Infinity and Beyond

Who am I? Shawn Gillis, a sophomore and a pessimist. I spend an unhealthy amount of time on the computer and I hate going outside(at least when the sun is out.)

Why am I here? I’m at Mary Washington to get an undergraduate degree in Business Administration, with a concentration in accounting. I haven’t decided whether to pursue an MBA or PhD (The former because it’d bump up the salary and the latter because it would afford me the luxury of teaching at a college level, which I would enjoy.)

Why am I enrolled in a course that undertakes research and projects in a developing country? I’m enrolled in this course because I feel that smart incentives-based economic outreach trumps “good intentions” in its effectiveness.

What do I hope to achieve? This is the best opportunity I will be given, in college at least, to make a measurable and sustainable positive change in the lives of the impoverished. There is the terribly overused adage about goodwill: “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today.  Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.” I feel that well tailored micro-finance enables the poor to access opportunities for wealth creation without robbing them of initiative. The model of La Ceiba, one of a student-run MFI, has serious potential. I’d like to contribute to LC in such a way that it is viewed as a success and that success encourages others to attempt similar programs. To be a little less philosophical and a little more practical, I hope to work within the Performance team to arrange our records in such a way that we can show concrete numbers and figures to potential donors in a coherent and easy to understand fashion. I wouldn’t say my experience is limited to cold/hard/unforgiving greenbacks (or the equivalent slang for lempira.) I’ll do my best to contribute intellectually to some of the less concrete aspects of the La Ceiba program.

Illich “To Hell with Good Intentions” To start, this sort of cynical analysis is my sort of Kool Aid. I’ve seen friends and even family members go on “vacation-missions” overseas, leading to little or no valuable progress in the day to day life of the economically impoverished and that’s not for me. I want to be able to SEE the change. After reviewing Illich “To Hell with Good Intentions,” the discussion in class about the robbery of a client struck me as quite relevant to his point. How can we minimize unintended consequences? Is there a correct pacing for loan dispersal that doesn’t endanger the client? With of population that is 59% below the poverty line (2008 figure) can we make a discernable difference? I say that none of our obstacles are insurmountable and that our business model has unique benefits that minimize our expenses and maximize our value in terms of ability to achieve our goals.

“If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” I don’t know how to exactly define my “liberation.” Would my liberation be freedom from the guilt of having been born in a 1st world country? Lifting up my fellow man would certainly tie my liberation to theirs. Or is my liberation better stated in terms of freedom: the freedom and ability to provide for myself and my loved ones. That sounds better. I want that. For myself and for all.

3 Responses to “Infinity and Beyond

  • Please forgive me for playing devil’s advocate here for a moment, you make some really good points– I just don’t see the purpose in reiterating what you’ve said so well. But when you talk about liberation in terms of freedom, we all must realize that we are constraining our clients with our presence. It’s just sort of the nature of the game, and I’m not saying that the benefits don’t outweigh that cost, but we have to acknowledge it as a cost. The thing is, we can’t really know what their lives are like without us– our presence changes the situation. Not necessarily a bad change or a good change, but a change that we must be aware of.

  • salvarez2012
    7 years ago

    In your response I found an interesting point that I hadn’t taken into consideration in my calculation of our impact. Agreeably, you talk about micro-finance as an enabling tool to create opportunities and grant access to wealth creation, but the part that caught my attention was your reference to our clients’ personal initiative. It is my belief that the personalized nature of our client relationships and the care with which we pursue development will not stifle the personal initiative of the entrepreneurs in Honduras. With that being said, I think we should continue to take into consideration our clients’ personal ‘initiative’ so that our actions don’t limit their desire to innovate. Quantifying initiative is difficult, but I think a scale measuring ‘initiative’ as an indicator of personal confidence and community security could show us whether our impact was socially and economically responsible. Optimistically, the impact of our presence will be enough to give innovators the kind of confidence to believe in their ideas and validate their capabilities. I do not see La Ceiba as a handout or a free pass out of poverty I see it as a means of recognizing the ambitions of individuals and putting in place means by which opportunities are more accessible. No one has (at least that we know of) coerced any of our clients to seek our services; it is upon the determination of their own ‘initiative’ that they’ve taken a very risky step economically and socially to utilize our support and we should make sure to continue to nurture that personal initiative so that they can see benefits from their efforts.

  • sgillis
    7 years ago

    @ laurad
    I was being broadly and uncharacteristically optimistic in setting my goal so wide. You make a good point about our presence changing the situation and potentially limiting our clients in some ways, which I hope we keep in mind when forming policy.

    @ salvarez2012
    When speaking of initiative, I was trying to distinguish our type of program from another alternative, monetary aide. In many cases, when the costs of say, the Ugandan government, are subsidized by foreign nations, it robs a people of their incentive to achieve. Here is a great presentation on just this example:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/andrew_mwenda_takes_a_new_look_at_africa.html

    (muscle through the beginning, I promise it gets better)

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