Satyam Bakliwal (MBA ‘12) landed a summer internship last April, but instead of suiting up at a Wall Street firm or a Fortune 500 corporation, he headed to Rwanda to interview women earning less than $1 a day.
“Why would you want to do that?” a few friends asked him beforehand. They advised him to pursue a traditional business internship instead.
But ignoring conventional wisdom allowed Bakliwal and classmate Mfoniso Umoh (MBA ‘12) to became the first two Tepper School of Business summer interns for CARE’s Access Africa Project. The interns studied village savings and loan associations, a microfinancing model supported by David Tepper that aids groups of rural Rwandans, mostly women, who are too poor to obtain traditional bank loans.
“It was incredible,” Bakliwal said during a presentation to first-year MBAs considering applying for the internship in 2012. “This is something I will never have an opportunity to do again.”
Umoh and Bakliwal spent the Summer of 2011 in one of the poorest countries in the world studying how CARE, an international relief organization, sets up nongovernmental organizations -- commonly called NGOs -- to empower the rural poor. “These groups of people are generally considered to be “unbankable” by formal financial institutions since they lack security in the form of property or capital for the loans,” the two students wrote in their report.
The NGOs organized Rwandan women and taught them how to save money from their meager paychecks and pool their resources to grant small-business loans among group members.
“It was very encouraging to see people making less than a dollar a day save,” Umoh said. “This person has to eat and she has to save money she doesn’t have. But it works.”
Not only did they save, they paid back their loans with interest. “If one person doesn’t pay it back, the whole group feels it,” Umoh said.
Umoh and Bakliwal analyzed the pros and cons of three different models -- NGOs administered directly by CARE, those administered by local agencies, and those administered by international groups.
The interns lived in the capital city of Kigali and traveled all over the country, visiting two or three villages a day to interview workers with the aid of a translator. They talked to women who sold tomatoes, bananas and other produce in a small shop, a beekeeper who sold honey to villagers; and other rural workers who had been trained to set up small commercial enterprises.
Their report showed that NGOs are fairly successful in reaching the poorest people in Rwanda, a country that has recovered somewhat from the mass genocide in 1994, but remains one of the poorest countries in Africa, with a gross domestic product per capita of $464 in 2008, according to the interns’ report. Agriculture, the backbone of Rwanda’s small economy, is hampered by erosion and rough terrain.
At the end of the internship, Bakliwal was touched when the poor villagers showed their appreciation by giving the interns gifts such as peas from their gardens, sugar cane and a handmade box.
John H. Mather, executive director of the Tepper School’s master’s program and Teaching Professor of Marketing, was impressed by the students’ reports and the impact of the information on program expectations in Rwanda. “It was great to see the potency of our MBA degree applied in an organization, which is a growing trend today, outside the corporate business environment. This was a wonderful opportunity for our students and the start of extended relationships between CARE/Africa and the Tepper School of Business.”
Umoh not only left Africa inspired, she found the internship to be a conversation point with recruiters. “During interviews, it was the first thing they picked out of my resume,” she said. “They wanted to know, ‘What did you do in Africa?’”
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