Summer intern Melisa spoke with Gil Lacson, Manager at the Network Engagement Team, to understand how the Fellowship Program at Women’s World Banking works. They also talked about his experience working at the organization for over 14 years.
G: I come from the Philippines, where I used to work with microfinance institutions (MFIs) on the ground. I am a practitioner. I was in microfinance for eight years before coming to New York in 1999, and I’ve been working with Women’s World Banking for 14 years now.
M: How did you find your way to Women’s World Banking?
G: I was attending a microfinance conference in Indonesia sponsored by Women’s World Banking when I met the former president, Nancy Barry. At that time Women’s World Banking was expanding, getting people from different places around the world and she invited me to join.
M: Have you worked in gender issues before? Or this was your first time?
G: In the sense that I’d been in microfinance for eight years prior to Women’s World Banking, you can say I’ve been working in the gender space that entire time but I’m not a gender expert. Technically, I’m a microfinance person.
M: I see. And do you have any specific position toward economic empowerment of women?
G: Coming from a developing country like the Philippines, where poverty is at the level of probably 30 to 40%, depending on where you are getting your statistics from, there is role for microfinance in developing not just individual entrepreneurs but in nation building. I see microfinance as part of nation building, and part of it is of course, women empowerment. The fact is that 50% of any population is composed of women, and women are underserved in all of these contexts. Definitely if you do microfinance, you do women empowerment whether that is your intention or not.
M: Now, you work with Network Engagement. This is an essential foundation of Women’s World Banking. What do you like the most about your work? What is the most challenging part?
G: Coming from the field, I of course have a special attraction to the field, so therefore working directly with network members, either through emails or actually being on the ground with them is the most attractive part of my work. In Network Engagement, the biggest task is precisely to work with our network members and to find opportunities for Women’s World Banking to add value to the members, and vice versa, network members adding value to the network and each other.
M: What is the most positive characteristic that you have found in the organization so far?
G: It’s the commitment of all those who come to Women’s World Banking and work here. They don’t work here just for the pay. There is a sense of commitment to change the world through either microfinance or women’s empowerment or through both. That level of commitment, I can see it whether they have been here for a short or long time, and that is something impressive about the organization. That level of commitment translates to hard-working people.
M: Definitely. What do you think are the benefits of Fellowship program to Women’s World Banking?
G: The Fellowship Program is designed to benefit Women’s World Banking so that we get the expertise of the Fellows. But at the same time, unlike regular employment, in the case of the Fellowship, there is very clear objective that the Fellow should learn during the assignment. So it works both ways, she contributes while she is learning in the process.
M: Wonderful. What do you think of the collaboration of past Fellows with the Network Engagement’s team work?
G: Yes, I worked with Ramatolie (Class of 2012) in the field, when she was assigned to Market Research; we were together in Egypt. And I also worked with Ines (Class of 2012), when she was assigned to Network Engagement. There is a lot of collaboration among teams at Women’s World Banking in general, and that is how you’re able to do your work. In the case of Ramatolie, when we were in the field she was contributing to the work by doing market research very well with Anjali (Banthia, Specialist, Research). I was involved with the diagnostics part of it, so we exchanged ideas. I participated in one of the research workshops/focus groups that they did, so there was a lot of collaboration. In the case of Ines, she had a specific project on performance standards and the profiles of the network members. Being in Women’s World Banking for 14 years, I have more institutional memory so there was a lot of exchange of different facts. And now Sandy (Class of 2013) is assigned to us at Network Engagement.
M: What special qualities do you bring to the organization?
G: One of them would be the experience in the ground. If you notice, Women’s World Banking is a diverse group, you have bankers, you have intelligent people out of graduate school, analysts, and you have practitioners. I guess I bring that aspect of being a practitioner coming from a developing country, I bring a different perspective from someone that grew up in the Western World; also being a man, in the Women’s World Banking context; and essentially, the years of experience, I’m 55 years old (laughs).
M: Being a practitioner and working in the field for such a long time, would you like to share with us any particular or special experience that you had during these years working on the ground?
G: I was doing a Group Recognition Test (GRT – part of the Grameen methodology) of a group of low-income mothers in one of their homes. The house had no floors and you stepped on earth or soil inside the house. The mother who lived in the house had a dog and a toddler running around the house. At some point, the toddler had to do his thing and the mother excused herself and scooped some soil to cover you know what. And it crystallized for me how dehumanizing poverty is – where there is no difference between your dog and your child. And except for the grace of God, that could have been my kid. That experience reaffirmed me in my career choice and purpose.