Pedro Tornero, Costina Barbu and Katharina Wolf at FUNBODEMPedro Tornero, Costina Barbu and Katharina Wolf found themselves standing outside an office building in the most populous city in Bolivia, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, on a February morning. There was no one in sight. After waiting anxiously for a few minutes, a security guard  appeared from behind the building, rushed over to them and led them to a back entrance. Pedro, Costina and Katharina followed and a few minutes later, these volunteers from Deutsche Bank (DB) were greeted by the entire management team and board of FUNBODEM, a microfinance institution and network member of Women’s World Banking.

The volunteers were in Bolivia as part of DB’s Corporate Community Partnership (CCP) Program, a volunteer program aimed at providing employees an opportunity to use their skills to support a DB partner organization in a meaningful way. The program also helps foster employees’ management and leadership skills while broadening their horizon through the international experience. Given Women’s World Banking’s long relationship with DB, we were honored to facilitate Pedro, Costina and Katharina’s engagement with FUNBODEM.  This is the eighth time over the last six years that DB employees have volunteers to work work with a Women’s World Banking Network member.

The partner and the project

La Fundación Boliviana para el Desarrollo de la Mujer (The Bolivian Foundation for the Advancement of Women) or FUNBODEM is a small microfinance institution in Bolivia that serves 8,500 clients. It was founded in 1987 by a group of women that wanted to give low-income Bolivian women access to funding. FUNBODEM has continued to provide this critical service to Bolivian women with the support of various international, national and regional players, who all believe that women can play an important role in achieving economic change by creating profitable businesses and generating employment.

For the past few years, FUNBODEM has been in need of improving their management information systems, particularly those involved in social and financial risk reporting. When DB approached Women’s World Banking for a project idea for the 2014 CCP program, we knew that DB’s contribution would harness the skills of their employees while supporting FUNBODEM’s needs.

The process

The three volunteers flew to Bolivia in February for a two week onsite engagement with FUNBODEM. On that first day they met the whole management team and conducted in-depth interviews with the general manager and the managers of sales, IT and operations. They also met the board of directors who asked the team to look into improving their credit scoring process to improve loan performance and to find ways to report on the institution’s social impact.

Over the course of two weeks, the DB team conducted benchmarking research for the microfinance industry, interviewed management and staff, met with clients, analysed existing company tools and processes and conducted a comprehensive performance analysis of the entire institution. Through these activities, the team was able to understand company operations and detect areas for improvement while gaining insight into the importance of microfinance in stimulating entrepreneurship and alleviating poverty. They also experienced Bolivian hospitality first-hand.

Through the project, the three experienced bankers gleaned important insights about the elements necessary for any organization to be successful, lessons that apply equally to big and small organizations whether it is DB or FUNBODEM. Some lessons they cited include the importance of having clear planning and control mechanisms, effective data and knowledge management, formal escalation processes and incident management and of course clear communication to successfully implement all of the above. In addition, they saw how critical team building and training are, especially for organizations with a social mission.

The product

At the end of the trip, the team gave a detailed presentation to the FUNBODEM executive board and management about their key findings and recommendations. They provided management with a flexible and easy-to-use tool-kit for decision making and monitoring of the organization. They also suggested a new credit scoring model to enhance current process, as requested by the board. The managers and the board expressed their appreciation and willingness to adapt their suggestions… rewarding feedback for a group of volunteers who but two weeks ago were strangers to the organization.

Despite the short project duration and pressure to deliver in such a tight timeframe, all three DB volunteers expressed how “very insightful and interesting” the project was for them. Their success demonstrated good team dynamics and was a shining example of an effective, diverse team (all three come from different backgrounds) working in a culturally different and challenging environment. This project was the first time any of the team members interacted with Bolivian culture, so the language, traditions, professional setting, weather and food was all very new to them. Women’s World Banking and FUNBODEM are thrilled to have hosted Pedro, Costina and Katharina who have truly contributed so meaningfully to our mission of advancing financial inclusion for low-income women worldwide.