$3000 for Mifos!

iServe PhotoThe VMware Foundation, which matches employee giving and provides up to 5 days of paid leave for community service, also encourages employees to participate in service projects by holding the #iServe Challenge.  Every quarter, they choose the top 5 most popular service projects.  All you have to do to participate is explain how you served and what you learned.  Here’s what I wrote to win $1000 for Mifos…

I’m serving this spring by doing my Take 3 as a service learning project.  I was inspired to do this when Ideo came to VMware to do a “design-a-thon” to brainstorm how a mobile device could be used to improve sanitation in Ghana.  I decided I wanted to use my design skills to give back.

I’ve been working with an organization called Mifos (www.mifos.org) to redesign the user experience for their microfinance software.  Most of the users of this software are not well educated and not particularly tech savvy, so it is important for me to keep this in mind.  Their skillset is very different from the typical VMware customer.

I got a crash course in MicroFinance and then traveled to India and Kenya to see firsthand how this microfinance process works.  Typically, these MFIs lend specifically to groups of people because they act as collateral for each other since they have no assets.  (Peer pressure, it seems, works rather well in microfinance.)  I visited several of these group meetings where people (usually women) gather weekly with their loan offer to make repayments.  (Often these installments are on the order of $5-10/week.)  Then the loan officers go back to their branch office (not like my image of a “bank” at all, see images – note the giant batteries under the desk 🙂 to count the money and then use to give out in the afternoon to others who have been approved for loans.

In Kenya, mobile banking is quite prevalent, so these MFIs tended to make better use of technology than the ones in India.  But I can see how, as mobile devices become more ubiquitous, it will be possible to reduce the transaction cost for the MFIs, who can then pass on these savings to their clients.  Most MFIs are not out to take advantage of the poor, but they need to make enough money to be sustainable.  And the poor, as we are well aware, can ill afford these charges.

My hope is that, by contributing to the usability of this kind of open source software, it will become more widely used, which will make the MFIs more sustainable so they can reduce the costs to the poor.  A win-win for all!

You can read more on my blog at: www.t3deanna.wordpress.com.

Because the VMware Foundation will also match employee donations, I decided to match the #iServe Challenge winnings – a triple benefit for Mifos!


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