By, Drew Helm
As spring wrapped up and my summer approached, I spent a lot of my time compiling a long list of organizations that I would consider applying to. This list consisted of organizations such as ABT Associates, Chemonics, IDEO, World Bank, Doctors Without Boarders, Opportunity International, Kiva, and many more. As you can tell, my interests were varied but one thing was consistent, I knew I wanted to work in international development. In my mind, this summer internship was going to be the experience that will help direct what aspect of international development I will begin my career in.
With a wife at home and baby on the way, an unpaid internship was not the highest on my list. But as I looked further into the different internships I soon learned that some of the unpaid experiences offered even greater opportunities for growth than those paid. One specific opportunity that stood out was with Opportunity International.
Opportunity International’s purpose is to provide small business loans, savings, insurance and training to people working their way out of poverty in the developing world. Opportunity was one of the first nonprofit organizations to recognize the benefits of providing small business loans as capital to those working their way out of poverty. When clients build businesses with Opportunity loans, they often set into motion monumental changes: Family incomes rise; children are well fed and go to school; homes are improved; women gain status. For clients in over 20 countries around the globe, these transformations take place every day–beginning with loans as small as $60.
As a nonprofit organization, Opportunity International was eager for interns, especially those with a master’s degree. As a result, I was given an immense amount of responsibilities. This amounted to dancing between two different full time positions: the Knowledge Manager and the Program Manager.
Both of these positions operate within the International Business Development department. This department focuses on acquiring, managing and assessing special projects performed through grants received by North American technical donors (i.e. foundations such as MasterCard Foundation or Bill and Melinda Foundation). The knowledge management component involves the creation and dissemination of knowledge gained from the monitoring and evaluation of the various projects. While the program management position focuses on the actual implementation of current grants in the field, reporting directly to the technical donors on their progress.
As a knowledge management intern, I served the organization by developing and proving the viability of a pilot project in Ghana. This project sought to introduce a new financial product that offers land tenure to their financially vulnerable clients. This involved creating an elaborate forecasting model, researching the current challenges of the industry and developing an extensive publication that argued its viability. This publication will then be delivered to USAID and the CEO of Ghana with hopes to begin implementation. Beyond this, I spent my time developing logic frameworks that saved the knowledge manager time since he would use them as the foundation for evaluating the impact that current initiatives on a community.
As a program management intern, a significant amount of my time consisted of heavy fund analysis. This involved developing, organizing and updating their records on projects up to $22.3 million. Specifically, this took the shape of gathering data from the finance department and generating a detailed cash flow statement that tracks the progress of each grant and countries operations. In general, during this process I would be tasked to find any potential miscommunications that took place between the different departments involved with each grant. With this thorough, all-encompassing document, the program managers were able to accurately relay information between all major actors involved.
Overall, it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to work alongside such a powerful organization. Even more, I could tell that the feelings were mutual because they really needed the help. Working with Opportunity International was an amazing learning experience that ultimately instilled in me an even deeper passion for banking and its impact on the developing world.
Now that the summer is over, I am in the process of trying to begin a career in banking after graduation in December. Though this is exciting, it makes me a little nervous thinking about the search for fulltime employment. As of right now, I plan to pursue a career in retail and business banking somewhere in the developing world, specifically eastern or southern Africa. Often times this takes the shape of some sort of graduate development program offered by larger banks in Africa. As my job search progresses, I am hopeful that many more companies and organizations will present themselves as potential opportunities, allowing me to continue to serve and impact organizations such as Opportunity International.