Tarayana Microfinance (TMF) is a fledgling microfinance bank piloting new models for uplifting remote, impoverished communities while targeting a long-term independent and sustainable business model. Through Oliver Wyman's Non-profit Fellowship program, I was able to re-locate to Bhutan for 6 months to work directly for the organization.
Microfinance is a high-cost service, and its impact in communities can be radical – micro loans can birth successful micro-entrepreneurs, but it can also leave the most vulnerable debt-ridden if not done well. As I learned about the intricacies of implementing microfinance, the impact was always tangible and top of mind. I will never forget the detail we had to think through when designing a cattle warranty scheme – in Bhutan, is ‘death due to an evil spirit’ covered in your insurance plan? How do you protect borrowers from the consequences of a tiger attack, while also making sure their cow doesn’t meet an untimely death due to unintended financial incentives to cash out? I was invigorated by how TMF was trying new things in Bhutan, enabled by the prior work of Oliver Wyman Social Impact teams and the stalwart presence of TMF’s Director, Oliver Wyman partner Angelina Oguma. When I joined the team, they were ramping up from their first 3 borrowers in 2020 to more than one hundred by the time I left in October 2021. Though small and finding our feet, our scrappy team found creative and innovative solutions to many of the challenges we faced. I was challenged by a new culture, new problems to solve, and the kind of grueling hikes you can only find in the Himalayas. I loved every second of it.
How do you protect borrowers from the consequences of a tiger attack, while also making sure their cow doesn’t meet an untimely death due to unintended financial incentives to cash out?
While I was with TMF, I focused on enabling the microfinance bank with digital solutions. This included working towards a mobile banking integration with the largest commercial bank in Bhutan, building a simple Core Banking System to track their loan portfolio and provide basic reports, and developing a mobile app for field staff to switch from paper to digital loan applications. I found the hands-on, implementation-focused work to be incredibly rewarding. Some of my most memorable experiences were work trips with my colleagues to the remote mountain communities that we served, where I was able to test our new mobile app and gain a better understanding of the realities our efforts faced on the ground.
Living and working in Bhutan for 6 months as an Oliver Wyman Non-profit Fellow was a beautiful, thought-provoking experience. By the time I left I felt like I was leaving a home and a community. Despite the uncertainty of pulling myself out of my normal life to spend 6 months in an unknown place, not to mention during a pandemic (and a 21-day quarantine to kick things off), I am so happy that I took the plunge. I will forever treasure my experience in Bhutan and at TMF, and I will take with me the learnings and the growth I gained from it into both my personal and professional life going forward. I think the Non-profit Fellowship program is one of the most unique opportunities Oliver Wyman offers, and I am so thankful for this experience. Though the new and unknown can be uncomfortable and scary, these experiences are often the most rewarding.
I think the Non-profit Fellowship program is one of the most unique opportunities Oliver Wyman offers, and I am so thankful for this experience