Wednesday, July 11, 2007

More than a Name or Number

Part of my work across the summer has been to create client profiles. It is an incredible part of my job - I love doing it. I create these profiles both for HOPE International and for Nadezhda's partnership with Kiva that began last December. Essentially, I take information about the client's business, experiences, goals, ambitions, and needs - as well as the personal and professional changes they have experienced from working with Nadezhda - to write a paragraph or two: their 'story'. These profiles are shared with other clients, with staff, and with supporters of Nadezhda. They are a source of inspiration and encouragement and more importantly, create true human connections across a couple of kilometers (between clients, staff, and other clients) or across thousands of miles (between clients and supporters).

I've heard client profiles criticized and critiqued by many in the development field. Some critics are fully convinced that they rob clients of their dignity, or that they take advantage of their 'client status' to advance certain organizational goals. I have to say that after the past eight weeks, and especially after today, I could not disagree more - nor could I be more frustrated with critiques that are generalized to all organizations that create and use profiles. What I have experienced in my work is quite the opposite. These profiles empower clients. They move them beyond a name or a number to a PERSON who can communicate their hopes, their dreams, their ambitions - and how their hard work has been rewarded through personal successes. These women are eager to share their stories and to answer questions - they love having their picture taken and knowing that their story will be shared with others.

I do not disagree that some organizations misuse profiles. Corrupt NGO's are everywhere, and there is truly reason to be suspicious of the non-profit field that has more than doubled in the past five years. But I know from personal experience, work, and witness that HOPE is not one of those organizations. The truth of the matter is that for most people, caring enough about those in poverty half a world away requires more than statistics on poverty or even a name. It requires a human connection - a face to put with the name and images of true conditions these people live under. HOPE uses profiles solely to empower clients and to create that human connection. With stewardship of resources as one of the organization's four major pillars, their financial transparency reveals that these efforts are truly for the benefit of clients. For that reason, I feel privilege to daily be a part of this work.

Beyond the time I spent in the market with the women today, I continued with my work on surveys and with learning the more in depth processes of Nadezhda's microfinance program. I feel like I have asked a million questions already this summer - and yet I've only scratched the surface. Nadezhda is so incredibly unique in how they have merged traditional group based microfinance with individualized components to meet the needs of the local communities. No amount of reading or study could have ever taught me the things I am learning here - this is the benefit of experience based learning. At times, separation from my husband and family has been incredibly challenging. But days like today remind me that had Travis and I not responded to this opportunity as we did, we could never have learned the things we now know.

No comments: