Tag Archives: Drexel University

Capstone Presentation

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Hello!

 

I made it home on Wednesday after an eight hour layover in London. Now that I have fast Internet, I can upload my capstone presentation about my experience at CRAN. So feel free to check it out by clicking on the link:

CRAN Capstone

 

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CRAN Microfinance

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I realized the other day that most of my posts have been about locations I’ve travelled to or about Ghanaian culture.  While I hope you find that interesting, one of my intentions for this blog was to discuss working for a microfinance institution. So I’ve finally taken the time to write about CRAN and what my daily schedule is like!

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Here’s a bit about Christian Rural Aid Network (CRAN):

  • CRAN is a rural development NGO established in 1993.
  • CRAN’s microfinance program was created in 1998, but only became a categorized as a MFI and a Financial NGO in 2008.
  • It is headquartered in Cape Coast in the Central Region of Ghana.
  • It operates throughout Ghana, but its main banks unit are in:Abura (where I live), Takoradi, Cape Coast, Elmina, Twifo Praso, and Hohoe.

I work in the microfinance department of CRAN, or Christian Rural Aid Network. In particular, I work in the Kiva office. According to CRAN, the organizational vision for the microfinance operations is “to achieve an improved and sustained quality of life for the majority of the productive rural and peripheral-urban poor in the Ghanaian society through the instrument of microfinance (in combination with other instruments), as a basis for attaining and sustaining social justice.” So how does my work fit into that vision? (For a refresher on microfinance, read this)

My office!

My office!

CRAN Microfinance has three main products: individual loans, group ‘susu’ loans, and its Credit with Education Program (CwE). The loans I work with usually fall under the CwE program, though I do occasionally file some individual loans. CwE is a village banking approach where CRAN enters into a community and introduces the service to the community members.  Those interested are asked to form solidarity group of 4 to 6 members, and several solidarity groups are put together to get a bigger group called credit association. CwE uses a mutual guarantee system that holds group members liable if a member defaults.

Hanging out at my desk. Note: I had a bad cold when this was taken.

Hanging out at my desk. Note: I had a bad cold when this was taken.

Generally, CwE is geared towards women in rural areas with little access to financial services. As the name suggests, financial education courses are given to members before their loans are disbursed. After disbursement, groups host weekly meetings to make their repayments and discuss any issues relating to their businesses.

Meet my coworker, Veronica!

Meet my coworker, Rosemary!

According to some outdated report, CRAN has given out loans to more than 20,000 clients. But where does the money come from? That’s where I come in! Our CwE funds come from Kiva, an organization based in San Francisco. It’s pretty much the microfinance version of crowd funding. People from all over the world can lend small amounts of money to borrowers in developing countries. Lenders don’t receive interest, but are rewarded with the satisfaction of helping another human being better their lives.

Waiting to begin journal interviews

Waiting to begin journal interviews

The first aspect of my internship is to create profiles of borrower to upload to the Kiva website. I receive a handwritten packet from loan officers detailing the personal and business information of person in a particular credit association. From there, I use a data program called Loan Performer to acquire an ID number for each client and other crucial information. I next craft a story about each borrower that explains why he/she needs the loan and his/her intentions for the profits. After that, it’s as simple as uploading all of the data I gathered, the story, and picture to the Kiva website. If Kiva administrators approve of the profile, the loan is now “open” and can start raising funds.

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So far, I’ve uploaded more than 300 loans to Kiva. While the work can be tedious, especially with the unreliable Internet and the frustratingly slow computers, it is absolutely crucial to CRAN’s operations. Without the funds from Kiva, CRAN Microfinance could not afford to give out loans.

One of our clients: Efua Nana

One of our clients: Efua Nana

The second aspect of my position is creating journals. Journals are updates that we upload to Kiva, so that lenders can track the progress of the borrowers. So I travel to the communities with my supervisor, Cecilia, as a translator. We then interview each borrower to see how their lives and businesses have been affected by the loan. This is easily my favorite part of my job. After uploading so many loans, I’ve become desensitized to the impact of these loans. Talking to these women (and a couple men) reminds me of how real their hopes and struggles are. I am able to see the real effects that a small amount of money can have on their lives. School fees can be paid, bellies can be filled, and housing can be acquired. Yes, I’ve talked to several women who have defaulted on their loan and are worse off. On the whole, I’ve been able to witness the beauty of microfinance.

A credit association

A credit association

In the near future, my job description is going to expand. Cecilia and I had a long chat the other day about other aspects of CRAN that I want to experience. I want to learn more about how finances are handled in Ghana, so I am going to be shadowing the CFO of CRAN. I also want to visit a community during the loan disbursements. Lastly, I want to experience the education side of CwE, so Cecilia is trying to arrange for me to get involved with the classes. Hopefully everything works out, and I’ll have a lot more information to share!

Going to Ghana

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Hello!

It still feels surreal to me that I’m leaving for Ghana in three days. Just thinking about it produces wild butterflies in my stomach from either bounding excitement or extreme panic. It’s probably a combination of both.  Regardless, for the next four months I will be living and working in Cape Coast, Ghana.

I’m not exactly known as a big traveller. That would be my sister who boasts of travelling throughout Europe and select destinations in the South West Pacific. My experiences are merely limited to chunks of the United States and Canada, as well as a last minute, but lovely trip to Ireland. My most exotic trip to date was Hawaii when I was six.

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My “exotic” vacation in Hawaii, Age 6 

However, my limited experience is not due to lack of enthusiasm, but rather the constrained resources of money and time. The constraint of money is pretty much expected from a college student who relies on her parents and a retail job for cash (though the co-op program helps quite a bit with this). While my parents are more than willing to help me fund some travelling, I would feel too guilty to take them up on this. Time is trickier. Drexel students get very limited vacation, particularly those on the Fall/Winter co-op cycle. Since we don’t get summers off, any trips including ABs or service trips have to happen during the one or two week breaks between terms.  Unlike tons of the Drexel population, I’m not from the tri-state area and don’t get to come home that often. Thus, I need to decide whether to spend my vacations travelling or seeing my family.  So far, I’ve always gone home. I miss my family too much.

So, how did a girl who’s barely left the U.S. manage to get the opportunity to go live in Ghana? Drexel’s Co-op Program (Feel free to skip this paragraph if you’re familiar with co-op). Drexel is one of a dozen or so schools to focus on cooperative education. The program was launched in 1919 and is one of the largest in the country. According to Drexel’s website, the point of co-op is for students to get “paid employment in practical, major-related positions consistent with the interests and abilities of participating students.”[i] In layman’s terms, the co-op program consists of six-month (often paid) internships. Drexel students can either choose a three co-op program taking five years, a one co-op program for four years or a regular ol’ four-year program. Students are then split up into two cycles: Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer. Spring/Summer is most like a traditional school experience. However instead of getting summers off, students have a full time internship. Fall/Winter students, however, intern during normal school months and take classes during the summer. There’s always a debate on which cycle is better, and I firmly believe that Fall/Winter students get the short end of the stick, especially if they aren’t from around Philly. In the summer, the class selection is smaller, facilities all close down earlier, there more adjuncts, and there are fewer activities such as Welcome Back Week. Despite the inequality in cycles, Drexel’s co-op program is a practical solution to hedging against the high unemployment for college grads and I consider it a good investment for my future.

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Class of 2016 🙂

I am in the three co-op, five year program and happen to have the Fall/Winter cycle.  Currently, I am in my third or “pre-junior” year and am an accounting and finance major with a minor in history. For my first co-op, I worked at the law firm Chimicles & Tikellis, which handles class actions. While I discovered that I am not interested in a law career, I enjoyed the autonomy of the position and variety of assignments. For my second co-op, I knew very early that I wanted to go abroad. At first, my search was extremely broad, as I didn’t quite know what type of position I was looking for or in what country. After a bit of thought, the answer was obvious: microfinance.

During the winter term of my freshman year, I took a two-credit class called Social Responsibility in Business. It was a business elective taught by the wonderful Juli LaRosa in which we discussed ways businesses can enrich society and examined successful models of social entrepreneurship. The class that most stood out to me was Professor LaRosa’s lecture on microfinance. The simple definition of microfinance is “banking service that is provided to unemployed or low-income individuals or groups who would otherwise have no other means of gaining financial services.”[ii] Generally, microfinance is considered a means to combat poverty and promote entrepreneurship and fiscal responsibility in developing countries. (See my next post for more information on microfinance).

That brings me to ProWorld. ProWorld is a subsidy of Intrax, which is one of the largest providers of global educational, employment, and volunteer programs in the world. Most importantly, Intrax is one of the few organizations designated as a sponsor by the U.S Department of State.[iii] ProWorld’s first student group was in Peru in 2000 and has expanded to include several other countries. Currently there are programs in Belize, Thailand, Peru, and Ghana that cover many areas such as education, journalism, health, environmental management, and microfinance. I had first heard about ProWorld through my friend Nora, who participated in a program in Mexico. After doing my own research, I came to the conclusion that ProWorld would be a terrific program to be a part of.

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From October through January, I will be interning at a NGO in Cape Coast, Ghana. I will be living with a host family and taking biweekly language lessons to learn Fante. In the next few posts, I’ll give more details, about microfinance, Ghana, and my specific project. Hopefully I’ll be able to add some interesting pictures soon.