I started work yesterday! For the next nine weeks I’m interning at a microfinance organization that provides small loans of USD$150 up to $1000 for individual micro-business owners. (The Ecumenical Center for Economic Development, CEADe by its Portuguese initials. http://www.ceade.org.br.) The main office, which I work in, has about 12 employees. They include the director, Adelmo, and an accountant, administrator, and three credit agents. On Friday I will head out into the city with one of the credit agents to see what the microfinance process looks like on the ground. Here’s an example of how I THINK CEADe works in an ideal world: A credit agent meets a woman who informally sells homemade lunches on a street in the commercial district. The vendor (aka micro-entrepreneur) applies for a loan of $150 to buy a new stove. She turns to CEADe because traditional banks won’t make loans that small or to people who lack enough money/property to put up as collateral in case they can’t pay it back. With the new stove, she makes more money and gradually pays the loan back over 2 years with a 2.5% interest rate. With the rest of her additional profits she pays school fees for her children. She can renew her loan for higher amounts to further expand the business and maybe hire an employee.
Adelmo, the director, seems to have some lofty expectations for me. On my first day he outlined two main projects he wants me to research. I think he sees me as an economic/management consultant who can evaluate the organization and make suggestions. I earnestly tried to persuade him that I don’t know anything about anything but he seems genuinely interested in hearing an outsider’s perspective on their operations, even though I’ve emphasized that I’m just a university student interested in learning about microfinance and how poor people use it. My first task is to research and generate ideas for expanding CEADe’s client base. He was asking: How can we recruit clients in new neighborhoods? How can we most effectively advertise? One of my first products will be a ‘best practices’ list of how to recruit new clients. I’m doing a fair amount of English-language research from good sources online, but most of the info will come from the credit agents themselves. I might be able to help them create a more concrete list of strategies that can inform new credit agents in the future or maybe I’ll find some new ideas through the research. I feel a bit like a business consultant who has zero expertise and zero experience, but I’ll see what I can do. (Feel free to email me with suggestions: Andrew.Kragie@duke.edu.)
Aside from work, I’m starting to adjust to the city and my routine in it. I am seriously lucky with my homestay. Dora is about 65 years old and seems like the queen of the neighborhood; everyone knows her and shows deference to her. She seems to enjoy hosting foreign volunteers and is determined that we WILL speak like Brazilians by August. Living with her is kind of like an extended visit at grandma’s house (but unfortunately without any card games). Her food is wonderful and really varied. She made okra with carrots, a combo I could see my dad cooking. Brazilians eat their main meal around noon and a light meal about 7. I’m usually ravenous at dinner, though—it might be time to start a secret snack collection to make up for the small meal.
I’m enjoying the Portuguese classes that I take along with two fellow ProWorld volunteers three mornings a week. I expected my Portuguese to be ridiculously inadequate—and I was right. My flashcards will run out depressingly fast. Spoken Portuguese seems like a wholly different language than written Portuguese, so it’s been tough to keep up with conversations. This is just week one, though, and I’m already starting to understand the novela that we watch every night at my homestay. I’m already starting to recognize the funny mistakes I make. For example, I went through three semesters of Portuguese mishearing my profesoras and thinking that Andréia is the equivalent of Andrew. Apparently, Andréia means Andrea. André means Andrew. I learned this because a ProWorld employee from Oregon is conveniently named Andrea/Andréia. Now I’ll never forget…
One thing I can’t quite adjust to is the weather! The temperature itself is not that bad—highs around 85 or 90 degrees F. It’s the humidity. I thought North Carolina in July was uncomfortable—that’s nothing! Especially when air conditioning is a rare luxury. The 15 minute walk to work leaves me drenched in sweat. I went for a run yesterday evening; I probably did 12 minute miles and was still panting.