Grameen Bank Internship

by Lauren on October 18, 2012

Bangladesh was a country I took for granted, not realizing its raw beauty while I was there. It was an internship that drew me to Dhaka, the country’s capital and one of the world’s most densely populated cities.

A United States-based marketing internship would have made better strategic sense for my resume. However, I wanted to learn about one man and his quest to lift people out of poverty, most of whom were women. So I cast aside others’ professional expectations of me, along with my western wardrobe. For Dhaka.

Descending into the city’s center was daunting. Rickshaw drivers crowded the streets by the tens of thousands.

Arriving in front of Grand Prince Hotel, I struggled to weave my way through the crowd, armed with my huge rolling bag and a dirty backpack I had dragged through Nepal.

It hit me that I was being stared at. Not in an Italian “Blonde women we LOVE-ah!” kind of way, but as if I were an alien. To many, I was. A tall, light-haired, white alien, the likes of which they had never seen.

It took some weeks to accept their gazing as expressions of curiosity, and to move on.

On day one of my internship, I walked with several classmates down the dilapidated sidewalk, to our office headquarters. Small concession stands dotted the side of our path, selling seeds and fruit. Brightly hued rickshaws and their larger, automatic counterpart the CNG (compressed natural gas), jostled each other for room on the street.

Along our right-hand side was a ditch filled with muddy water, into which many locals would urinate.

At first sight of a tall official-looking building, we veered towards Grameen Bank, our destination.

Grameen Bank was founded by Dr. Muhammad Yunus, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and ardent supporter of finding the entrepreneur in everyone. He stands in the middle, I to his right.

Yunus is best known for his pioneering work in microfinance, or the idea of small loans for the very poor.

No collateral required.

97% of the borrowers are women. This is in large part strategic — women who borrow money are more likely to invest it back into family, or into the community. Men have a tendency to use it for their own personal and professional gain.

Hundreds of students were attracted to this internship, and I found a home within a section of the bank called Grameen Trust. Within Grameen Trust was Project Dignity, a division focusing on rural beggars, who occupy the lowest socioeconomic rung in Bangladeshi society.

Established to replicate Grameen Bank’s “Struggling Members” program, Grameen Trust has enabled more than $300,000 in microloans to rural beggars, with the assistance of Grameen Trust’s partners in the field.

The term beggars is theirs, and not intended to be demeaning.

I focused on analyzing the metrics by which Project Dignity’s success was judged. In other words, were beggars’ personal situations improving as they were lent money? Did the loans enable their small businesses — weaving stools, running a fruit stand — to take off? Were loan recipients graduating to become full-fledged members of a bank?

We needed to meet the beggars to find out. They welcomed my team to their villages, an overwhelmingly generous invitation given the income gap between our country and theirs.

My personal belief is that visits like these should be limited to educational exchanges or business dealings. Not tourism. Imagine if Donald Trump asked to observe you eating dinner, taking notes as you passed the butter. Or if he shadowed you while you cruised the toy aisle in Walmart.

You would probably hope there were an upside to his observations. A cut of his net worth? A scholarly attempt on his part to improve your situation?

The beggars believed the differences between American and Bangladeshi poor people were amusing. “American beggars,” they joked, “are educated.”

We learned from many of them, through help of a translator, that their situations were indeed improving. “How?” I inquired, “How do you know?”

“Well, she looks happier,” one woman described her friend, after seeing her succeed at weaving more stools than before. “The children eat,” said another.

The latter response was slightly closer to our intended goal. In order to demonstrate true success of the program, it had to be described in quantifiable terms. We encouraged modified answers, such as “My family went from eating one meal a day to two meals a day, as a result of loans through Project Dignity.”

Such statements better measure project success, and paint a clearer picture to investors that their money was well spent.

Though we visited rural villages only a few times, the experiences were trying. They involved bus, rickshaw and foot travel combined with afternoons spent outdoors in hot, humid villages.

Bangladesh is a country of contrasts. There was a sharp division between the young children who expressed joy unabashedly, and the older ones that were more quiet.

The younger ones were boisterous, jolly, some to the point of being pushy.

And some did what they could to just get through the day. Relegated to the bottom of the food chain by birth, or young mothers, resorting to begging after being abandoned by a husband… nothing seemed fair.

This young man scooted through the train asking for money.

Without legs.

As I write this post, the future of Grameen Bank is unclear. For reasons that are not yet fully understood, efforts to nationalize Grameen Bank are being discussed. Is it a result of women hurting women, as Nicholas Kristof discusses in his recent New York Times op-ed?

Granted, Yunus’ model has been replicated in many countries around the world, and is a dominant movement for positive change in Bangladesh. Perhaps this dominance is perceived as threatening by some.

Bangladesh is a volatile place, economically and otherwise. But one man’s efforts to lift its inhabitants out of poverty have been remarkable.

I don’t believe those efforts should be thwarted, or controlled. Guided, maybe. But let the country’s entrepreneurial spirit flourish.

Let the women weave their stools, let the men build as big a fruit stand as they can. Empower them to create what is theirs.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

claudia felipeeleuterio December 18, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Dear Lauren,

I’m going to Bangladesh, for a student internship at Grameen bank in February. Could you give me some tips about accomodation there? I checked some hotels, but as i will stay for 2 months long, i was planning rent a flat/room. do u think that its posible? best regards,

Claudia

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Lauren December 18, 2012 at 10:06 pm

Hello Claudia, thank you for reading!

That’s excellent you are headed to Bangladesh in February. Unless you are from a neighboring region, the cost of living will be fairly low. Most people I know stayed in the Grand Prince Hotel. It’s in central Dhaka, and about a 10 minute walk from the Bank. I am sure there are other options available, but perhaps check with your internship leader first. Hope this helps!

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Lauren Schaad December 29, 2012 at 7:35 pm

Hello Claudia, thank you for reading!

That’s excellent you are headed to Bangladesh in February. Unless you are from a neighboring region, the cost of living will be fairly low. Most people I know stayed in the Grand Prince Hotel. It’s in central Dhaka, and about a 10 minute walk from the Bank. I am sure there are other options available, but perhaps check with your internship leader first. Hope this helps!

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Mahmud Jubaer January 14, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Thanks Lauren for this outstanding piece. Feeling great after looking that the others have same feeling as we have here. Thanks again!!

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Lauren Schaad January 17, 2013 at 1:53 am

Hi Mahmud, a big thanks to you for checking it out and taking the time to write. Yunus is more than appreciated across the miles, as is the spirit of entrepreneurship in Bangladesh. Good luck to you!

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Aung Kyaw February 21, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Hi Lauren,

I am Aung from Myanmar, neighbor country of Bangladesh, but I am currently attending MBA in the UK. I am really interested in micro finance and I want to found a bank for poor in My country just like Grameen Bank. So, I decided to apply intern in Grameen after my MBA. Can I get some advises from you?

1)How long should I stay to learn micro finance in Grameen?
2)Since I don’t have any experiences with banking industry, is it very difficult to learn how they work?
3)Is there any others micro finance to intern in others countries?
4)What are the difficulties you faced while your intern so that I can prepare?
Thank you very much. By the way, I want to invite to visit to Myanmar.

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Lauren Schaad February 22, 2013 at 4:54 pm

Hello Aung! It’s great to hear from you, and I applaud your desire to start a bank for the poor in Myanmar. Have you checked out the Myanmar Microfinance Network, or the UNDP Microfinance Project in Myanmar? Those might be good places to start your research.

1) For an internship, I would recommend a minimum of two months, if possible. If you don’t have that much time, you’ll still learn a lot, but more time simply gives you greater opportunity to apply your learnings in real-world setting.
2) Just dive right in! Be open-minded, be curious, ask questions, and research all of Grameen’s websites before you get there. I would also check the models of other organizations, such as BRAC and KIVA.
3) Check out idealist.org for a number of international internship opportunities.
4) In the US I love exploring the outdoors and going hiking, but this is not something the average Bangladeshi woman does. Cultural differences were a challenge, but also very interesting.

Shoot me an email at lauren@laurenschaad.com, and I’m happy to share more. Good luck!

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Aung Kyaw February 22, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Thank you very much for your precious advises, Lauren. I will keep in touch with you when I go to Grameen but my MBA will be finished just Nov. Anyway, I must go.

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ST Vong March 16, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Hi Lauren,

Did you go for the internship alone? How safe is Dhaka for a solo female intern?

Thanks!

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Lauren Schaad March 25, 2013 at 11:05 pm

Thank you for writing! I was with a group of students, and always traveled with other students. Whenever traveling to a country I’m not familiar with, I do my best to always be with a friend, or even better, with a trusted local. You can have a wonderful and safe experience in Dhaka, but I would definitely walk with a companion. This also depends on where you are from. If you look like a local, then it is always easier. Good luck, and let me know if you have more questions.

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Ja Ryong Joshua Ku March 28, 2013 at 2:11 am

Hi Lauren,

I really enjoyed your article and grasped a basic picture of an internship at Grameen Bank. I’m curious about how beneficial it was in terms of enlarging the view and persuading yourself that this is the way to raise low-income people to better off. I also knew today from your link that there is also an internship opportunity at Grameen Trust. Is Grameen Bank under Grameen Trust? I would be really appreciated if we can talk about it.

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Lauren Schaad April 1, 2013 at 4:16 pm

Hello Ja (Joshua), good to hear from you and thank you for your thoughtful questions. This experience was incredibly eye-opening, and I hadn’t been aware of such a business model before interning with Grameen. My internship was indeed with Grameen Trust, which is a part of the greater Grameen Bank.

In terms of whether this is “the” way to improving the livelihood of low-income folks, I would say this is a very good way. However, not the only way. In geographies where individuals are hungering for change and feel empowered by such microloan programs – great. In other geographies where a sense of entitlement exists (i.e. in certain parts of the United States), you won’t find as healthy an entrepreneurial spirit as you may find in other countries. Therefore, it’s perhaps not the best solution.

Ping me with more questions at lauren@laurenschaad.com. Always happy to speak further.

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Anusha Hasan June 2, 2014 at 4:57 pm

Hi Lauren,

I am thinking about doing an internship with Grameen Bank. They didn’t have a proper application, they just had me email them with my resume. Is that what you did? They said I could start in 3 weeks. I am just wondering if it’s a group internship or just individual. I am afraid I will be doing things by myself. Anyway, hope to hear from you soon.

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Lauren Schaad June 3, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Dear Anusha,

That’s great that they got back to you! My internship was organized through my school, so I didn’t apply myself. It’s a high profile program and a competitive process, so congratulations for getting this far.

While there are MANY other interns at Grameen, be prepared to work individually. As such, it’s a good idea to map out beforehand what you wish to learn. Are you interested in marketing, finance, operations? Arrive with a list of questions, so that you can take advantage of this unique opportunity to learn as much as possible. Good luck, and feel free to email me at lauren@laurenschaad.com with questions.

Cheers, Lauren

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