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Experiencing micro-finance in India firsthand

For Michael Cantalino, a junior at Northeastern University, challenges are presented daily during his co-op at SKS Micro-finance in India. There is the language barrier, culture shock, and the current controversy surrounding SKS in India– all factors that not everyone faces while on co-op. But, the challenges of daily life in India make for an enjoyable adventure and great learning experience for Cantalino.

Having always had an interest in the social sector around the world, Cantalino found himself exploring this area more at Northeastern. As an entrepreneurship and finance major, he participated in the Dominican Republic Field Study Program, cofounded NetImpact, and took classes on social entrepreneurship. These three programs had a great impact on preparing to take on the challenge of international co-op.

At SKS– the first publicly traded micro-finance institution (MFI) in India– Cantalino has performed a number of jobs. Working at their headquarters in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, he has manages data for the over 7 million members of SKS and 30,000 staff. He has also works closely with their educational branch, Bodhi Academies, in the office and field. From improving their website and organizing transportation to field research aimed monitoring performance, Cantalino has had the opportunity to explore many of his interests.

One of his favorite aspects is working with clients in the field. “It is very hard to feel your impact working at a bank serving millions of women all over India, but you meet a group of borrowers and see the happiness they get in pursing their entrepreneurial goals and the improvement to their standard of living that comes with it, the feeling is priceless,” said Cantalino. Currently, he is in India at a particularly interesting time for micro-finance. Due to a number of suicides from micro-finance borrowers and bad lending practices in the field, SKS has come under much heat. Governments banned MFIs from lending in the area and are considering major reforms in the industry. Debate has also risen as to how much profit an MFI can make and whether it goes against the social mission to be publicly traded.

It is the challenges, controversies, and daily interactions that have made this co-op so beneficial for Cantalino, who hopes to start his own philanthropic travel agency one day. With what he has learned at Northeastern and abroad, he will be ready for this.  Cantalino’s advice to current students is to get involved however you can and to “always keep social entrepreneurship and philanthropy in your life and your professional calling within the sector will then find you.”

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