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Internship Puts a Human Face on Microfinance

Nic Perfetti BS’11

Public Policy Analysis, Economics, and Italian Major

Nic Prefetti

“I have good accounting and finance skills, and I know I’ll find it much more fulfilling to apply the skills I’ve learned as a business student to helping people.”

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For Nic Perfetti, all it took was just one book.

What was supposed to be a fun read of Nobel Peace Prize–winner Muhammad Yunus’ book Banker to the Poor changed Perfetti’s worldview, altered his college career, and has him dreaming about one day working for the United Nations.

Perfetti found himself drawn into Yunus’ story about his life as founder of the Grameen Bank, a Bangledeshi microfinance organization that provides small loans to poor people, mostly women. Shortly after reading it, Perfetti, a Kelley Scholar, was asked by two friends to help found a Kelley organization focusing on microfinance. That’s how the Trockman Microfinance Initiative (TMI) was born.

Since its founding, TMI has grown into a registered student organization that lists as its stated purpose: “Through TMI, students will have the ability to learn about microfinance from both technical and applied perspectives and will also be able to apply the skills they have learned at Indiana University to a humanitarian effort.”

Perfetti’s interest in microfinance has snowballed from there. “Working in this club and with like-minded students for the past few years convinced me that I should follow my interests and work for a summer in microfinance,” says Perfetti. “After lots of searching, applications, and an interview, I was offered a position at Grameen Bank in Dhaka, Bangladesh—the exact bank that sparked my original interest!” he says.

Perfetti eagerly packed his bags for Dhaka, and settled into his internship at a place he had once only read about. His main duties involved collecting data that focused on the changes in microcredit recipients’ roles in their families as a result of financial empowerment.

He met with bank clients one-on-one, and got the chance to put a human face on microfinance.

“One of the women I interviewed told me that she wasn’t allowed to leave her house without her husband’s permission before she began generating income for her family,” he recalls. “She talked about how much more respect and independence her husband granted her as a result of her Grameen loans. At the end of the interview, she broke into tears because her husband had just passed away and she considered herself so lucky because of how well he treated her compared to other women in the village. You can read story after story regarding change as a result of microloans, but talking face-to-face with a bank client le aves a lasting impression.” 

So does meeting a Nobel Prize laureate. As a perk of working at Grameen, Perfetti and the other interns participated in a private Q & A session with Muhammad Yunus, whose book sparked Perfetti’s interest in microfinance. “He’s a really nice guy,” says Perfetti.

Perfetti says his Kelley education prepared him well for working in Bangladesh. “Most of the skills I utilized as an intern are the ‘soft’ skills that I learned at Kelley as an indirect result of my rigorous courses: teamwork, time management, and adaptability,” he says. “I also experienced firsthand some of the economic theories and concepts that I have learned as a Business Economics and Public Policy student.”

The Grameen experience strengthened Perfetti’s “obsession with languages and world cultures.” In fact, right before Bangladesh, he spent a semester in Bologna, Italy, studying Italian, one of his three majors. (The other two are public policy analysis and economics.) He also volunteered in Ghana at the Global Mamas, a fair-trade nonprofit that aims to improve the working conditions of local women.

All of these disparate international experiences have brought classroom principles to life, says Perfetti, and taught him a lot about himself. “I have good accounting and finance skills, and I know I’ll find it much more fulfilling to apply the skills I’ve learned as a business student to helping people.”

Published March 15, 2011