2010 PFIG Recipient Hebah Fisher

Career Administrator

Hebah Fisher
College of Arts & Sciences
Global Development Studies Major
2011 Graduation Year

Internship: Family Bank

Notes on the first week

I completed the first full week of my internship today. I’m working with the Family Bank, a new microfinance bank in Bahrain, a partner of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, and the first Islamic microfinance bank in the world.

About 15 personnel staff the bank currently, and even that is too many for the small space designated for operations. One of the ladies auditing the bank doesn’t even have a desk yet, and so she bounces around from place to place as they empty up. As an intern, I don’t have a proper desk, either, but it’s quite fun sharing. The office ambience is warm and friendly, and everyone makes a point to visit each other during breaks to say hello and joke around.

I’m working in the non-financial services department of the bank, a department populated by only two persons (myself included). We are responsible for developing a handbook of sample business profiles, coordinating entrepreneurial and skills training programs, and pairing entrepreneurs with the appropriate resources and organisations for technical support as needed.

This week was quite hectic, as I expect all future weeks to be. I visited each of the bank’s departments to learn about their current and future activities, and then together with my colleague drafted an Action Plan of tasks and activities for the summer months, initiated contact with some organisations and banks on the island that have expressed interest in helping the Bank’s cause, and compiled a list of 15 business profiles for the Idea Factory handbook. We also began editing and revising the curriculum for the entrepreneurial training course we aim to lead by the end of this month.

I had the privilege this past week to attend a few meetings as well: two partnership proposals for the Bank (1) with a consultancy firm and (2) with commodities trading company, and one initial funds disbursement meeting with a new client group. Most all of these meetings are conducted in Arabic, and while I’m not fluent yet, I’m proud to say I manage to understand around 70% of what goes on. I hope that by summer’s end my language will have improved considerably through all this interaction. The funds disbursement meeting was especially interesting because I had the opportunity to witness the initial signing of contracts (each contract must be signed by two witnesses within the group; there was a lot of paper shuffling) and a few words of inspiration from the funds manager. The Family Bank currently offers three programs: Direct Financing for the Individual, Direct Financing for the Group-based Microenterprises, and NGO Financing. Grameen managers direct the Group-based Microenterprise financing scheme, and so it was pretty incredible sitting in a group led by two men from Grameen who worked closely with Muhammed Yunus for the past 25 years.

It has only been a week at work, and already I love it. I look forward to the coming weeks!

Midway

Today marked the halfway point of my summer internship. The benchmark spurred up a whole host of mixed feelings, namely despair.

I have made a habit of sitting in with CEO at least once a week: to update him on my progress, ask him questions, aggregate new tasks. And he continuously iterates how he wants me to leave a meaningful footprint in my wake; leave the bank with concrete results to show for my efforts. Three weeks left in my internship and what do I have in hand? A stack of plans, theories, ideas on paper. Ismael, the man with whom I have been working most closely, and I spent many hours interviewing stakeholders and drafting designs of how we envision the non-financial services department of the Family Bank to look like, what we want it to do. We finished our proposal for this department a few days ago and sent it off to the Ministry of Social Development for approval and funding. We now wait for a response, which, since this is a kingdom on summer holiday, may take weeks.

We met with the regional heads of Coca Cola who are interested in expanding their CSR capacities by partnering with the Family Bank to sponsor small kiosks staffed by disabled persons. We drafted an MOU and sent it along; we now wait for a response.

We met with a non-profit art gallery to outline the vocational training courses in art, design, fashion, and film they will offer our clients. We drafted a partnership agreement together and sent it along to the Ministry for funding as well; we now wait for a response.

It is true these relationships are necessary to achieve our vision for the non-financial support services, but everything seems so preliminary - we are essentially still in the planning stages. Yet that, I’ve come to realize, is just as important as the final step of closing a deal, signing an agreement, or launching an exhibition. Actually, it was Ismael who taught me this. When I voiced my frustrations to him, he shook his head and told me I was wrong, "Think of it this way - you are helping to structure this entire program. Without a solid plan, it goes nowhere. Without a solid plan to refer back to, we lose focus."

It was silly of me to think that in six weeks we could design and begin implementing this program. Nothing works that quickly. Still, it saddens me to think I won’t be here to see these initiatives take off. I’ll come back to visit, sure, but by then I’ll be an outsider looking in.

In the time I have left, however, I pledge to work as hard as I can to continue identifying strategic partners for the bank, developing our training curricula, and brainstorming innovative solutions to the problems clients raise.

Final Reflections

I finished my internship this week, at perhaps the perfect time. Most of the employees in the Kingdom have taken their annual leave, and with Ramadan beginning in a few days the whole country will essentially take leave for the next month. In anticipation of this lull in productivity, we worked extra hard these past few weeks at the Family Bank to do as much as possible beforehand.

Looking back, I'm quite proud of what Ismael and I have achieved over these past weeks. We structured the non-financial support services program, signed partnership agreements, finalised our entrepreneurial training curriculum, hosted a handful of entrepreneurial training courses, prepared the curriculum for our first vocational training courses, and began designing new projects for the bank to implement (such as a community mutual trust centre that will lease machinery and equipment for our clients' business endeavors and an online networking site that will match working professionals with prospective employees). We have met and vocally established partnerships with the Small Business Administration of the US, the Islamic Finance Council of the UK, local community social centres, supply companies who can provide our clients with the necessary machines for their businesses, and existing entrepreneurs who can offer vocational training for our clients.

It has been a truly wonderful time - I have learned so much, had the opportunity to maneuver through a proper banking institution for the first time, be a part of the whirlwind that follows the pioneer Islamic microfinance bank, and meet some inspiring individuals with whom I plan to keep in close contact.

This internship has taught me that I have ventured down the right career path; I love development work. I don't need coffee to stay awake to read articles, write brochures, or design programs. I feel so happy speaking to the lady who stitches abayat from her home, or the man who has perfected his recipe for natural soaps. I think it is this person-person interaction that does it for me.

The CEO invited me to continue working with the bank, even after I return to school. I, of course, agreed. So, this is my last journal entry - but not the end of this story!