Archive for October, 2007

Sunday October 14, 2007

October 14, 2007 - 2:17 am 4 Comments

The path month and a half has been perhaps one of my busiest. The myth of a relaxing senior year is quite misleading! Given that is it impossible to capture all the details, below is as a summary of my main activities, roughly in chronological order:

  1. FINCA Mexico Data Presentation and Completion of Written Report – The database of all our survey data was so extensive that I literally reached the end of the excel universe. Although completing the analysis took a lot of effort, I learned a great deal from attempting to rationalize the results, some which contradicted conventional assumptions about the social impact of microcredit. Presenting my conclusions and recommendations in Washington to eminent players in the microcredit field was also equally rewarding. Overall, my report helped the FINCA Mexico offices prepare for the launch of their new microinsurance and remittance products, especially since the data revealed a substantial market size and unmet demand. Poverty is a multi-dimensional issue – a phenomenon that cannot be simply rectified through provision of credit or financial services. Having seen substantial market saturation and sales cannibalization within a village-banking group, especially in an isolated rural setting, I have some reservations about a pure loan model. Hence, more comprehensive services are required to make sure that microfinance really lifts the poor from poverty, instead of just perpetuating the state of their impoverishment. 
  1. Rhodes, Marshall, and Gates Fellowships – I have completed my applications, after an excruciatingly elongated process of hunting down letters of recommendations and painstakingly revising a series of personal essay drafts. Thank you to the all those who supported me throughout this process. For the Rhodes alone, I needed eight letters of recommendation! 
  1. Work Decision – I basically committed myself to work for Goldman Sachs Principal Strategies (the equivalent of the company’s internal hedge fund). I really look forward to the job, especially since there’s a lot of creative room to analyze different investment positions. Since GSPS rarely hires undergraduates directly from college, I have to prove myself! 
  1. My Birthday – I am now 21 years old, fully legal in all regards =). I had an amazing birthday this year, which more than makes up for the dismal state endured in Madrid last fall. Not only did I see Man de la Mancha with my two closest friends and eat delicious meals, but I was able to spend some quality time with the people closest to me. I received the sweetest card from my little sister, along with a gift that left me literally floored =). Thank you all! 
  1. YouthBank- The past two months have been filled with a series of exciting new developments. First, after enduring a three-hour interview, we were able to secure free legal service from the Entrepreneurial Clinic of Penn Law after proving the worthiness of our case. Having impressed the clinic, we were awarded an engagement letter that more or less guarantees their support in helping us write and obtain our articles of incorporation and 501-3c recognition. Our business plan is now fully flushed out, and submissions to four very important grant applications are underway. In late September, I developed a comprehensive market survey, which is currently being administered in Lagos by our ground team. The results will help us better understand the social conditions of our target demographic, as well as overall interest in the community business we have chosen as our core incubator. The YouthBank model is truly very unique – a significant adaptation from traditional microcredit lending in order to effectively manage credit risk. Since we are working with street youth of Lagos, many of which are engaged in social networks that promote petty crimes, theft, and extortion, we know that we have chosen a very precarious demographic that microcredit agencies have largely excluded. Yet, the need is incredibly severe. Hence, if the YouthBank model is successful, we have the potential of sparking a major change in the entire youth urban microcredit sector. If you are interested in the YouthBank model, please contact me. I can send a truncated version of the business plan! Currently our Nigerian team is in the process of locating suitable real estate. Full project roll out is expected on June/July 2008, but hopefully, we’ll be able to get our pilot project started soon with funding secured through our partnerships.  
  1. Good Morning Africa Gala (October 12th) – The launch was extremely successful! I was able to present in detail the model to more than 100 eminent attendees, including the Consul General of Ghana (head ambassador), the head of the Calvert Foundation, the CEO of the Canadian International Peace Project, and the CEO/Chairman of Good Morning Africa, among many others. Our presentation was met with a lot of interest and enthusiasm! Afterwards, a successful Wall Street professional formerly from Lagos came to speak to me, offering to help us navigate the local context. Likewise, the head of technical capacitance at the Grameen Foundation offered to help us test and further develop our business model. Our partners the Canadian International Peace Project is offering us funding and networking – their CEO suggested that I fly out to Toronto with the rest of our team to meet people from their affiliated Nigerian Young Professional Network, as well as prominent officials from the government of Lagos, close friends of the founder. 
  1. Debate – I am very excited about this year’s topic on US Aid to Africa. At the Good Morning Africa Gala, I publicly posed a question on the failure of foreign aid in stimulating sustainable economic growth. The resounding series of responses highlighted issues that I had reach about, but did not realize the full severity of. People who had worked in the UN, World Bank and USAID presented highly critical perspectives of “tied aid” and the persistent of military aid based on geopolitical significance rather than genuine social interest. When I asked them if they were willing to partake in a teleconference or an appearance to our debate team, many of them were enthusiastic, including the ambassador from Ghana! I eagerly await my next competition in Boston. 
  1. Senior Thesis – My advisor is now chosen; my general topic secured. Given my interest in emerging markets, I intend to write about the socioeconomic significance of expanding Latin American and Chinese trade. Since my thesis advisor is originally from Spain, our conversations and discussions are fully in Spanish! 
  1. Beinu High School Reunion – Tonight, I attended my mother’s 35th year high school reunion. In particular, I was inspired by the sense of unity and camaraderie of the women, who seem to revert back to their girlish 16-17 year old selves when in the company of old friends. As one of the core members of the Organizing Committee, my mother was very busy in coordinating all activities, from leading the bus tour to Luray Caverns and handling all logistics to planning out the banquet festivities! My mother also performed two dance pieces – one a traditional Chinese dance, the other a modern jazz ensemble. I am so proud of her! For the first time in my life, I was able to play the role of an ardent fan and spectator. My mother has always attended my ice hockey games, DI competitions, and debate tournaments – this time, I was the one watching her perform. 

What a month! I am now home for Fall Break, but I still can’t fully relax because of looming midterms. On Thursday, I will take my differential equations exam, of which I admit my current anxiety. On Friday, I plan to return home (once again) to attend my sister’s VA Tech Family Day.