizing open communication, where all employees would have various ways to complain or make suggestions, from a dedicated HR person to a suggestion box in the branch.

During another activity, we learned how to turn features into benefits. This exercise was part of the Communicating Value module and sensibilized participants on how to use effective marketing and communication techniques. In groups, we had to choose a product, lists its features and then try to turn these features into benefits. We chose a gold loan, which is an emergency loan; the client receives money for the weight of the gold he brings to the MFI. Once the client is able to repay the loan, he will get the gold back. For the clients, a benefit would be to “get a loan and repay it anytime”.

In the module on Institutional Options, we learned about the different types of microfinance institutions and the 6 degrees of outreach (Length, Breadth, Depth, Worth, Scope and Cost). Each MFI had to present which degrees of outreach their institution emphasizes, and we analyzed which types of MFIs are the most effective for a particular degree of outreach. For example, Non-Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs, the most common type of MFIs in India) will have advantages in terms of Length, as owners tend to be driven by profits and will create incentives to increase efficiencies and lower costs, but might not be able to reach a certain Depth, as it will not be efficient to reach out to remote areas or the bottom line.

As I am designing a training on Risk Management, I was particularly interested in the module on Risk Management, which comprised an introduction, credit risk, staff fraud, security risk and external risks. Risk Management can be a very dry subject, moreover it was the last module of the week, but the trainers did a great job of keeping the participants active and motivated (the small prizes for the winners at the end of each exercise such as chocolates, ACCION pen or notebooks certainly helped). Exercises included a risk puzzle to identify and categorize risks, the  development of an enforcement chart that showed, step-by-step, what an MFI does in case of late payments, a brainstorming activity to determine what external risks are and a group exercise to build a risk management strategy.

It was a great week! I asked some participants for feedback, and all told me they had learned a lot! Proof of that the Action Plans filled with many ideas! As the training emphasizes participative learning, each attendee was also able to benefit from past experiences of others, as a lot of sharing happended, not only during exercises but also in more informal discussions at lunch or tea breaks.

During one of the exercises, some participants had to form a focus group to discuss problems faced by microfinance clients. The mediator in the middle listened to both the representants of the MFI and the clients before asking questions and trying to solve the problems.

Group discussion and preparation before presenting in front of the other participants.

In addition to thinking as managers, some participants could express their artistic side during the training…

Last but not least, the trainers found an interesting way to penalize latecomers… they had to perform in front of the group at the end of the day. We had some very entertaining times, as most participants started to sing along after a couple strophes!

The entire group of participants and trainers pose for the group shot!

Chak de India!*

October 28, 2010

Big premiere on a Saturday: my first cricket game!!! It was a test game between India and Australia, well day 1 of the test game…that goes on for 5 days! Yes, 5 days! It all happened at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore. In fact, it was a cricket day, since the game lasted from 9.30am to 4.30pm, including a tea break in the morning and one in the afternoon as well as a lunch break for the players. My colleagues Sachin and Amrit and their wifes did not want to miss this, and I was very happy to join.

We met at 8am in order to get to the stadium early and get good seats. The M. Chinnaswamy stadium has a seating capacity of 50,000 people , and we estimated it was half full on that day. When we arrived, there was already a big queue of supporters waiting to get in, but luckily it did not take too long before we could enter the stadium.

Cricket is the national sport in India, it’s amazing how passionate people are about cricket! I was surprised to see many women and even small children in the stadium. I had a lot of fun thanks to my colleagues, who were also very patient in explaining what was happening on the field, but I must admit I did not fully catch their enthusiasm for the game! It might be because of the rules… it is quite complicated for a new supporter like me to understand them. I will definitely not attempt to explain the rules here, but for those who would like to learn more about cricket this link is quite helpful http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cricket.

Still, did you know there are 10 ways to dismiss a batsman? And this is important, since the objective of each team is to score more runs than the other team and completely dismiss that team. On our test day, Australia was on the batting side and India was trying to dismiss all of the Australia team. They managed to dismiss 3 batsmen during the day, and everytime the crowd in the stadium went crazy! That is also when I understood something important had just happened… Impossible to recognize which one of the 10 techniques India had used to dismiss the Australian batchman!

What I enjoyed watching is the iconic status of some of the Indian player, one in particular, Sachin Tendulkar. Apparently he is one of the most worshipped cricketer in the world, not only India, and holds many batting records. Everytime Sachin approached one part of the stadium, the crowd there went wild! People were running down the aisles to see him closer, cheering etc. Pure star status!

A big thank you to my colleague Sachin Hirani for sharing his pictures!

*The title of this post, meaning Go For It India, comes from a very successful 2007 Bollywood sports movie about field hockey in India (and starring Shah Rukh Khan, one of the most famous Bollywood actors).

Group formation at Chembur branch

October 25, 2010

During my second field trip, I visited the home of a future client of Swadhaar in the Chembur area in Mumbai,  part of a group of 4 women who came to the Swadhaar office to ask for a group loan. I followed the group loan officer and branch manager responsible for group lending for a 2 hours group formation.

I haven’t spoken much about Swadhaar in my previous posts. This microfinance institution (MFI) is one of ACCION’s partners in India. Swadhaar (in hindi, this word means self-support)  is a Mumbai based MFI whose mission is to provide the urban poor increased access to reliable and efficient financial services, in an effort to improve their economic capacity, self-reliance, and meet aspirations for a better and more secure future. Swadhaar is divided into two companies, Swadhaar FinAccess, a non-profit company which provides financial education, insurance and savings facilitations, and Swadhaar FinServe, a NBFC (non banking financial company) engaged in urban microfinance.

What are the reasons for Swadhaar to concentrate on urban microfinance? According to “Microfinance in India – State of the Sector Report 2009”, a report presenting the latest developments, issues, recommendations and achievements of the Indian microfinance sector, urban microfinance has become a magnet for several large and small MFIs. However, the growth posted in urban locations has been moderate so far compared to rural business. In my last post, I mentioned my surprise at the level of organisation when I first visited some slum areas of Mumbai. These areas represent hubs of informal economic activity generated by micro-entrepreneurs and salaried workers. There is a tremendous need for financial services among the economically active urban poor. It is this gap in the market that Swadhaar aims to fill.

Now back to the group formation! We arrive at the home of one of the members to meet them all and form the group, the first step in group lending. It is a small house with 2 floors. We sit down in the only room of the ground floor, a living/sleeping area. There is also a small kitchen at the back. Seven people live in this house, our host, her husband and their 5 children. It is important for the loan officer to see where the customers live, how well they maintain their home and the type of appliances owned. This house seems very clean, there is a big fridge, a phone and a TV.

It takes some time until the four women are gathered around the loan officer with the necessary documents, and of course during the entire group formation several neighbours come in to listen and watch… quite a lot of people in this small room! Swadhaar’s Joint Liability Group loan product is an individual loan offered to economically active women in groups of 3 to 7. The group lending structure enables group members to cross-guarantee one another’s individual loans, which may be used for various purposes such as consumption smoothing, children’s education fees or income generation. The loan officers are not involved in the selection of the members of one group, the members themselves decide who will be part of the group. There are basic rules that must be respected of course; no relatives in the same group, the women must have different occupations and the family must own the house in which they live. In our group today, there are four women of different ages and occupations. One has a tiffin business (preparing lunch and snacks), the other three work as housemaid, maid in a hospital and sweeper at a nearby bank. Three of the women would like a loan for consumption smoothing (one to repay a high interest debt), the tiffin maker wants a loan to expand her business.

After having explained the rules of group formation and responsibilities of each member, the loan officer starts looking at the documents the customers brought as ID proof, and completes the Client Information Form for each member. This form is very similar to the one used for individual lending and contains the client’s personal information, loan application information (amount and purpose of the loan), type of business or activity, family and household details, savings history as well as loan and credit history. It takes some time to complete a form for each member; the two older women do not know their age, some discussions with the other group members are necessary to approximately determine how old they are. It is a good exercice for the loan officer, as it helps him assess how well the group members know each other, another important point in group formation, as each member will cross-guarantee one another’s individual loans. At the end, each woman signs her Client Information Form. Two members are illiterate, they put their fingerprints instead of signing.

A second visit will be necessary to collect income information from each member.  This is the first loan these women have requested from Swadhaar. After having repaid the first credit, most group lending customers are interested in a renewal. In this second loan cycle, the amount can be higher and for a longer duration (loans in the first cycle do not exceed 12 months, while in the second cycle customers can repay loans up to 24 months). In case of renewal, a new form has to be completed by each group member: this document contains over 20 questions divided in the following sections: Know you group members, Know your product, Know Swadhaar, Know your responsibilities and the group responsibilities, Know your rights. At least 15 correct answers are required for a renewal, the entire process is overlooked by the Team Leader at Swadhaar. This is an important document as it makes the customer think about the product, his rights and responsabilities and solvability of the other group members before entering a new loan cycle.

After more than 2 hours, the group formation is almost over. The Branch Manager explains one last time the rules of group lending, emphasizing the responsabilities of each member. After the visit, the Client Information Forms will be verified by an administrative assistant at Swadhaar. After the second visit, the final loan approval will be done by the Team Leader.

Promotions visits with Deepak

October 12, 2010

Last week I had the chance to go on my first field trips, that is visit branches of microfinance institutions and go meet clients with loan officers. I was in Mumbai and visited two branches of Swadhaar, a Mumbai based microfinance institution. A BIG thank you to Avinash, the area manager at the Malad branch for spending an entire day explaining the individual lending and group lending processes at Swadhaar and showing me all the documents that need to be completed prior to a loan approval, as well as to the Chembur branch team for allowing me to come along and visit clients. A special thank to Deepak, loan officer for individual loans, who might have gotten a bit too much attention due to my presence on his promotions visits.

It was a truly unforgettable experience. Difficult to express what you feel when you walk in the extremely poor areas where the loan officers operate. At first the smell, dirt, trash everywhere are overwhelming, but after a few minutes you start getting used to it. What catches your eyes are the people living and working in these slums and the way everything seems organized in this chaos, everyone has a role, there is the grocery shop owner, a baker, a tailor and clothes store, on one corner of the street a man is selling meat and weighting pieces with a small scale, children are coming from school in their uniform, some younger ones are running half naked on the streets.

This morning Deepak, the loan officer for individual loans I am following, is doing promotions. This is the first step of the individual lending process, finding new clients. We first stop at a shop selling repair parts for rickshaws, scooters etc and all kind of electric appliances. Deepak takes approximately 10 minutes to explain who he is, who is Swadhaar and how the shop owner could get a loan. At the end Deepak gives the client a leaflet with some basic information on the loans and his contact details. The client is not interested for the moment, which is a very good sign according to Deepak. Potential clients who want to complete and sign the loan documentation immediately might have high debts to repay already.

What impressed me at Swadhaar are the processes, they try to standardize their processes as much as possible and are quite strict at applying them. Every morning each loan officer comes into his branch to complete a daily planning, the clients he plans to visit, the promotions he intends to do, everything is written down in his planner. Therefore, after talking to a potential client, Deepak writes down in his planner the client’s name, address and contact details.

Continuing our visit, we stop at a bakery, and Deepak starts the explanation process again. Each time we stop a few men and children come to listen to what Deepak says. He explains that this is usual, people live so close from one another that they want to know “what’s wrong” whenever someone unknown arrives. The baker, Ali Zulfikar, is very proud to show his bakery and insists on giving us some cookies to try! I opt for a heart-shaped almond cookie, delicious! While we talk to the baker some other men arrive with a bottle of water for me an a chair so that I can sit down for a while… very touching generosity.

We visit approximately 10 potential clients, clothes store owners, a little grocery shop, a TV and DVD shop, a tailor. On our way we stop at Arif Hussein’s shop. He is an existing client, he sells and rents TV’s and DVDs. He is in his first loan cycle with Swadhaar. Many of the shop owners use the loans to buy inventories, replenish their stock.

 

 

Our last promotion visit for the day is a success! We stop at a store selling groceries, but the shelves are mostly empty, there are a few soaps remaining, and water in small plastic bags that the owner sells for 1 INR. The shop owner explains he is already a client of another microfinance organisation, he had a first loan with them, now fully repaid. He would like a new loan to buy inventories but couldn’t get a renewal of his loan. Deepak tells me that it is worth sitting down with this client now to find out what happened. We sit down on the floor of the shop and Deepak starts by asking many questions and looking at the existing loan documentation. It appears that the renewal of the loan was refused because of an unpaid electricity bill. The client had to go out of town and therefore could not pay the bill on time. An electricity bill is often used as address proof in the loan documentation, and as proof that the client is the real owner of the shop. Deepak clarifies that everything is now in order. We spend 30 minutes completing the Registration Form, which contains basic information about the client (what ID proof he has, his address, family and dependents, his business, is he the owner of the business).

If these basic criteria are met, a checklist of documents and further information to be submitted is given to the client. For individual loans, the loan officer, helped with a loan analyst. does a thorough check during the loan evaluation process. The first part of the loan evaluation is called “Willingness to pay”, is completed by the loan officer and includes visiting the client’s home to estimate the value of his household, getting more details about the business and the client’s commitment to his business, collecting references from both business partners and neighbours. According to Avinash, references are one of the most important part of the process, it enables the loan officer to find out about the character of the potential client. The second part of the loan evaluation is called “Capacity to pay”. During this phase, the loan analyst will visit the client independently from the loan officer and collect information on the savings, loan and credit history of the client, sales estimates, viability of the business. Once all the documentation is collected, the credit committee decides whether the loan can be approved.

For now, we leave the potential client after having explained the entire process. It usually takes approximately 1 week for the approval to be made. Deepak seems satisfied of his morning visits, and we go back to the Chembur branch for lunch.

Panipuri, the Indian nacho!

October 12, 2010

The other day we went out with the team to taste panipuri, a popular street snack! A new small shop opened recently close to our office, we had to go and try! Puri is the name of an Indian bread made by frying dough in oil. It’s a small round bread, and it is filled with a mixture of tamarind water, chili, potato, onion, chickpeas. It has to be eaten in one bite. We tried four different varieties of fillings, all really good, although my favorite was the first one, pictured below. And to finish with a sweet note the shop served some Kulfi, the traditional Indian ice cream, a frozen milk-based dessert!

Almost one month in India already!

September 23, 2010

I cannot believe it, in a couple days I will be in India for a month already! Didn’t see it pass… It’s time for a little update 🙂

First on the work front, I’ve started the assignment by reading a lot of the material given to me. Some reports on the state of Indian microfinance, trainings on risk management for microfinance institutions (MFIs) etc… very interesting, I’ve learned a lot. The goal of my assignment is to develop a 2-3 days training on risk management. Compared to other countries where microfinance is well developed as in Latin America for example, it seems that Indian MFIs haven’t really started to think of risk management in a comprehensive way, i.e. they have been mostly focusing on credit risk. But there’s a lot more to risk management than credit risk! Governance, reputation or competition risk, the regulatory environment, the physical environment such as natural disasters, political risks, all operational risks such as IT risk, security risk, staff fraud etc…

Therefore, ACCION thought of developing a practical training giving participants the necessary tools to understand what a comprehensive risk management framework is! After having read the material, we prepared a short survey to be sent to various MFIs in order to assess their needs in terms of risk management training. Looking forward to see the results!!  I will also conduct some interviews in the next weeks with microfinance practitioners experienced in risk management in India, to see what angle they would give the training. Very exciting!

On the personal front, I found an appartment last week, very close to the office. Lucky me, I can walk to the office and therefore  won’t have to negotiate with rickshaw drivers every morning for the price of the drive… Also I’ve become a lot better at crossing the streets. It’s a real nightmare at the beginning, trying to find the right time to cross (especially when you are used to the nicely regulated traffic in Singapore, with traffic lights etc…). It reminded me of Saigon, but in some way I’m a lot less brave here. Maybe because in Saigon you have mostly scooters on the streets, while here there are many rickshaws, cars and trucks, and it would be a lot more painful to be hit by a car than a scooter… Anyway, now I’ve learned that there is no “right time” to cross, so I either stick to a group of people crossing at the same time (and that’s the good thing about India, you are never out on the streets alone) or take a deep breath and just go for it. And it works…

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