Mobilizing Microfinance Advocates from New York to Zurich, Pune to Singapore

> Posted by Alexandra Mihailescu Cichon, Sustainability Affairs and Microfinance Officer, Microfinance Capacity Building Initiative, Credit Suisse
“Microfinance Advocates.”  What started off in 2009 as a handful of Credit Suisse employees interested in microfinance has grown into a global network 500 strong.  They receive regular microfinance news clippings, event invitations, and volunteering opportunities – but have recently been demanding a more active role in the space.  They want to contribute, to get involved.
In response to this growing interest, the concept of Virtual Volunteering was born. Since microfinance is not an area that matches traditional concepts of volunteering, a different approach was needed.  
So Credit Suisse got creative.  How about matching motivated, smart employees with microfinance practitioners to support key research projects?  The microfinance organization benefits by having free access to the know-how and enthusiasm of the volunteers.  Employees benefit from the guidance of industry experts while having the opportunity to make a tangible contribution to an area they care about.
As many may not know, Credit Suisse helped co-found the Center for Financial Inclusion in 2008 as part of its Microfinance Capacity Building Initiative – the bank’s corporate citizenship initiative to meet the industry’s need for developing human and institutional capacity.  So the CFI was the obvious choice when the time came to select a partner for the pilot program.
Just some weeks ago, the pilot was launched with six CFI research projects – on topics including financial access at birth, financial inclusion for persons with disabilities, Client Protection Principles and frameworks for social investing.   And the response was very positive from employees across the world – from New York to Zurich to Pune to Singapore, applications came piling in.  The Credit Suisse Advocates will have their hands full very soon!
This innovative approach also lends itself well not only to research, but also to areas such as mentoring and advisory activities on training and IT, for example. So based on what’s learned from the “test run,” the plan is to scale up the program and offer many more opportunities in the future.
Stay tuned – we’ll be reporting on Advocates’ progress in upcoming posts!