by Zoe Seward, Summer 2015 Development Intern
My name is Zoe Seward. I’m a sophomore at NYU studying business and political economics, and I was a Development intern for Friendship Bridge this summer. I first got involved with Friendship Bridge as a freshman in high school, when the organization let me conduct an interview with them via Skype for my capstone Spanish project. When I developed an interest in the microfinance industry five years later, I immediately thought of Friendship Bridge as the perfect way to explore the sector. While the microfinance industry as a whole has weathered some serious criticism in recent years, Friendship Bridge is virtually unimpeachable, and is improving women’s lives in areas far beyond mere financial inclusion.
Over the summer, I worked on two major projects. First I did extensive research into 20-30 MFIs in Bolivia and Peru. I was looking for organizations with viable agricultural lending models for Friendship Bridge to incorporate into its existing credit products. The Bolivian microfinance sector is one of the most developed in the world, and places heavy emphasis on agricultural lending in particular. Agriculture requires unique financial structures because it is such a high risk sector, and because it takes such a long time for farmers to see return on investment. Friendship Bridge was looking to collaborate with one or two Latin American organizations with effective agricultural lending programs to more effectively reach its poorest clients, and my research was the first step in that process.
Second, I wrote an Executive Summary of the organization to apply for a major industry impact investing loan. This loan would allow Friendship Bridge to achieve the goals outlined in its 2014-2016 Strategic Plan, including the expansion of its Health, Artisan and Agricultural programs. Writing the Executive Summary was the perfect way to learn how an effective microfinance organization operates from the inside out.
Hopefully, the projects I worked on will eventually have a measurable impact on the women Friendship Bridge serves through the expansion of the Agricultural program and the organization as a whole. In the short term, it was exciting to see Friendship Bridge’s CEO & President, Karen Larson, inform her exploratory trip down to Bolivia based on my suggestions, and incredibly satisfying to have a dense six-page loan application to show for my work.
This experience defied all internship stereotypes. While there was definitely some stamp-licking and data-entry, the staff at Friendship Bridge went out of their way to make sure that I was involved in meaningful projects and that I got to learn about the inner workings of the organization and the industry as a whole. I got so much out of this experience, and I hold the women that I had the privilege to work with in the highest esteem.