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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