ACCION Field Staff at Swadhaar
At training for the Ambassadors program in Boston, I had the pleasure of interacting with many smart, hard-working, and committed ACCION staff. Halfway around the world, I find that ACCION staff share similar qualities. Out of the approximately 50 employees here at Swadhaar’s headquarters in Mumbai, four are ACCION staff, and two of them set aside time with me to talk about their experiences.
Reema Patnaik has worked in the microfinance sector for 6 years, primarily in developing and delivering training modules catered to client organizations. She develops modules on soft skills—training of trainers, behavioral, time management, etc. Upon joining ACCION in June of last year, “I have gained, gained, and gained only! Knowledge, exposure, learning new things, getting my hands dirty.” In the past year, her trainings have taken her to Bangalore (Dialogue on Business), Mumbai (Swadhaar), Patna (Saija), Washington D.C. (Center for Financial Inclusion), and once to Tanzania (Akiba). Between trainings and other projects, Reema enjoys a range of new experiences. For Saija, she was involved in communicating to clients new APR interest rates, and at Swadhaar she works on strategy.
As an ACCION employee, Reema spends only part of her time on Swadhaar, but being at Swadhaar “gives exposure to multiple perspectives because people working here come with a host of varied experiences and expertise. They work here not for the sake of it, but because they’re committed. …People are accessible. It’s easy to pick up phone and ask for information. People don’t have any reservations like ‘she’s from ACCION, so we have to hold back info.’ I’ve always felt like a part of the Swadhaar family, even though I’ve been here for a year.”
From her field visits, she sees that Swadhaar’s field staff is well trained and “the commitment at the head office really seeps through well in the branch offices.” On one field visit, she accompanied a female field manager. Working on the field is not the easiest job, especially for women, she says. Having a woman field manager shows Swadhaar wants to empower its own staff, as if to say that even though you’re female staff, you can talk with authority to clients as a male would.
Roma Vasudevan worked for several years with a private bank in India in lending to MFIs, mainly in risk management dealing with agriculture. “I found it interesting what these organizations did in the field, and I wanted more exposure, and the individual lending in India particularly drew me to ACCION. As an Asia Regional Risk Specialist at ACCION International, she deals with ACCION partners in China and India.
She enjoys being a part of these partner organizations at a stage where they don’t have everything in place because it often allows her to contribute in small but important ways, such as creating an automated report of what is happening in their portfolios. In risk management, for each organization her work primarily involves evaluating available data (number of clients, portfolio outstanding, portfolio quality, aging of portfolio, etc.), aggregating it, and summarizing it in a way that helps management make decisions.
“It’s challenging, but I see myself staying for a while, ACCION gives me exposure to many different regions and people,” says Roma. As for Reema, “I definitely see a strong future for me in ACCION because it’s exposing me to new projects and improving my perspective. Before I was doing mostly trainings, but now I do research on product development, studying products of other MFIs, working on strategy. It helps to give exposure to new things and grow, professionally and personally. If both these needs are met, there’s no reason not to continue…With ACCION, it believes in the people it hires. When the bosses hand over responsibility, they trust you.”