The following is a guest post from Kristy Anderson, president of the Indiana University Trockman Microfinance Initiative-a student group of the Kelley School of Business. http://www.tminitiative.com/
After a five-hour carpool from Bloomington, Ind., and a night at the Holiday Inn, the 12 members of our group entered through the glass doors at Opportunity International’s Oak Brook office at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 6, 2009. As members of Indiana University’s Trockman Microfinance Initiative (TMI), we were visiting Opportunity as part of a Chicago trip geared to providing knowledge of microfinance straight from practitioners. As we were taken into a conference room by our host, Andrew Koehler, OptInNow.org partner relations manager, we would soon discover how invaluable this visit would be!
The morning started with a description of Opportunity’s work, with Andrew highlighting all the unique programs that Opportunity offers. As he began to describe Opportunity’s loan and savings services, the MicroEnsure program, and OptINow.org, I could see TMI members becoming more excited and engaged. What were once concepts in Banker to the Poor became much more real to us through the examples and experiences shared by Opportunity staff members.
Over the course of the morning, several Opportunity staff graciously gave their time to share their work with us. Throughout our discussion, their passion was evident. Sonja Egeland Kelly provided details of her work in the field and put a face to microfinance with her passionate, detailed stories about Opportunity clients she has met. A.J. Renold described his work with Young Ambassadors for Opportunity (YAO), an organization that’s strives to educate and engage young professionals in microfinance. Suzie Hofert clarified many of our questions through her own experiences.
For me, the YAO program (http://www.opportunity.org/yao) was particularly exciting. Many TMI members have wondered how they can stay involved in the microfinance movement after they graduate from IU. For those of us unable to enter careers in microfinance, we fear that we will have to take a more passive role. However, A.J.’s description of YAO proved this is not the case. Upon graduation, I hope to join a YAO chapter in my community. If one doesn’t exist, I’ll start one up because this trip showed me how microfinance builds bridges. Upon my return to IU, I met a YAO-Chicago board member who was visiting campus. To me, it is amazing how Opportunity connects people.
Since our trip, our club has become rejuvenated! In the next month, we plan to hold a “Microfinance Movie Night,” where we’ll describe our experience at Opportunity International and watch the PBS special on microfinance, Small Fortunes. Next semester, we are excited to work with Amy Wolff, our Opportunity contact here on campus, to host a microfinance panel discussion with IU faculty and students. For more information about our student organization, please visit our website at www.tminitiative.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.