Banking for the Future
After learning about microfinancing in ECS 3021, Women Culture, and Economic Development, student Andrew Hofmeyer applied for an internship with the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, eventually meeting the bank’s founder, Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus. Read Andrew’s first-person account of his internship abroad and how Global Learning at FIU equipped him with the global awareness and perspective he needed to become an engaged global citizen.
By Andrew Hofmeyer
Growing up in a single parent home in South Africa during the end days of Apartheid allowed me to see, firsthand, the effect policy and economics has on both the individual and an entire nation. I saw how economics is intertwined with freedom, health, and personal happiness and the great effect determined individuals can have in changing lives for the better. I was learning about my passion long before I even knew what it was called and have had the opportunity to formally study it as part of the Economics program at Florida International University. My background and desire to gear my economics studies toward a global focus led me to take Dr. Irma Alonso’s online Global Learning course, “Women, Culture, and Economic Development.” In this course, we learned how a variety of factors including health, employment, and education of women affect economic development in both our local and the global community.
As part of this course Dr. Alonso taught us the academic principals behind global economic development, but also encouraged us to learn about international issues and to use our diverse, multicultural backgrounds to think of solutions. It was through an assignment that had this intention in mind that I learned of the Grameen Bank, which is rooted in an economics project initiated by the Nobel Laureate Dr. Mohammad Yunus. Now a formal institution, Grameen Bank lends small sums of money to women in rural Bangladesh with the goal of having them start local businesses that inspire entrepreneurship and facilitate economic growth to break the cycle of poverty. Inspired by Dr. Alonso’s global focus on economics and Dr. Yunus’ ingenious use of the science as a source of hope for millions around the world, I sought out an internship at Grameen Bank in Bangladesh.
While my inspiration and desire to learn more about Grameen Bank and global economics by immersing myself in the culture of Bangladesh was strong, my personal economic status was fairly weak. During my undergraduate studies I was working full time to support myself and fund my education, however with my powerful motivation to truly experience a globally focused education I saved enough money and within a year I was stepping onto a plane in Florida and out of it on Bangladeshi soil. The effect of what was once a single man and an economics project was immediately apparent as on my drive from the airport I saw countless ponds that were set up by the Grameen Fishing Project to support local fisherman and feed the community. Within the first few days, I was out on my first field trip to a rural village two hours outside of the capital city, Dhaka, along with several other interns from Singapore to sit in on what is called a center meeting. One of the key tenets of Grameen Bank is to inspire individuals within a community to support each other. This is encouraged by the weekly center meetings at the local branches where new members are introduced and old ones make loan repayments.
It was during this first field trip that I met a young man around my age running an electronics business that his mother owned out of a small shed. His mother had been a member of Grameen Bank for more than a decade, having taken out her first loan when he was just a teenager. The young man was unabashed in his praise for the bank and his mother, who perfectly embodies what Grameen Bank has set out to achieve. With her initial small loan she bought a goat and some ducks and started selling milk and meat to the local community, which allowed her to pay off her initial loan and take a larger one. This cycle continued, gradually improving her economic status as she acquired new skills, until it culminated in the purchase of her store that rents musical equipment for weddings and festivals and repairs electronic devices. The goal of Grameen Bank is to use economic principals to break the cycle of poverty by focusing on women, and that is precisely what has been achieved. Just like his mother and generations before her, the son running the store cannot read or write; however, his children were not there when I spoke to him because they were in school. The money raised by his mother had not just gone into the business but her grandchildren too.
Dr. Alonso gave me the direction I didn’t yet know I needed by helping me learn about Grameen Bank, but more importantly by demonstrating the relationship between culture and economics and how inspirational a globally focused education can be. Through this course I learned how powerful it can be to combine our varying experiences – as parts of different cultures, family types, genders, and groups – to unite and use our differences to solve global problems together. Towards the end of my internship in Bangladesh I was able to meet Dr. Mohammad Yunus, who stressed the importance of socially aware business and that whatever our career path may be, we should do it with joy. My undergraduate studies at Florida International University has opened my eyes to the importance of an education with a global focus, I plan to continue my academic journey by pursuing a graduate degree in economics and I plan to do it with joy.