Summer intern Melisa recently sat down with Liannette Perez and talked about her experience at Women’s World Banking, first as Compliance Associate, then as a Fellow. Fellows rotate through four departments of the organization over a two year period.
M: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What is your background?
L: Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be involved in social justice but through my international travels I particularly became interested in focusing on financial inclusion of low-income communities. I graduated from Wellesley College with a Political Science degree with a concentration in Economic Development. Before joining Women’s World Banking, I worked at Hispanics in Philanthropy and then at the Center for Court Innovation. During that time, I simultaneously got involved in microfinance and financial inclusion work by volunteering with Opportunity International as their Media & Communications Chair of the Young Ambassadors for Opportunity NY Chapter, and I also taught financial literacy classes to Spanish speaking immigrants with Qualitas of Life Foundation.
Q: What drew you to microfinance?
A: I have learned that working hard and dreaming big are important components of success, but having the tools to be self-sufficient are often lacking, particularly in marginalized communities. Although I studied political and economic development concepts and theories, it was not until I traveled miles away from my home that I began to truly understand the complexity of creating long term solutions to poverty alleviation. These experiences sparked my interest in microfinance. In microfinance I found a platform, through which I could help provide economic opportunities that can empower people living in poverty to envision a new reality for their lives.
M: So, how did you find your way to Women’s World Banking?
L: I researched organizations like Women’s World Banking to learn about the work that was being done in this field. When they had a job opportunity in the Finance Department I applied, and here I am.
M: Excellent. So, you applied to the Fellowship program looking for a new experience? What are you expecting for the next two years?
L: Through this Fellowship program I hope to gain a firsthand experience and understanding of what Women’s World Banking does in the field. While working in compliance, I was able to have a bird’s eye view of what the organization does as a whole; but I ultimately wanted to transition into more of the on-the-ground work my colleagues were doing. During this time, I was also able to travel to Lebanon to conduct due diligence on Al Majmoua because of my involvement in the grant management and compliance. After having this experience, I knew I wanted to do more. I talked to my then-supervisor about this experience and he supported my decision to transition into another role by applying to the Fellowship.
M: Sounds great. Please tell me more about this trip to Lebanon.
L: In 2011, we received a grant from the Kuwait-America Foundation (KAF) for financial empowerment of citizens in Arab countries. KAF provided us with the resources to manage a grant that would allow three microfinance institutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Lebanon to provide more loans specifically to low-income women. enda inter-arabe (Tunisia) and Lead Foundation (Egypt) were network members and so there was no denying their alignment with our mission and that of KAF; however, KAF was also interested in Women’s World Banking working in Lebanon. In order to invest in Lebanon where we did not have a network member, we had to conduct due diligence to ensure the institution’s capacity and mission alignment with this project. We chose to partner with Al Majmoua given their positive reputation and interest in our network as they had participated in several leadership programs hosted by our Center for Microfinance Leadership. I worked with Gil (Lacson, Manager, Network Engagement) on preliminary research and conducting one-on-one interviews with the institution’s senior management staff, clients, and local competitors in Lebanon. Through the course of this trip Al Majmoua proved to be a well-established institution and leader in the Lebanese microfinance market. Given its alignment with our vision, mission, and values, Al Majmoua subsequently joined the Women’s World Banking network.
M: That sounds like an amazing experience.
L: Yes, it was a great experience! Plus, the food is great (laughs).
M: Your first rotation is with Women’s World Banking Asset Management. What are your projects and what responsibilities?
A: As Chief Investment Officer, CJ (Juhasz)’s responsibilities fall into three main categories: fundraising, sourcing and investing in institutions that are aligned with our financial and social mission, and the overall management of the fund through monthly and quarterly updates to the Limited Partners. I assist CJ with all these responsibilities.
Q: How do you feel about economic empowerment of women?
A: I went to an all-women’s college and obviously I am a woman, so gender equality is important to me! But I have also learned that women’s economic empowerment is not just a development issue, it is financially savvy to invest in women because of their multiplier effect. When you invest in a woman, she invests in her family and in her community. Investing in women is not just a social good; it is also a strategic way to obtain the best bang for your development bucks!
M: What do you think is the most positive characteristic of Women’s World Banking?
L: For me being here at such an early point in my career is very important because Women’s World Banking believes in opportunities, and having teachable moments that allows their younger employees to take leadership roles. This organization is also special because our diverse backgrounds have given us a culturally sensitive lens, which I think is very important for the work that we do. Women’s World Banking is great at working together with our network of institutions to further our joint missions.