So I have been done with the internship for a while (even though I was doing some work for Drishtee from home). I wrote a blog earlier but for some reason I didn’t save the word file I had written it in.
My final weeks in Drishtee were action packed and interesting. I took a week off to attend weddings at home but as soon as I flew back, I headed straight to the village where my product research was based. I came back and it was my last week already. I was hoping to spend my last week documenting everything I researched – my ideas, understanding and analysis (especially regarding flour and stitching units). However, things didn’t work out the way I had wanted. Vikas, our mentor, asked Razeen and I to make a business plan for the Model Village Plan to pitch to potential investors. He sent us a vague outline and we started filling in stuff. When we asked questions regarding certain segments, he would just say anything that came to his mind (without properly thinking about it and we sort of paid the price for it in the end). On friday, we submitted the draft and had a 2-3 hours meeting going through the outline.
It turned out that we had the wrong approach. We were supposed to do a business plan for the Model Village Fund but we focussed too much on the Model Village Plan (Model Village Fund is a product Drishtee is offering while plan encompasses everything including infrastructure development, etc). Vikas mentioned that he hadn’t even looked at the outline Halloren (a donor agency) had sent him and started cutting out stuff that were not really relevant. It annoyed me a little bit but the excitement of going home was overwhelming. I finished all the finishing paperwork (exit stuff) and ended up bringing work home. In the next couple of weeks I helped Razeen a little bit with the business plan and finished my stitching unit Business-in-a-box and FabIndia Brand Recommendations.
It was nice of Vikas to take me and Razeen to have coffee and ice-cream on the last day where we talked about issues beyond work. We talked about the financial crisis, Indian politics, corruption, American superpower, China’s growth, etc and it was great to know his point of view on these issues (got to know a different side of him). We also talked about Drishtee’s problem and came to the conclusion that Drishtee is trying to do too many things (as mentioned in previous blogs). Razeen and I recommended that Drishtee needs to focus on a few things and do it well (what Steve Jobs said after he came back to Apple).
Internship in India was a great experience. It is a great place to work as growth is evident in people’s drive and energy. The weather was a little too much for me but it didn’t take that long to get used to. I am excited to meet everyone in the coming weeks to share experiences and learnings! Enjoy your last few days of the summer!
It’s my last week at Drishtee - I’m fully done with my projects at Drishtee - Vermicompost, Stitching, Major business plan and another project that was added on last week.
It’s definitely been a challenge but it’s been a fun week. Last minute research, contact with other organizations and other contacts and refining and retuning the reports. There’s not much else to say because these projects have been a continuation of what has been happening through the two months.
On a side note, we got to visit the office celebrations at the India Independence Day event where they sang their national anthem, raised their flag and gave some sweets to everyone. It was nice to see how patriotic they are about their country - makes me wonder about how patriotic other people are and in other countries. I wonder if it affects their work and view of life. Food for thought!
My goal during the 6th and 7th weeks at CYFI has been to polish Children and Finance based on the advise of our internal editors. Close attention on the publication along with a seemingly silly team bonding event during the week taught me even more about the organization’s amazing origins.
First- the developments of Children and Finance. By this point, this publication has been reviewed by many sets of eyes and opinions and input from the reviewers have not always been consistent. After fulfilling most of Jeroo’s ideas for the paper, adding the technical inputs from our education and academic directors, Jared and Bram, and making sense of the data, Jay and I finally began seeing the paper come to fruitions. The main edits this week was actually deletion! The 62-page paper became thinner by the end of the week, and along the way picked up a more powerful tone. At first I was hesitant to take out portions I thought were demonstratives of CYFI’s organizational strengths, such as it’s well structured working groups and certification criteria. After experimenting with the advise from our editors (and perhaps using some critical thinking and marketing knowledge), the paper became a story of why we exist rather than how. Writing and rewriting this document has been an unexpectedly enriching journey despite the continuous edits. In writing about an organization that just months ago, I had literally no real knowledge about and on behalf of so many different individuals, I’ve been able to absorb facts as well as opinions, and use my own judgment to balance the two.
After week 7’s makeover, the paper looks quite an accomplished document. It is a cumulative report about the history of the organization, theoretical and experimental evidence to the mission, and testimony to the number of partnership CYFI has gathered over its short 2 years of existence. This week was also highlighted by a fun post-lunch team “re-orientation”, during which we played trivia games and listened to presentations about the crux of ChildFinance. I didn’t expect to learn so much new information during my 7th week here!
The reorientation began with a hysterical trivia game in which we were split into teams and were tested with questions about the organization. I learned the Princess Maxima is on the board of directors of CYFI and the building in which we work was graciously lent out to us by a large Dutch bank. I also learned a lot more about the history of Child and Youth Finance International. In contrary to what I had believed, CYFI was an idea long before the organization became and international NGO. In fact, the idea was born as an initiative within Aflatoun in 2008, and perhaps was in Jeroo’s head decades before that. It was tested out at a stakeholder’s meeting and presented to both academics and children and youth. It was written about and debated before working groups were formed and an official organization was born. Perhaps CYFI as the Movement today has transformed from the concept it derives from, but I believe Jeroo had knowledge of the trajectory all along. This week, I’ve gained an even greater admiration for Jeroo’s ability to create a common link between different stakeholders so an idea which was originally hers, belong to several hundreds of people.
On another touching note, we created a timeline in front of the meeting room in which every intern that has joined and left was added to the “CYFI family”. There were 80 some interns in total! It was amazing to see such a unique NGO model, which a core staff of merely 7 and an extended family of nearly 100. Most interns, like me, stayed for a few months and worked on short-term projects. Yet, each project has seamlessly integrated into one another. Furthermore, notable strides are constantly made. This week, the CYFI SchoolBanks initiative has been launched in 4 different nations of Asia and Africa. These pilots have developed ways to make schools a center for financial transactions. Teachers would run money collection centers at schools, and use mobile banking to formalize transactions with collaborating banks. I believe that this initiative has the potential of being one of the greatest successes of the organization to date.
At the close of last week, we finally sent out Children and Finance to academic review! I do feel a little like a proud parent.
Week 8, I had been given the task of revising the Product Design and Development Guide, which was drafted by one of our former interns. The purpose of the document is to inform interested financial service providers on how they can create a product that is child and youth friendly. There is a critical difference between this and the ChildFriendly Certification Guide which was published last year. CYFI certification of course is ideal, but realistically, regulatory or financial barriers may be difficult to overcome in the short run. Even so, we hope that financial services providers will progress toward making their products safer and easier to use for children and youth. The Product Design and Development Guide highlights the underlying rationale for some of the minimum product guidelines but also gives room for adopting these guidelines with flexibility. This guide is a set of best practice recommendations as much as a “how to” to supplement the certification guide.
The Product Design and Development guide needed some serious edits, so again, Jay and I sat down to discuss a storyboard. First, we decided that we must emphasize why CYFI focuses on providing children and youth with savings accounts as opposed to other financial services such as youth loans. The acceptability of current accounts should also be made explicit. Most importantly, we must clearly and concretely tie financial access to the United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child. During this convection over a decade ago, a set of rights were determined- the rights to survival, protection, participation, and development. The final three were most pertinent to our recommendations for safe banking. It is important that the products in question not only avoid harm and exploitation, but also actively seek benefits to the end users.
What I loved the most about working on this guide is putting the breadth of my Wharton education to use. One large section of the guide was a product development process- in which we outlined the steps to creating, testing, and distributing a new product. Marketing 101 came in so handy! I was able to catch a couple of mistakes in the research collection process as well as assess how SWOT analysis could be used by financial service providers to determine if a product is viable.
Writing this guide had given me a new vantage point of Child and Youth Finance International’s visions and initiatives. I’m forced to look at our work from the perspective that I hadn’t prioritized before—that of financial service providers, who afterall, must run a sustainable business. One of the most interesting pieces of research I had been trying to uncover is how FPSs can leverage cost minimization methods to pass on zero or minimum transaction-fee accounts to children. Since this information is not available online, we sent inquiries to a few European banks with similar minimum-fee accounts to find out if they have alternate means to acquire revenue to maintain these accounts.
Though our work on the Product Design and Development had just begun, my time at ChildFinance quickly came to a close. Before I left CYFI, Jay and I finished a new storyboard for the guide, and passed on all our suggestions to the certification director. I think a guide like this will help the NGO establish a stronger mutual understanding with financial service providers, and absolve any concerns about the rigidity tied to the certification criteria.
My last week at ChildFinance was another fast and furious week of learning and writing. It is also a week of cake, since it is customary at CYFI to have cake, sign cards, and make speeches when people leave. It was the final week for 4 of the interns in the office.
My last week at First Book wrapped up very well! I finished all my projects and got a lot of feedback on the projects specifically and on the summer in general. There was a great deal of reflective thinking, which I always enjoy. I thought it was great how at some point throughout the summer I got to experience every piece of a partnership - from beginning brainstorming sessions to the ending wrap up presentations for partners. Originally I thought I wanted to just work with one partner from beginning to end, but now I’m glad I got it out of order and with different partners, because it meant I learned about a bunch of different partners, and how every partner wants something different. It kept me on my toes and made me remember a lot of details. I think that was definitely exemplified this week as I went to meetings on four different partnerships, and had things to do for all of them by the end of the week. I feel much more knowledgeable about the organization as a whole now, and have a much better understanding of what nonprofit-corporate partnerships look like.
I’m going to save most of the “what I learned” for the wrap up presentation, but one I want to mention here is the importance of liking your job. If I had to pick one thing about First Book that stands out to me most as an employee, it’s not our innovative model or our 100 million books distributed – it’s the passion and determination of the First Book “family” (as they call themselves). Sure, there are office politics (you’ll get those anywhere), but they in no way dominate the culture. Everyone at the organization is incredibly smart and constantly trying to think of new ways to do what we consider routine. I know I mentioned this before, but it never ceases to amaze me, and by far was my strongest take-away of the summer. And they aren’t just super smart and determined and hard-working, but cheerful, welcoming, and all around a very happy bunch. It made going to work something I looked forward to, not something to dread, and I always felt motivated and pushed to do my very best on everything. I knew it would be appreciated when I finished, so I bit the bullet on the not-so-exciting jobs and did it fast and well. I know that when I become a manager – whenever in the future that is – I want to make sure I motivate my employees in that way, and give them the same type of culture.
This summer has been truly amazing. Thank you so much to the PennSEM program for making it possible. I highly recommend to anyone reading this who hasn’t participated to DO IT! You won’t regret it :)
Well we narrowed down the marketing agencies to our top five, and have invited those selected to come in person and tell us why we should pick them. I hope to be able to sit in on at least one of these before I head home, but I’m not sure if that is going to happen. Fingers crossed!
Last week I presented my research on New Business opportunities to the Strategic Alliances team. I gave them a list of about 65 companies who, based on their current CSR initiatives, size, leadership, etc., I thought would be a good partner for First Book. We then all sat down and went through the list identifying the companies in which we or someone at First Book had a contact. It blew me away that we knew someone at a good 75% of the companies! Even ones I thought were smaller and more random had some sort of connection. It was a great experience in the power of networking – and now hopefully when we make calls to gauge interest we’ll already have a foot in the door!
I think one of the best things I’ve gotten out of this summer so far has been all of the meetings we interns have had with the senior staff. Our intern adviser set up times for us to sit down with all of them individually (and there are a lot of them) and talk career/life/advice/stories/etc. Coming from all different walks of life, everyone’s stories and advice has been amazing! It’s been instrumental in helping me decide what I want to do after I graduate, and I feel much less scared about entering the real world. Here are two things that have stuck out to me:
“Don’t think outside the box; break the box.” - Prem Nair, VP Information Technologies. This has really begun to shape the way I approach situations, like I mentioned in my last post. It’s helped me to come at decisions and such from a completely different view point. I think it’s because I’m a visual learner, and “breaking the box” is such a strong image in my head – I can actually see myself ripping the shell of a problem apart and coming up through the middle. That sounds kind of strange, but it works for me.
“Business is mission.” – Jane Robinson, CFO. If you want to fulfill your mission as a nonprofit, you have to make sure you’re still in business tomorrow. As I have considered going into nonprofit financials, the idea of “nonprofit” itself has always tripped me up. How do you decide how much of your money goes to the kids, and how much goes to employee retention? Do we go after foundation support or charge for our services? First Book has amazing financial practices that are constantly focused on this idea that nonprofits are businesses too. Jane has done incredible work, and she said this simple phrase is her guiding practice.
I’ve learned so much more – but the rest will have to wait for the next post :)
Yesterday I and my fellow interns got to sit down with Kyle Zimmer, Co-Founder and CEO of First Book. She is AMAZING. She started off by telling us about how she got to where she is now (social entrepreneur, nonprofit founder, thought leader, etc…). She began as a lawyer and worked on the hill for a while after that, but she wasn’t happy with the work. She was tutoring a boy at Martha’s Table at the time, and when she discovered that many of the kids at the center had no books at home, she decided to found First Book (obviously there were steps in between those two happenings, but that’s the gist). Now she runs an 80 million dollar organization, and is sought out to share her opinions in arenas such as the World Economic Forum. Brilliant. It was incredible to hear her talk about her experiences…and then we sat for an hour and asked every question that came to mind.
It blew my mind to find out that she has two young sons. We asked her how she balanced doing everything she does for First Book and being a mom at the same time. “You make choices” is what she said. Sometimes she can’t make her kids’ performance, but sometimes she turns down her invitation to speak at a huge conference because she has the opportunity to take her children to Italy. “You’ll know when you’ve made the right decision.” Being a regular working mom is tough (so I hear…) – running the whole show as a mom…I’m not sure I could do that.
In a lot of her more recent interviews (and all staff meetings) she’s talked about how you shouldn’t be afraid to fail. Well, coming from a background of “get it right,” I’m not very keen on failing. So I asked her “how do we fail at something?” In a nut shell, she said “seek the advice of the smartest people you know, and then don’t listen to them. Consider what they say, and listen to yourself. Don’t be afraid, and don’t not pursue something just because it’s never been done before.” Failing at something because you are reaching for the impossible is different than failing because you didn’t do your job. I think it’s this distinction that I need to learn and practice. I think this year I’m going to try and figure out what awesome idea I want to try – and if I fail, at least I will have failed with style :)
While government officials, policy makers, and financial authority battle daily with the European sovereign debt crisis, high unemployment rates worldwide, and stagnant economies, fostering children and youth’s financial capabilities is not on the shortlist of national agendas. However, it’s more urgent than ever that the younger generation understand the mechanisms of the complex financial system to best utilize financial goods and services that maximize their financial security, personal assets, and savings. Without early education and training, the younger generation will fall into debt and apply for mortgages that jeopardize their credit ratings. However, what differentiates today’s children and youth from others is that they live in a world where existing technology and tools can empower them as economic citizens. With suitable financial, social, and livelihoods education and access to these resources, children and youth can change the course of their lives.
The tremendous potential of children and youth is echoed by the United Nations Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon in his letter of support to the first annual Child and Youth Finance International Summit in April 2012:
“The world now has some 1.2 billion youth, the largest such generation in history. With the right support, today’s youth can also help advance the economic and social development of their communities and countries. I strongly support helping young people gain greater financial literacy as well as better access to services that will lead the way to employment, entrepreneurship and investing opportunities.”
Although CYFI is a young organization (it was founded in July 2011), it has managed to speak with top representatives of financial authorities, ministries of education, multilaterals, financial institutions, academics and NGOs. Currently, such dialogues have engaged interest of potential partners who will be attending the five regional meetings in Africa, Americans & Caribbean, Asia & Pacific, Europe, and Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region later this year. The meetings will connect regional stakeholders to each other and to the vision of the Child and Youth Finance Movement. Though I usually work in the intern room (a separate room from the core staff), I can hear the core staff calling representatives daily to introduce the organization, engage their interest, and confirm their attendance. In our weekly Monday meetings, we discuss how many contacts the core staff has confirmed for the meetings, and I’m always amazed that such a small group of people can organized such big events that have the potential to change the landscape of children and finance.
In addition, the operations manager has been contacting people for the second, annual CYFI Summit, which will again convene partners of the Movement and children and youth around the world. To me, it seems like they’ve just had their first meeting in Amsterdam, but they are already planning the next one to ensure that the Movement gains momentum. For those unsure if the educational, social, political and regulatory gap between children and finance can be closed with financial inclusion and financial education, attending the Summit would be a wonderful opportunity to brainstorm with other representatives and stakeholders. Moreover, listening to the voices of children and youth will clearly demonstrate that they have the will and potential to grow into adults responsible for their livelihoods and their finances. Ultimately, these will be the knowledgeable leaders who will strengthen their communities, economies, and countries.
Submission 3 and 4 : Hello from Atulya and Razeen!
Namaste everyone! Razeen is finally here and Atulya is about to leave, but we’ve been getting a lot of things done together.
Over the last two weeks we’ve been working together on a couple of different projects. Our first project was making amendments to a previous project as well as making financial analysis for the project in order to judge its viability. Having not done the initial research for the project, it was difficult to make sense of it and therefore, we ultimately had to perform our own (identical) research in order to fully understand and modify the project. Neither of us had also made a financial analysis “for real life” and so figuring out when and where interest, depreciation and what not actually goes was interesting. Just a heads up to everyone: accounting rules lie!
The second project (and the biggest one yet) was to create a business plan for the Model Village Plan as a whole. Given that the plan contains lots of other mini-plans and goals, it’s not as easy as making a business plan for a specific product or business since the MVP includes multiple businesses! Vikas initially gave us a spreadsheet with maybe 16 or so tabs and said to find a way to do it. This was an interesting approach because while we had all the information there (supposedly), we had no clue as to where what information goes. We worked furiously over the last two days (with taking a break to see Spiderman obviously) and just handed our first draft this morning.
Atulya leaves tomorrow so I (Razeen) will be taking over one of his projects as well as working on two others of my own (researching vermicompost and mangoes). All the interns will have left by the end of next week since universities in India start mid-July; I definitely am not looking forward to that! Hopefully someone new comes along.
It was definitely frustrating to find that the research we were doing for our own projects had previously been doing (or was being done at the same time!) It would be much more beneficial if that information was communicated to us because then it’s just a repetition of (good) effort. The communication gap either lies with the mentor or between the mentors if they haven’t been updated with what everyone is doing.
The weather in Delhi has been nice. It has started to rain and the humidity is a little suffocating sometimes but thank god its not that hot! We hope everyone is having a great summer.
I can’t believe it’s already been 6 weeks! This summer has gone by so quickly, and there’s still so much to do in what time there is left. Work has been very busy and it feels like I’ve been learning something new every day.
My steady project for the past couple weeks has been researching new business opportunities - looking for potential corporate partners who’s CSR goals or company mission align with a theme of books we can provide. That project is finally coming to a close I believe. I’ve met with my supervisor on it and we’re presenting it this week to the rest of the team, so hopefully we can find some new partners from it!
I’ve been doing a lot of smaller projects as people need them. I’ve done some excel work looking at book titles and numbers, prepared presentations for both the beginning and end of versus partnerships, and most recently I was loaned to the marketing department to do some research on marketing agencies we’re looking at hiring to help our brand recognition. It’s very investing to be in this process. We sent out a RFP (request for proposal) to a handful of firms and just got the proposals back at the end of last week. We’re now in the process of choosing, and since I helped in the beginning I get to sit in on these and offer input! This is a huge step for First Book, so I’m really excited about being involved!
I think the thing that has continued to stick out to me in the short time I’ve been here is how innovative the organization is. I went to a couple brainstorms last week, and it was incredible how many ideas the staff comes up with. They think of all the basics and then shoot for the stars! No one is afraid of putting out a bad idea - they just shoot off what they’re thinking and then someone else catches it and runs it further. It’s a bit hard to follow if you’re not used to it because they jump from one thing to another without any connection it seems, but then all of a sudden you’re back to the first idea and it’s being tied in to the 4th and…it’s crazy but so cool to be a part of! Their innovation is what sets First Book apart, and the way they get there is by not being afraid to think outside the box - even with thing’s that seem to be working just fine the way they are they’re always asking “how can we make it better.”
So now I’m trying to gear my thinking that way. Whether its on projects or relationships or whatever is currently occupying my mind, I try to see it through the lense of “how can I approach this differently?” it’s tough, but extremely useful!