Microfinance provides financial services to poor and low income clients. These services include microcredit or small loans to micro entrepreneurs, the self employed and small business owners. Today there are over 16 million people world wide that depend on the services of microfinance. Over the last decade, microfinance has grown more in Latin America than any other region in the world. With a 19% annual growth rate over the last twenty years, Peru is on the forefront of microfinance. Our project is to create an acceleration strategy for women entrepreneurs in Peru and contribute to the overall success of microfinance in Latin America.
For some reason over the last year or so I had slightly changed the way I travel. In the past I had always just booked a ticket and headed off somewhere; no hotel reservations, no plans for when I landed at the airport, just roll the dice and see how it lands. This last weekend Brady and I got back to this way of travel and it worked out great. The other guys on our PeruTwo team had already seen Machu Picchu so they gave Brady and me a couple days off from work to go check it out for ourselves. We flew out Wednesday morning to Cusco which is about 2.5 hrs from Machu Picchu (two bus rides and a train ride). Our plan was to stay in Cusco for the night and then head to Machu Picchu early Thursday morning. In the Taxi ride from the airport we found out that there was a transportation strike in the entire region for Thursday and Friday. This meant that if we didn’t get to Machu Picchu that same day we wouldn’t be able to get there at all.
Cusco is an old town. Before the Spanish came to Peru, Cusco was the capital of the Incan empire which spanned all of Peru, and parts of Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, and Ecuador. When the Spanish did arrive, they took it over as their regional capital. Today the city looks like a mismatch of Spanish and Incan history. It almost feels as if you are walking through a small Spanish city. Cusco is scattered with Spanish cathedrals and churches but the people are clearly not Spanish. In between the churches and the narrow streets are open air markets in the true Peruvian style. They were selling Alpaca clothing, fruits and vegetables, and the infamous cooked Cuy (Guinea pig). The city is a great mix of the two cultures. On our first day however we couldn’t stay long. Shortly after our arrival we jumped in a combi (large van people can jump on and jump off of) and headed towards Machu Picchu.
To get from Cusco to Machu Picchu you have to actually go down the mountain. The road curves through the mountains and the small villages. Construction was abundant, as it must be after every rainy season. This year however was especially wet for this part of Peru and mudslides claimed the lives and homes of many rural Peruvians. The homes seemed to be made of bricks that were a mix of mud and straw. In many place on the side of the road you could see people preparing the bricks and stacking them for later use.
The combi took us to Piscacucho which is where the train takes off for the final leg of the journey to Machu Picchu. Piscacucho is a small village with nothing more than a train station and a couple roadside stalls selling food. We arrived just in time and ran to catch our train. The ride from Piscacucho to Machu Picchu is 29 killometers, or 17 miles, and takes a little over an hour. It is a relatively flat ride but the views are gorgeous. It follows the Vilcanota river as it twists and turns through the snow capped mountains. The train ends in a small town of Machu Picchu which people have started calling Aguas Calientes. This town’s sole existence seems to be for tourists coming to see the Incan citadel of Machu Picchu. There are no cars and the streets are coble stone. Every building is either a hostel, a massage parlor, a restaurant, or a combination of the three. Brady and I climbed down from the train and headed off in search of a place to stay. After some hard bargaining in about 6 different places, we found our home for the next three days. It was a small hotel overlooking the river. The room we chose was on the third floor with big glass windows and views of the mountains. We chose this place because you could hear the river roaring below us.
We went to bed early that night to rest up for the big day the lay ahead of us. We set our alarm for 5 am. When we awoke it was still dark out but we were excited to finally see Machu Picchu. We got dressed and headed out. There is a small army of vans that were taken into Aguas Calientes by the train years ago. These vans transport people up the mountain to the ruins of Machu Picchu. We got on about the 5th van and headed up the mountain. When we got to the entrance we chose a guide and headed into the ruins. It was a cold morning, about 35-40 degrees, but the sky was crystal clear. We spent 3 hours walking around the ruins and learning the history of the Incan empire. We were extremely lucky that there was a strike going on because this kept the throngs of tourists coming in from Cusco. It seemed as if we almost had the ruins to ourselves.
The first 400 visitors to the ruins each day get a special entrance to Huayna Picchu. This is a steep mountain overlooking the ruins. After our private tour, Brady and I headed towards this mountain. As we signed in to the climb the mountain we noticed we were the 86th and 87th visitors of the day. By the time we started our climb the weather had warmed up to about the low 70s. After the hour hike almost straight up the mountain we came to a rock plateau with a 360 degree view. To describe the view effectively it would take someone much more eloquent than myself. I’ll simply post a video clip below to give an idea of what we saw.
That night we arrived exhausted back at our hotel. Not quite sure of what to do the following day, we started asking around for what was the best thing to see. There are three mountains that surround the ruins: Huayna Picchu, Machu Pichu, and Putucusi. On Friday morning we awoke at 5:30 and headed out to Putucusi. We walked down the train tracks until we came upon a Peruvian woman walking. We asked her where the trail started and she pointed up the train tracks and to the right. She told us to be careful and to make sure we had enough water. We got to where the trail started but there were logs across the trail with a sign telling us not to enter because the trail had been washed out by the floods. We were determined to climb it so we jumped over the barrier and headed off up the mountain. For the first 10 minutes or so we were walking up stone stairs that must have been there for hundreds of years. They were falling apart slightly but we couldn’t figure out why the trail had been closed. As we came around a sharp curve we quickly had our answer.
We were at the foot of a 200 yard cliff that was between a 70-80 degree incline. There had been a series of wooden ladders and a thick metal wire that had been built for the to enable people to climb the cliff. In the recent rainy season however, the rains had almost completely washed out the ladders and the metal wire that had been secured to the rocks. At the foot of the cliff was a ten-foot high pile of mud, trees, and debris that had been washed out. Looking at each other and smiling, we started our assent. This was a climb you wouldn’t want your mother to see you doing (sorry mom). In normal circumstances it would have been scary, but in its present condition, it was down right frightening. Brady didn’t give me a chance to protest as he jumped on the wire and started making his way up the cliff. I waited for him to get to the top so I wouldn’t be knocked off the wall by the sticks and rocks that were falling down behind him. Not really having any other choice, and also really wanting to see the view from the top of the mountain, I grabbed the wire and started climbing. I’ll post pictures here but I doubt they will show the severity of the climb, and I hope they don’t show the severity of my facial expressions.
When I got to the top I grabbed on to a secure tree and looked down at what we had just climbed. I secretly hoped that we would be able to find a different way down (3 hours later however, I found myself quite disappointed. Brady shot a video of my descent which I’ll post here). For the rest of the hike up the mountain we had amazing views of the river running below us and the mountains rising around us. When we were nearing the top we stopped to take a rest. The high altitude (almost 8,000 feet) and warm weather were slowing us down. As we sat on a rock sipping some water and catching our breath, a Peruvian hiker in jeans and rubber sandals startled us. He waved hola as he cruised past. We on the other hand had our hiking shoes, camel packs, and food. This made us aware of the fact that we were indeed foreigners in this country. Fortunately, because Peruvians are so friendly, we are welcomed warmly everywhere we go, even on the top of a mountain among sacred ruins.
After this hike we went back to town, re-upped on water, and headed back out. This time we were in search of a waterfall we had heard about. The previous night at dinner our waiter had described a waterfall that was surrounded by orchids, sugar cane, and banana trees. We found the trailhead relatively easily. When we got to the waterfall Brady and I jumped in the pool beneath it to clean away the day’s hard work. Our short trip to Cusco was coming to an end and swimming in the river was a great way to finish it.
The following day was the first day that the transportation strike was going to be over and train would be running again. Brady, having more sense than me, bought a ticket. For some crazy reason I thought it would be a great idea to hike the 29 kilometers (17 miles) to the closest town. I woke up at 6am and hit the trail.
Along the hike I was passed by numerous trains and by Peruvian porters jogging the distance to transport goods. For about a mile starting at mile marker 10, right when my feet and hamstrings started aching, I wished that I would have had the good sense of Brady and had bought a ticket. Gratefully this passed quickly and I was able to enjoy the hike. When this TEM Lab finishes I’ll be moving to San Francisco to start a new life. I spent the 6 hours of my hike planning out my move and setting goals.
We spent the night in Cusco and flew back out to Lima in the morning. We are now in our last week of our project and we are putting together our presentation and doing some final interviews. We had planned our first 4 weeks to be able to make this trip to Machu Picchu. It took some extra work but it was more than worth it. It’s a trip that won’t soon be forgotten.
I had a fear when I started applying to business school that I would be forced to put away my surfboards, and dust off the golf clubs that have been lying in the corner for years. You don’t usually here about someone getting promoted because of that good surf spot they told their boss about. I knew that when I decided to go to Thunderbird that I could be making a huge sacrifice by moving to the middle of the desert.
Throughout the past few decades, surfers have often not been synonymous with those who aspire for success, but the demographics of the sport are continuing to change. Many of the hippies that made surfing synonymous with slacking off eventually grew up, but still found ways to get down to the beach. Nowadays, it isn’t uncommon in places like Southern California to see people getting out of the water in the morning to run off to the office, and you may not be the only one with a surfboard atop your car in the parking lot.
My aforementioned fear was temporarily subdued this past weekend when I got the chance to jump in the water with a T-Bird here in Lima, Carlos Neuhaus. A 1974 Thunderbird graduate and a Lima local, Carlos has seen recent success with the development of the Mega Plaza mall located in the Northern part of the city. Although he experienced a lot of resistance to the initial idea of building a mall in Lima, Mega Plaza has seen enormous success since opening in the fall of 2002, and thus proven that the mall concept can work here in Peru. Carlos is also currently the president of Ingeniera e Inmuebles Corporativa S.A, is the director of Banco de Trabajo, and holds other various executive director positions. In addition, he’s one of the people who initiated Thunderbird’s involvement with women entrepreneurs here in Peru. Although his busy schedule keeps him from getting in the water every day, Carlos still finds time to get in the water as much as he can.
Carlos took me over to the Waikiki Surf Club on Sunday to show me around. The private club is located right on the water along the small highway that runs along the beaches. Inside, he showed me the vast amount of memorabilia the club had amassed since its inception in the late 1940’s. Surf legends I have only seen in surf films have passed through the Waikiki Club’s doors for decades, and it was remarkable to see how they left their mark throughout history here in Miraflores. It was also clear that beyond being a surf club, it was also a great place to network with people who share the same hobby. I was able to meet a few of the other members who were happy to talk with me a little about their backgrounds, but mostly about surfing. It’s funny that no matter what age you are, people still talk about surfing as if they just started doing it last week. That seems to be a similar attribute of surfers from surfers I’ve met around the world.
After a solid two hour session, I got out of the water tired and sore from constantly paddling through set after set. Though my body was exhausted, my mind felt refreshed from finally being able to surf again as the surf in Glendale is…non-existent. Carlos and I may be separated by a few decades, but that certainly was not evident when we were both out there. In fact, I’m pretty sure he caught more waves than I did. Afterwards, he drove me through the areas of Barranco and Chorrillos to point out other breaks that I may enjoy should I find the time to paddle out there as well. With the high quality of the waves mixed with the low quantity of people in the water, this probably wasn’t what I needed to see as we push into the home stretch of our project.
So it looks like the fear of trading in my surfboard can delay itself for a little while. In fact, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal last week that talked about the growing number of executives taking up surfing as a hobby. I also highly recommend the book by Yvon Chouinard Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman, which discusses Patagonia’s evolution, its rapid success, and the philosophies of its founder. It’s nice to see that networking activities aren’t confined to the golf course, and just because you strive for success doesn’t mean you can’t catch a few waves every once and a while.
As you walk the vibrant market streets of Peru, the smell of fresh fish, fried yucca and plantain banana are the typical aromas that you will encounter. Although men are present in the market place and in many businesses, you will find that most of the businesses and small enterprises are in fact, owned by women.
Our TEM Lab assignment has been to identify successful women entrepreneurs in Peru and understand what makes them tick. We have gained insightful knowledge in the three weeks we have been here just by observing and talking with many different women business owners. Our time is limited, so we take advantage of every business hour during the day to encounter the ‘mujer empresaria’ or small business owner to understand her motivation and personal characteristics.
In our many interviews and multiple conversations, we have found one common theme among the successful women… they all have children. The love a mother has for her children is indescribable. In Peru you can see this love in their faces and hear it in their voices when they describe why they wake up so early every morning to set up their shop in the market, or why they travel three to four hours per week to buy fruit and vegetables to sell in the streets. It is a common motivation for all women in creating a successful business.
I spoke with Marisol, a woman entrepreneur who owns two small breakfast shops in the area of Santa Anita, Lima, Peru. In the last eight years, Marisol has grown her business from a small street cart to two small restaurants. Before she began her business, she found herself alone after her husband had left, without work and with two small children to feed. She was in need of a change. To earn the money she needed, Marisol began fixing breakfast for her friends and neighbors. Before long she found her niche, rich and flavorful cooking that many enjoyed.
Beginning with a microcredit loan of only $180, Marisol was able to buy the ingredients and supplies that she needed to provide breakfast for her clients on a daily basis. Marisol commented in the interview that when she would wake up at 4 a.m. and kiss her children on the cheek as she left for the market, she knew that it was for them that she could work harder every day. Today Marisol owns two of the most popular breakfast shops in town and has nine employees. She is able to provide enough for her children to attend a private school in downtown Lima. When I asked what gave her the motivation to grow her business to the size it is today, she simply stated, “for my children”.
We have interviewed many women entrepreneurs all in different industries with different talents. From restaurateurs to clothing distributors to transportation companies to poultry distributors all have a strong motivation to succeed not just for themselves but also for their children.
Having arrived in Iquitos (the main staging ground for trips into the Peruvian Amazon) the previous night, by the time morning came we were ready to get going. Like he promised the previous night when dropping us off from the airport, Carlos came by to pick us up at ‘nueve en punto’ (9 on the dot). What we were starting to learn about the Amazon is that 9 on the dot can mean anywhere from 9-10:30. In this case it was about 9:30. All of us having lived in Latin America before were accustomed to the Latin stretchable time. What was particularly interesting about Amazonian stretchable time was you’d be told 9 on the dot, while sitting around for something to happen you’d ask:
- What time is it now?
- Oh OK, so what time are we leaving?
- 9 on the dot
This laid back style was a nice change from the fixed time oriented culture of the US. It definitely helps you to get into the relaxed way of life of the Amazons. For a 3-4 day relaxing trip it’s great, but I can imagine the frustration of running a business on Amazonian time.
Anyway… we were there for 1 reason and 1 reason only: to experience the Amazons and everything they had to offer.
Carlos drove us the 20 minutes to the pier where we changed our mode of transportation and headed down river with a 250 hp outboard engine on a long, 10 seater boat. The river of our embarkation was the Morman river (no relations to Joseph Smith). At approximately a half mile from shore to shore, it’s a fairly wide river. After about an hour ride, the Morman fed into the Amazon–we had officially made it!
One of the things that stood out in my mind about this trip as a whole, was that the Amazon River, and with it the jungle, is in a state of constant change. Large chunks of semi-aquatic land were constantly breaking off from the banks and floating down stream. The difference in depths of the river between the rainy and dry season is sometimes upwards of 20 feet. I’m sure that if we were to some back in the height of the rainy season we would hardly recognize where we were. But I guess that is one of the great things about the Amazon, every time you go will be a new experience.
Compared to the black waters of the Morman, the Amazon is a mud brown color. We continued on the Amazon for another hour or so before we landed at Heliconia Lodge, named after the ever present tropical flower (often confused with birds of paradise). The lodge was situated about 100 yards back from the water’s edge and it would have made the Swiss Family Robinson proud of its construction. The whole place, from the house of hammocks, to the rooms, pool, and dinning room were up on stilts to protect from the possible overflowing river.
Over the next 3 days we did a lot of relaxing, eating great food, and exploring the jungle. We’d head out on the river a few times a day to go Piranha fishing, explore the small inlets in canoes, or to search for the ever-elusive pink dolphins. At night we would take a cruise to see the sun set and watch the moon and the stars come out. On the second to last night we saw some of the most amazing stars that any of us had ever seen. The longer we stayed out on the water the brighter it grew. As we floated down river, under the brightening night sky, we decided we had probably made the right decision to come down to Peru.
This past week we finally got to go out to different markets in the Lima area, and see what Mibanco and the realm of microfinance is all about in Peru. Rob and I traveled over an hour and a half to the community of Huaycan, an area located in the district of Ate in Northeast Lima. We immediately realized that we were in a completely different environment than Miraflores, and that we were in a part of Lima that would be crucial to experience to get a better feel for the environment that microfinance customers operate within. A sea of motor cycles and moto-taxis zipped through the streets with shops and vendors lined up alongside, all of which contributed to the community’s vibrant feel.
We were well received at the Mibanco branch in Huaycan, and were quickly introduced to the 15 loan officers that worked in the community. We each split off with a different loan officer to accompany them on their routes where they planned to check on current clients, speak with potential customers as well as those customers who were having trouble with their payments. I accompanied my loan officer, Veronica, to various points of the city to speak with some of her clients. I noticed that their were many people selling various things all down the street
Throughout the many conversations that took place that day, I spoke with one woman who sold clothing, and had grown her business to the point where she had numerous locations set up around town. One location was run by one of her sons who had learned to run that part of business over the past few years. The other office, however, was closed because there was nobody there to run it. When I asked her why she couldn’t just hire someone else to run that part of the business for her, she replied that they would most likely just steal from her. It was interesting to see this form of distrust that had seemingly embedded itself within the community, and further demonstrated just how important the family unit is for the sustainability of some of these businesses.
When we returned to the Mibanco branch later on that day, there were a lot more people than had been there that morning, including some of the clients we had visited a few hours before. It has been clear to me that Mibanco is one of the leading microfinance institutions in Latin America, and seeing how the building had sprung to life throughout the day really drove that point home. I saw how Mibanco was tied in with the Huaycan community, and how important its services are to so many people. I was sure that this same scene was taking place all throughout Lima’s various districts, and that today was just a small view into what we will get to see for our remaining time here.
As we enter our third week of the project, we have become quite familiar with the city and understand the nuances of traveling within it. City life is one of congestion; hoards of people filling the streets and deadlocked traffic at all hours of the day. Although Lima has begun to develop its public transit infrastructure, it will be a while before the Limeños decrease their reliance on the over abundance of taxis. So, like the masses, we have incorporated the taxi experience into our daily routine. Approaching an intersection is like a big game of chicken, and whoever honks their horn first, receives the right of way. Here, the horn is such an essential component of the automobile that without it, the vehicle would be rendered useless. Just like if you tie an Italian’s hands behind his back he will be unable to speak (I’m of Italian descent btw), take away a Peruvian’s horn, and he will be unable to drive. However, weaving amongst the traffic and feverishly changing lanes, I had an incredible thought; Peruvians are actually quite amazing drivers – always alert, always creative, and always knowing the exact dimensions of their vehicle.
Perhaps the most impressive part of our assimilation has been our ability to negotiate. Taxis do not have meters here rather all fares are negotiable. Although we started off probably overpaying, I’m confident that we are now getting much better fares. One learns very quickly that everything in Latin America is negotiable, it is a way of life and perhaps it is even more efficient than methods in the US. No one is offended if you offer less for a product or service, just as no one is offended if the transaction does not happen. Having taken Prof. Denis Leclerc’s Global Negotiations class, I know my strengths, weaknesses, and different tactics to attack a negotiation. However, negotiating a fare at the side of the road with cars whizzing by, definitely can be challenging. Personally, I have fun with it and use this as just another experience to hone my negotiation skills. So, if you can get a taxi for 5 Soles instead of 10, then you’re on your way to eliminating the “Gringo” tax that we so often have to pay!
Today microfinance is growing more in Latin America than any other part of the world. With 1.8 million microcredit borrowers and over $1.8 billion of outstanding loans in 2009, Peru is leading the way. The microfinance industry in Peru is also seen as the most diversified in the world. Over 200 microfinance lenders approve loans to micro enterprises everyday accounting for 11% of the total financial system credit to the private sector (Source: The Mustard Tree, A History of Microfinance in Peru). The three top institutions hold 38% market share with Mibanco, Banco de la Microempresa, S.A. ranked number one.
To begin our project, we identified individuals who would best help our efforts in obtaining the information needed to deliver a valuable finished product. As Dr. Michael Finney teaches in the Consulting Tools Practicum Course at Thunderbird, horizontal relationships are a useful tool in reaching the necessary stakeholders and gathering valuable information. A consultant does not have a specified position within the hierarchy of the organization; his relationships are “horizontal” and not “vertical”. Therefore, reaching out to the necessary individuals that can help along the way is the best route to take in order to get things done and get things done right.
To understand microfinance in Peru, we had to understand first, Mibanco, Peru’s leading microfinance organization. As a consulting team, we thought who couldn’t better explain microfinance and business in Peru than the CEO himself, Rafael Llosa. Rafael Llosa was appointed CEO of Mibanco in January of 2004 and has led the organization to astonishing success. We also identified a U.S. based clothing company, Peruvian Connection, and its head of South American operations, Rodrigo Bustamante. Peruvian Connection is a luxury-clothing designer of men’s and women’s alpaca and pima cotton sweaters and other fine clothing. The company sources 90% of its textiles and supplies from Peru and has five retail locations in the U.S. and England. Many of Peruvian Connection’s suppliers are women micro entrepreneurs.
We made contact with Mr. Bustamante and were invited to have lunch with both he and Mr. Llosa at the Lima Golf Club. The afternoon was cool and quiet, we were asked to sign in as we walked into the marble tiled lobby overlooking the first tee. The Lima Golf Club is one of the most pristine locations for both casual and professional business meetings. Rodrigo welcomed us with open arms and treated us as if we were family. Rodrigo and I share a common connection back in Salt Lake City, which only added to our already intriguing conversation. Mr. Llosa soon arrived and we all made our formal introductions. He was happy to be with us and in fact mentioned that he felt lucky to be in the presence of Thunderbird MBA’s.
Over a refreshing meal of fresh seafood, we discussed microfinance in Peru. Rafael explained that Mibanco is expanding rapidly and how new loans are being created regularly. He was excited to speak of how our project together with Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 women program will bring significant value to the organization, but more importantly to the development of the many women entrepreneurs in Peru. We briefly described our plan of determining the threshold of success for women entrepreneurs. Also, how both psychosocial and environmental aspects of an individual’s life may contribute to their success and business progression. Both Rafael and Rodrigo were impressed with our approach and gave us plenty of their own ideas.
We finished our meal over typical Peruvian desserts with the commitment to stay in touch regarding our progress. By the end of the meal, the business lunch became friendly and casual. We were all laughing and enjoying one another’s company as if we were all good friends. Rafael gave us his thanks and “despedida” (good bye) as he walked out the door to his next meeting with a group of Nicaraguan diplomats to discuss microfinance and MiBanco’s business model.
We were able to discuss compelling topics of microfinance with the CEO of the largest microfinance organization in Peru and the head of operations for Peruvian sourcing of a large clothing company. All in all it was a great day to be in Peru and a great day to be working as a consultant…. the one thing we could have gone for following lunch would have been a 1:46 p.m. tee time… but then again there’s always next week.
It is not very often that you have the opportunity to celebrate your birthday in a foreign and exotic location. The Peru TemLab Group had escaped to the Amazon River, in the province of Loreto, for the weekend. Our group was keenly aware that one of its team members, Brady Johnson, was celebrating his 30th birthday during our stay. Once we were established at the Heliconia Resort, which is an hour and a half boat ride from the city of Iquitos and located on the banks of the Amazon River, we began plotting our surprise birthday party. As we brainstormed for ideas as to how it would be best to pull this surprise party off, our tour guide Ricardo mentioned taking the Heliconia Resort’s rustic wooden cruise ship called “the Spirit of the Amazon” out at night. All of us immediately agreed that this was the best idea, and we finalized the plans with Ricardo to ensure that a cake and the Resort’s music man (Freddy) would be smuggled on board and hidden until the right moment. During the day of Brady’s birthday we went out on a grueling four-hour hike into the jungle and played an intense soccer match against the locals. We were all physically exhausted but when the sun set, and as we made our way to the boat, we were all gripped by nervous excitement. We boarded the boat and began chugging upstream at a leisurely pace. After 15 minutes, the Captain of the boat expertly nestled the boat into a sandbar and turned the motor off. Ricardo winked at me notifying that it was time to launch the birthday party. I told the group that Ricardo wanted everyone in the main cabin. Brady, still having no idea that the boat ride was a cover to celebrate his birthday, settled into a chair. As the TemLab group crowded around Brady, we sprung the surprise birthday celebration. In true Peruvian fashion, each member of the group took turns expressing some heartfelt words to Brady about their friendship. On cue, after the last speaker, the birthday cake was rolled in, and the music man Freddy, with guitar in hand, appeared playing “Happy Birthday”. We sung “La Bamba” and “Cancion Del Mariachi” at the top of our lungs, waking up half the inhabitants of the Amazon.” After the fact, we all agreed, as the current pulled the boat from the sandbar and began pushing it at a fast clip, that it was a hell of a way to celebrate a birthday.
I’ve always heard about chance encounters on airplanes yet in all of my flights I have never had one. That all changed on our flight to Lima from the states. As we were storing our bags above our seats I struck up a conversation with the guy sitting in front of me. He asked me how long I was going to Peru for and I responded that the five of us were going down for 5 weeks. He then asked how long we were staying in Lima. When I responded that we were going to be staying in Lima for the whole trip he gave me a look of disbelief: most people fly to Peru and then use Lima as a staging ground to take trips all around the country.
Not wanting to get into to much detail I just said that we were doing a consulting project for Mibanco, the largest micro-finance bank in the Peru. As it turned out, the guy I was talking to, Jeff Levine, works for USAID and has been doing micro-finance in Latin America and Africa for the last 15 years. At hearing this I mentioned to him that “we are doing our consulting job as a kind of “cap-stone” course in finishing up our MBAs at Thunderbird School of Global Management.”
“Thunderbird… I’ve never heard of it” Jeff responded with a smirk. I smiled back not knowing where he was going with this.
“I know Thunderbird real well, it’s hard to work for USAID, and micro-finance in particular, without knowing about Thunderbird. Everywhere I go and every job I take all over the globe I run into T-birds.”
Jeff gave me his card and told me to contact him when once I was settled in Lima so he could introduce me to some people that could help in our project. Having a great ability to sleep on planes, as soon as we took off I passed out for the duration of the flight. Rob however, continued the conversation with Jeff sporadically throughout the flight.
When we got to our apartment in Lima I wrote Jeff an email and set up an appointment at the US embassy for this past Thursday. Because our group is so large, we try to split up when we go to meetings so we don’t overwhelm who we are meeting with. Brady, Mike, and Rob had gone to a meeting the day before with the President of Mibanco at the Lima Country Club so Alex and I took this meeting.
The meeting turned out to be a huge success. The embassy is about 25 minutes from our apartment and it takes up about a city block. Jeff had set up the meeting with himself and Eduardo Albareda, who he called the “god father of micro-finance in Peru”. We had just finished reading a book about micro finance in Peru where Sr. Albareda was cited numerous times. Jeff and Eduardo were amazing in the help they provided us. Alex did a great job explaining the intricacies of our project and in general the research we wanted to conduct and how we wanted to do it. Our goal for the meeting was to have them put us in contact with people who could introduce us to successful women entrepreneurs who we could interview. Jeff and Eduardo listed off about 6 different organizations in Peru who we could contact and then said they would put us in contact with top people in these organizations.
The first introduction was made by Jeff to Colleen Dyble, who works for ECLOF-Peru, an NGO micro-finance institution. Her response to his introduction email was surprising, but something that as Thunderbird students (soon to be alumni) we are getting used to: “I would be delighted to be put in touch with them Jeff! I heard about the program a few months ago and I have been wanting to get in touch with them.” We’ve always heard that Thunderbird has an amazing network and we are starting to see it in action first hand. Colleen is not a T-bird but she has numerous friends that are and they had sent her the T-bird newsletter about the TEM Lab program in Peru.
One of the things that is turning out to be so interesting about this project is how every conversation that we have leads us to another person who is more than willing to help us out. The people we have been coming in contact with here in Peru, both Americans and Peruvians, are all extremely friendly, and for the most part, very willing to help us out in our project. Seeing the T-bird network in action is also exciting. Everyone always says that one of the best things about going to Thunderbird is not necessarily what you get from the classes (which for the most part has been great) but it is the network of successful, interesting, and talented people that you leave with upon graduation or that have graduated before you.