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.