Annie Lam on Social Enterprise and Microfinance
FLiP recently sat down with Annie Lam, who was selected as the first Social Enterprise Fellow of Changing Our World, an international philanthropy consulting firm. Chosen out of over 40 qualified applicants, Annie is spending 12 weeks researching the challenges and opportunities in social enterprise.
In her interview with FLiP, Annie talks about her personal experiences with philanthropy and social enterprise and where she plans to go next.
Ok, first things first…what is social enterprise? And why is it important?
Social enterprise is an organization/venture that advances a social mission through market-based strategies. It also refers to any earned-income business or strategy undertaken by a nonprofit to generate revenue in support of its charitable mission. Its role is increasingly important, as it provides a sustainable way for nonprofits to run their organizations, and a medium for for-profits to do good through their social missions.
You had an incredible opportunity to travel to Cambodia on behalf of Deutsche Bank’s Social Investment Funds. What does microfinance look like first-hand?
I was representing the Bank to conduct due diligence with a few microfinance institutions (MFIs) in Phnom Penh. Other than understanding their headquarters’ operations, I was brought to remote rural villages to observe how micro-loans were distributed and collected.
I remember in one of the villages, the loan officers gathered borrowers – mainly women – and educated them on how money should be spent and saved before distributing the funds. The procedures were very primitive, however. For instance, borrowers fingerprinted their loan agreements as compared to how we sign documents with pens.
In an interview with a woman who borrowed $100 for half a year, she reported to need the money to produce and sell pillows at the marketplace to make a living. She managed to repay her first loan with this mini-business (first phase of production: 200 pillows), and she anticipated to double her production scale with merely another $100. I was overwhelmed by the monetary power of $100 in Cambodia. In the US, that amount of money could probably only purchase a few pillows.
Now you’re pursuing a Master’s degree at Columbia University. What makes the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) right for you?
I have always been interested in meeting people of diverse cultural backgrounds, and SIPA’s community displays that. On top of classes that are taught by a number of renowned professors, the most rewarding experience is to meet other students from all around the world. Each student has a unique story prior to attending SIPA, and oftentimes we learn from each other’s experience. Even though I was on international rotations in my previous job, and I got to build friendships with people from other countries, I seldom came across natives from developing countries, especially those from Sub-Saharan Africa. Learning their cultures, gestures and hospitality fascinates me.
My first year focused more on building the foundation so that in my second year I will have the opportunities to partner with external organizations and experience real world cases. I think this is another rewarding part of the education and I am looking forward to it.
What’s the next step for you after you graduate next summer?
I am still exploring how to develop my career into the next stage, and I am grateful that I am learning a lot through this summer fellow opportunity – both on the subject of social enterprise itself as well as the approach towards conducting independent research. It definitely enhances skills I have acquired. Upon graduation, I am hoping to land in a job where my hard and soft skills can be utilized, as well as doing good for society.
Born and raised in Hong Kong, Annie first realized she wanted to study international relations when she attended the Future World Leaders Summit in Washington DC in 2001. A double Quantitative Economics and International Relations major, Annie received her Bachelor’s degree at Tufts University before going on to work in the Credit Risk Management division at Deutsche Bank AG.
While at Deutsche Bank, Annie volunteered with its Global Social Investment Funds, primarily in Cambodia. In her work with the Fund, Annie was tasked with interviewing recipients of microfinance loans to ensure responsible spending and repayment as well as achievement of measurable impacts.
Annie is currently pursuing a Masters of International Affairs from the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University. Her coursework includes a focus on economic and political development.
Annie can be reached at email@example.com.