It has been only a week since I arrived in Mumbai at 2am on a Tuesday night – sorry, Wednesday morning – but it feels much longer than that. Maybe I randomly found a way to make the city work: pretend to have always been here. Everything is so fast in this metropolis anyway, so what difference does it make to its 15 million inhabitants that you just materialized out of thin air a moment ago like the latest glass and concrete building on the block or had been there for ages like one of the cute run-down colonial houses that still dot leafy streets? They’ll pass you by the same way, on their way to somewhere. Because what essentially characterizes Mumbai is that everybody is going somewhere, doing something. Just play along, go somewhere yourself, plunge in this chaos that works, insert yourself in the traffic with the combination of determination and nonchalance of a rickshaw, and everything will just flow into place. If you are lucky.
One week already, and only eight more to go. Eight weeks of living in bustling Mumbai and settling at the finance department of Swadhaar Finserve, a microfinance institution serving the urban poor who cannot access traditional banking services.
Hopefully eight productive weeks! Because let’s face it, at first sight, the need for an Ambassador to sit in the middle of the already crowded office of the finance team at the Swadhaar Head Office is not immediately obvious. Everything is up and running. People are well trained and highly motivated. They know their business. I kind of grasp it. So what’s the point? Well, that is the point exactly. I am the new set of eyes.
Over the next eight weeks I will try my best to be a good ambassador both to and of Swadhaar. To Swadhaar, I will try to share my past experience at an institutional investor and give advice on the best way to approach the international investment community that could finance the growth of the organization. To the readers of this blog, I will try to relate the great experience of spending time behind the scene of microfinance, right in the central nervous system of an MFI.
So yes, there will be a lot of PDF reading, excel modeling, pie-charting, and Internet searching. This is serious business going on, with accounting rules and all… There will also be days on the field and meeting with clients. They will illustrate the experience, give the human faces of borrowers and investment officers to dry numbers, and the depth of slum streets to two-dimensional graphs about market trends. And at the end – I hope – a better understanding of microfinance both as a tool for development, a line of business, and a concrete reality in the life of millions of people.