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Esperanza: Restoring Hope Through Microfinance

by Rachel Shaheen

Esperanza, a spanish term meaning “hope,” reflects the empowering experience felt by students working in the Dominican Republic’s social enterprise sector. Melissa Furci, a rising junior majoring in international affairs and modern languages, spent the past six months at Esperanza International, a nonprofit organization in the DR and Haiti striving to rid poverty of children and their families. The organization accomplishes this through four core initiatives: microfinances services, education and vocational training, health care, and community development.

Furci took on the role as the Communications Co-op, but found herself involved in a variety of projects heavily focused on microfinance while in Samaná. Initially, Furci was tasked with traveling with loan officers to biweekly loan repayment meetings in which she interviewed Esperanza’s associates. The goal of these interviews was to gather information on their businesses — particularly any progress or difficulties they were facing. Furci expressed that it took time to become comfortable with the associates, and for the associates to feel they could share information about their businesses and their lives. Perhaps one of her biggest accomplishments was this progression, and achieving a comfort level for both her and her clients.

A portion of Furci’s time was also spent collaborating with the SEI Field Study Program led by Professors Shaughnessy and Adomdza, and Esther Chou. Furci expressed, “One of my favorite parts of the co-op was working alongside the Northeastern students and being able to show them what Esperanza was doing. We brought the students to a number of biweekly repayment meetings and they conducted a research project on client retention.” She assisted with logistical planning of the program while the students were in-country and then followed up with the students’ projects after they returned to the U.S.

During Furci’s last month in the DR, she was stationed at the central office in the capital of Santo Domingo. This is where she carried out essential communications duties, including planning group trips and developing marketing materials for the organization.

With a minor in Global Social Entrepreneurship, Furci had been emerged in similar projects before this co-op, and felt that her knowledge and resources matched her responsibilities. “I definitely felt well prepared for working in the microfinance industry after going on the South Africa dialogue and learning about microfinance in Social Entrepreneurship,” said Furci. “It is amazing to see microfinance first-hand and see the progress that some of the associates have made.”

Furci emphasized how different the work culture is in the DR and particularly the fact that Esperanza is a Christian organization. “At Esperanza, they incorporate bible study and prayer into the workplace and at their biweekly repayment meetings,” she said. Another adjustment Furci was able to make throughout her time was learning the language. Though she spoke Spanish prior to this co-op, the Dominican dialect made communication with the organization and its clients quite difficult at the start.

Furci was truly inspired by those she was working with in the DR and was able to witness the success of microfinance first-hand. She highly recommends that other students consider Esperanza International, an organization so close to home that aspires to rejuvenate a sense of dignity in the lives of so many Dominicans and Haitians who have lost hope.