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.