Reflections of a Summer Intern

My name is Eric Miller and I had the pleasure of working with MABS this summer as I continue my business and public policy graduate studies at the University of Maryland, right outside of Washington, DC.  You may have heard from me over the past few months – I wrote a number of blog articles under the title “Guest Blogger”.  I wanted to share a few thoughts and reflections from this extraordinary experience.
I never heard of microfinance before starting business school last year.  However, after attending numerous panel sessions and discussions on the topic, including a Muhammad Yunus speech, I began to believe in the power of credit in fighting poverty.  But I wanted to see it for myself.
The first week of my internship, I attended the RBAP annual convention and the MABS national roundtable.  What an introduction to microfinance in the Philippines!  One of the first important lessons that I learned during that week is that microfinance is not just about providing micro-loans to underserved entrepreneurs.  It is about including them in all aspects of financing – deposit services, insurance, housing loans, micro-agri loans and financial education.   Another fascinating part of the MABS program is the innovative technology it has introduced with the help of its partner companies.  For instance, GCash provides micro-entrepreneurs¬ with the ability to conduct their banking through mobile phones via SMS messages.  This service is truly expanding the bank’s microfinance services.  It is easier, cheaper and safer to make transactions using mobile technology.  Finally, I immediately was impressed by the supportive regulatory environment that the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas provides the microfinance industry, encouraging innovation and private sector involvement.
One of the true highlights of the summer was visiting Cantilan Bank for its 30th anniversary celebration.  I had the opportunity to go out in the field and meet clients who benefited from Cantilan’s microfinance services.  I met owners of pharmacies, sari-sari stores and pawnshops who provide cash-in/cash-out services, making remittance transactions cheaper and more secure.  I met housing microfinance clients who use micro-loans to build new homes or improve their existing homes, providing them with the confidence they need to develop as a small business owner.  I met a farmer who uses micro-agri loans to help her family expand its farming business.  This was truly an eye-opening experience, witnessing firsthand how so many are benefiting from the great work the bank is doing day-in and day-out.   Thank you Cantilan Bank for being such gracious hosts!
I also visited Bangko Kabayan, a rural bank in the province of Batangas.   We went to study how the bank has been so successful in their group lending program.  I visited two center meetings on Thursday and we discovered three keys to the success of Bangko Kabayan’s group lending program:  1) providing a demand-driven product, 2) developing a wide range of products in its portfolio, such as educational and medical emergency loans, and 3) the center fund, a pooled account that each member deposits into weekly, used for parties, field trips, business development training and other events that keep members interested, educated and active.  It was great to observe how microfinance is not only providing capital, but how it is empowering women and building communities.
I joined a team of MABS specialists down in Cebu for a group lending transition workshop.  Market research has consistently shown that the group lending product must be adjusted to the current needs of microfinance clients.  During the workshop, I had the opportunity to travel to two group lending meetings where the rural bankers had the opportunity to test out the market research skills they learned in the classroom.  Based on the interviews, we learned that the borrowers did not like the tapal system (or being liable for the loans of others).  Additionally, they thought the meetings were too long and they suggested that the bank offer them other financial products, such as insurance, education loans and the ability to access emergency loans.  My dear co-workers even allowed me to run a few sessions during the workshop.  It was a great experience all around.
Besides absorbing all of this rich knowledge of microfinance, my big project for the summer was compiling three years of training materials, presentations and other resources into an updated DVD toolkit.  And boy there has been a lot of activity since 2007.  I hope you find this toolkit useful.
I have had the opportunity to travel to many places across this remarkably beautiful country:  weekends at the beaches of Bohol and Boracay, a mountain adventure in the rice terraces and caves of Banaue and Sagada, and other trips to Clark, Subic, Cebu and Surigao.  I promise I will be one of the most vocal advocates of the Philippines and hope to convince my American friends to explore your country.
Muhammad Yunus once said that poverty is not a function of the person, but a function of the system.  I am not sure I could have truly appreciated the meaning of this quote if I hadn’t worked in the Philippines this summer and visited the hard-working micro-entrepreneurs throughout the countryside that were able to build their businesses because of inexpensive access to financial services.  We let poverty occur because we have this preconceived notion that poor people are not credit-worthy, that they are not responsible enough to bring them into the economy.  Poverty will never be eradicated if we continue to think this way.
What shocked me most when I first arrived at my apartment in Ermita was the amount of poverty on the streets.  Many Filipinos leave the provinces hoping to make a better life for their family in Manila, but just end up sleeping on the streets at night while overpopulating the city.   This is why it is so important to build up opportunities for micro-entrepreneurs in the countryside – to encourage Filipinos to stay in the provinces and make them believe that there is opportunity for a better life right where they live.  I applaud the success of the MABS program, the supportive regulatory environment of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and the 70 participating rural banks that have made the Philippines into a compelling case study of how microfinance can transform the lives of individuals from the small cities of the provinces to the most remote, underserved communities in the country.
John, Mely and the entire MABS Staff – thank you for this unforgettable experience and the opportunity to be a part of such an inspiring program.
Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!

My name is Eric Miller and I had the pleasure of working with the USAID-supported RBAP-MABS Program this summer as I continue my business and public policy graduate studies at the University of Maryland, right outside of Washington, DC.  You may have heard from me over the past few months – I wrote a number of blog articles under the title “Guest Blogger”.  I wanted to share a few thoughts and reflections from this extraordinary experience.

I never heard of microfinance before starting business school last year.  However, after attending numerous panel sessions and discussions on the topic, including a Muhammad Yunus speech, I began to believe in the power of credit in fighting poverty.  But I wanted to see it for myself.

MABS staffThe first week of my internship, I attended the RBAP annual convention and the MABS national roundtable.  What an introduction to microfinance in the Philippines!  One of the first important lessons that I learned during that week is that microfinance is not just about providing micro-loans to underserved entrepreneurs.  It is about including them in all aspects of financing – deposit services, insurance, housing loans, micro-agri loans and financial education.   Another fascinating part of USAID’s RBAP-MABS program is the innovative technology it has introduced with the help of its partner companies.  For instance, GCash provides micro-entrepreneurs¬ with the ability to conduct their banking through mobile phones via SMS messages.  This service is truly expanding the bank’s microfinance services.  It is easier, cheaper and safer to make transactions using mobile technology.  Finally, I immediately was impressed by the supportive regulatory environment that the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas provides the microfinance industry, encouraging innovation and private sector involvement.


Cantilan Bank Socorro BranchOne of the true highlights of the summer was visiting Cantilan Bank for its 30th anniversary celebration.  I had the opportunity to go out in the field and meet clients who benefited from Cantilan’s microfinance services.

I met owners of pharmacies, sari-sari stores and pawnshops who provide cash-in/cash-out services, making remittance transactions cheaper and more secure.  I met housing microfinance clients who use micro-loans to build new homes or improve their existing homes, providing them with the confidence they need to develop as a small business owner.  I met a farmer who uses micro-agri loans to help her family expand its farming business.

This was truly an eye-opening experience, witnessing firsthand how so many are benefiting from the great work the bank is doing day-in and day-out.   Thank you Cantilan Bank for being such gracious hosts!

Bangko Kabayan visitI also visited Bangko Kabayan, a rural bank in the province of Batangas.   We went to study how the bank has been so successful in their group lending program.  I visited two center meetings on Thursday and we discovered three keys to the success of Bangko Kabayan’s group lending program:  1) providing a demand-driven product, 2) developing a wide range of products in its portfolio, such as educational and medical emergency loans, and 3) the center fund, a pooled account that each member deposits into weekly, used for parties, field trips, business development training and other events that keep members interested, educated and active.  It was great to observe how microfinance is not only providing capital, but how it is empowering women and building communities.

I joined a team of MABS specialists down in Cebu for a group lending transition workshop.  Market research has consistently shown that the group lending product must be adjusted to the current needs of microfinance clients.  During the workshop, I had the opportunity to travel to two group lending meetings where the rural bankers had the opportunity to test out the market research skills they learned in the classroom.  Based on the interviews, we learned that the borrowers did not like the tapal system (or being liable for the loans of others).  Additionally, they thought the meetings were too long and they suggested that the bank offer them other financial products, such as insurance, education loans and the ability to access emergency loans.  My dear co-workers even allowed me to run a few sessions during the workshop.  It was a great experience all around.

Cebu workshop

Besides absorbing all of this rich knowledge of microfinance, my big project for the summer was compiling three years of training materials, presentations and other resources into an updated DVD toolkit.  And boy there has been a lot of activity since 2007.  I hope you find this toolkit useful.

TravelsI have had the opportunity to travel to many places across this remarkably beautiful country:  weekends at the beaches of Bohol and Boracay, a mountain adventure in the rice terraces and caves of Banaue and Sagada, and other trips to Clark, Subic, Cebu and Surigao.  I promise I will be one of the most vocal advocates of the Philippines and hope to convince my American friends to explore your country.

Muhammad Yunus once said that poverty is not a function of the person, but a function of the system.  I am not sure I could have truly appreciated the meaning of this quote if I hadn’t worked in the Philippines this summer and visited the hard-working micro-entrepreneurs throughout the countryside that were able to build their businesses because of inexpensive access to financial services.  We let poverty occur because we have this preconceived notion that poor people are not credit-worthy, that they are not responsible enough to bring them into the economy.  Poverty will never be eradicated if we continue to think this way.

What shocked me most when I first arrived at my apartment in Ermita was the amount of poverty on the streets.  Many Filipinos leave the provinces hoping to make a better life for their family in Manila, but just end up sleeping on the streets at night while overpopulating the city.   This is why it is so important to build up opportunities for micro-entrepreneurs in the countryside – to encourage Filipinos to stay in the provinces and make them believe that there is opportunity for a better life right where they live.  I applaud the success of the USAID-supported RBAP-MABS Program, the supportive regulatory environment of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and the 70 participating rural banks that have made the Philippines into a compelling case study of how microfinance can transform the lives of individuals from the small cities of the provinces to the most remote, underserved communities in the country.

6John, Mely and the entire MABS Staff – thank you for this unforgettable experience and the opportunity to be a part of such an inspiring program.

Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!