> Posted by Kelley Mesa
This summer a group of Dartmouth undergraduate students are working at The Tuck School of Business in coordination with the Center’s “Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign.” Through the Paganucci Fellows program, these students are working together to explore the state of financial inclusion through creating “scorecards” that define and paint a picture of financial access in various countries around the world.
You’ve already heard from Kal Kuchimanchi , the fellowship program manager, now let’s meet a few of the 2009 Paganucci Fellows…
Yang Wei Neo (Philosophy, 2012)— I grew up in Singapore, and prior to coming to Dartmouth I worked in the Singapore Navy for two years. I became interested in microfinance after attending a conference on social entrepreneurship that Ashoka organized back in Singapore. Significantly, I was impressed with the tangible results that can be achieved by marrying business efficiency with social aims. Thus, when the Paganucci Fellows Program presented itself, I jumped at the opportunity – it was to me a marvelous experience to deepen my understanding of the topic and to make a real contribution to this important industry.
One of the most challenging aspects of the project is in deciding what are the appropriate measures of financial access. For example, we decided to proxy financial access through its usage instead of through availability. Availability might seem like a more appropriate choice, but measures of it are inherently subjective depending on the surveyor’s judgments. Usage is by definition different, but measures of it are objective and unambiguous. This trade-off between conceptual accuracy and practical measurements is just one of the many methodological decisions we make every day in order to present as complete and as understandable a picture of financial access as possible. It is these processes that I have found the most interesting, both intellectually and personally.
James Wang (Economics and Philosophy, 2010)— I transferred from the University of California-Berkeley to move from a more traditional business-focused education to one with an emphasis on various aspects of social enterprise. I am deeply interested in integrating various means of private enterprise with socially focused ends—a pursuit that has drawn me to microfinance and ultimately, this fellowship.
When working on this project, there have been times where our work loses some of its romanticism. When we’re simply sifting through reams of data looking for what appear to be insignificant metrics, it often becomes difficult to appreciate the true significance of what we are doing. After all, these metrics we are researching are, when put on a page, just numbers. How important is the exact number of clients this insurer in Nigeria has, anyway? What possible significance can there be in the depository rates of Indian rural banks?
One of the greatest takeaways from this project is to realize that these statistics we are compiling are not merely cold numbers. To us, a “number” can just look high or low—for someone else in these countries, it is the crushing fee on a savings account or mandated interest rate cap that bars them from a loan. From these numbers, we are beginning to tell a story of financial need in these countries. We are taking a first step, however small, in advancing a far larger cause. It is this deeper purpose that drives me through the tedious task of sorting through hundreds to thousands of pieces of data—usually with far more noise than signal. My hope is that by working with ACCION on this project, we will truly be able to breathe life into these numbers, and make a difference in the lives of the people that lie behind them.
Chris Kendig (Economics and Philosophy, 2010)—Hello, my name is Christopher Kendig and I am a Dartmouth undergraduate majoring in economics and philosophy. This summer, I am working as a member of the Paganucci Fellows program, which is creating financial access scorecards for ACCION and the Center for Financial Inclusion. I became interested in the program because it seamlessly combines applied economics and socially beneficial enterprise, two topics that I am passionate about.
Throughout the first four weeks of my fellowship, one of the most interesting aspects has been seeing just how many different parties are invested in the goal of improving financial access. The Paganucci team has already had the privilege to meet several individuals who are working to improve financial access through the creation of microfinance NGO’s or the development of commercial finance. The incredible breadth of experience and diversity of vision demonstrated by these individuals has been extremely impressive, and strongly supports the idea that financial access is a concept that has appeal across large swaths of both the societal and ideological frameworks. Intensive research on our target countries, such as Brazil and Kenya, has further demonstrated this point, as a tremendously diverse group of institutions has helped to provide us with financial access data. Governments, central banks, NGO’s, commercial banks, and a variety of other organizations have all provided valuable knowledge and information for our study of financial access. All of these organizations seem to be enthusiastically behind the growth of access to quality financial services despite their vastly different institutional goals and compositions. Overall, the first several weeks of this program have been a fascinating tour of the tremendous number of individuals and organizations that are working to help expand financial access.
Stay tuned for comments from the remaining two fellows…
For more information, sign up for updates from the Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign.