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Spotlight: Small Scale Sustainable Infrastructure Development Fund

You might not have heard about S3IDF yet, but Northeastern co-op student Matt Forrest is working diligently to make sure you do.

Matt, a Business Administration major in the class of 2015, is the current Outreach Coordinator at the Small Scale Sustainable Infrastructure Development Fund, a small Cambridge-based nonprofit with a big mission: to reduce poverty in developing countries by supporting small-scale enterprises that meet basic infrastructure needs and provide opportunities for economic advancement.

S3IDF’s approach revolves around their Social Merchant Bank ApproachSM (SMBASM), which provides entrepreneurs with three bundled services: leveraged co-financing, technology access and knowledge, and business development support. Through this approach, they help the traditionally unbankable poor access employment, asset creation, ownership opportunities, and other basic services. Implementation of their projects, including solar, biomass and biogas, water, and other technologies for small-scale industries, is concentrated heavily in India, but information about their research and approach has been presented all over the world, from southeast Asia and Africa to Europe and the United States, and they look forward to creating even broader and greater impact within poor communities all around the globe.

As the Outreach Coordinator, Matt gets the opportunity every day to contribute in a big way to S3IDF’s ambitious global mission. His main duties include leading their social media efforts to spread the word about S3IDF and performing research on international development and poverty alleviation in developing countries. In fact, Matt is no stranger to the field of international development and poverty alleviation—he recently returned from NU SEI’s Dominican Republic Field Study this summer, where he completed on-the-ground research with loan clients of the renowned Dominican microfinance institution Esperanza International. [LINK: http://www.northeastern.edu/sei/2013/08/esperanza-restoring-hope-through-microfinance/ ]

My favorite part of working at S3IDF is that that I can go home at night and know that I contributed a little bit to an organization that makes positive impacts on people’s lives,” says Matt. And he is certainly doing that—Matt says his proudest accomplishment is how much he has been able to achieve so far on S3IDF’s social media presence. In just a few months of co-op, he has already expanded their reach enormously and expects that this will help them very much in the future as they continue to scale.

Of course, no coop is without its obstacles, and Matt says balancing his heavy workload was, at first, a big challenge. He was given a wide range of duties and had to figure out on his own how much time to spend on each to make sure he accomplished each one with quality and on time. However, “as time has passed, I have found it easier to manage and prioritize my workload”, he says.

Matt is not the first SEI student to be involved in S3IDF. 2012 NU graduate Gwen Kidera also recently worked there as a Project Associate, where she utilized her extensive background in international development and social entrepreneurship, from South Africa and Kenya to the Dominican Republic and Belize. Her work includes a recent article [LINK: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2013/08/27/shedding-light-in-the-night-how-solar-energy-and-mobile-charging-improves-quality-of-life-in-india/] about S3IDF’s efforts in appropriate solar technology, published on National Geographic’s Newswatch website.  Like Matt, Gwen also spent time on a wide range of duties at S3IDF but says that her favorite responsibility was the graphic design of promotional materials and web design. In fact, Gwen was so encouraged by this part of the job that she has decided to take the leap and pursue this passion as the next step in her career; this fall she will be studying graphic design at Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

Upcoming opportunities at S3IDF include the next co-op position, starting in January. Matt recommends that interested students talk to their co-op advisor, since they will begin accepting applications soon.