Microfinance Internships in Africa
A Networked Approach
In a broad call for financial services for the world’s poorest, the United Nations declared 2005 the International Year of Microcredit. And at the G-8 Summit, the leaders of the world’s richest countries affirmed their commitment to Africa.
Ideally, then, the microcredit industry in Africa should be receiving extra attention these days. But interested students who want to get involved through internships at microfinance institutions (MFIs) might find their efforts stymied. MFIs are highly fragmented—the U.N. reports some 10,000 organizations in the sector—so they can be tough to find, particularly in Africa.
The best places to start looking for internships may be regional or national network organizations that act as umbrellas for small MFIs. Network organizations serve a variety of functions in their countries or regions. Services include advocacy on behalf of member organizations, best practice sharing among organizations, technical assistance and training for members’ staff and management, and even some more complex operations such as credit bureau services.
But it is the regular communication that network organizations maintain with their members that makes them ideal starting places for internships. Some network organizations send regular email newsletters; others, in poorer countries, send drivers to distribute notes to their members. Regardless, these communications can easily include internship inquiries from a foreigner. To catch the attention of member MFIs, internship-seekers should consider offering to work without pay.
Even without pay, the experiences are sure to be rich. In Africa, network organizations count a broad diversity of MFIs among their members. More sophisticated members may include the local affiliates of large international NGOs, but smaller members—which would probably benefit more from interns—may include tiny grassroots revolving loan organizations or small fishing, farming, and artisan cooperatives.
Microfinance internships in Africa might include working with an MFI on its strategic plan, on its outreach program, or on its internal systems improvement. MFIs, many with several thousand borrowers, process massive amounts of information every day. An intern who can help optimize such information processing will be a prized addition to an MFI.
Interns in Africa might find themselves bouncing along dusty roads in old jeeps to visit loan group meetings in outlying urban neighborhoods or even in remote rural regions. They might even find themselves in air-conditioned offices lobbying donors or government officials on behalf of their MFI.
National network organizations themselves may also offer internships. Duties at the network level might include strategic planning, training materials development, or website development.
If finding national network organizations proves difficult (websites and email addresses come and go), internship seekers might consider using aninformation source for MFIs in general such as the Microfinance Gateway.
By working through network organizations, internship seekers stand a good chance of finding MFIs, even in the remotest and poorest countries of Africa. Each successful internship will edge the world toward another important goal—extending the spirit of the G-8 Summit and the International Year of Microcredit far beyond 2005.
Here is a comprehensive list of African microfinance networks.