Tuesday, May 12, 2009
It Only Takes A Spark
We kicked off our heels and sat cross-legged on the carpeted floor in a seminar room at the Singapore Management University (SMU). Our notes and papers were strewn on the table before us and we recorded the interview on an old MD player.
I had met her for only a matter of minutes but Amanda Ellis and I clicked instantly. What's awesome is that this down-to-earth, amiable woman is the Lead Gender Specialist for the World Bank's Gender Action Plan, and has been a high-profile speaker at the United Nations and international economic forums. To me, it felt like chatting with an old, familiar friend.
Amanda was in Singapore recently to present at a 3-day conference, Economic Opportunities for Women in Asia-Pacific, organised by SMU, The World Bank Group Gender Action Plan, and New York University Stern School of Business.
After our scheduled interview on how the World Bank's Gender Action Plan was helping women in Asia, we sat back and chatted over sips of water. It was then that Amanda brought up the topic of Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, who wrote Creating A World Without Poverty and Banker to the Poor.
She was so animated that her energy rubbed off on me. The concept she was sharing with me - about how lending just US$20 to women was able to transform whole communities and alter the social fabric of the rural poor - fascinated me. On the spur of the moment, I suggested we record an interview on that topic to be aired.
All Muhammad Yunus did was to lend women US$20. These women banded together to start businesses, acting as guarantors for each other to reduce risks for banks when applying for loans. When their businesses grew, their children went to school. With education, family size in these poor communities gradually and naturally became smaller. Quality of life improved. Women, who previously had no status, were empowered.
When Amanda recently revisited some rural villages in Africa, she was amazed at how they have been transformed by micro-lending, by a simple social business paradigm shift.
That interview sprung from a casual conversation that excited us both. I had no cue sheet prepared. She had no answers prepared. We simply surrendered to the flow. At the end of 13 mins, when I switched off the MD, we looked at each other and burst out laughing! What an unplanned interview! But oh, what an interview! I realised then that sometimes, the best interviews are impromptu ones.
We Pulled it Off! World Bank's Gender Specialist Amanda Ellis and me.
I truly enjoyed my afternoon with Amanda Ellis, and I hope to keep in touch with this inspiring, intelligent and compassionate woman. She had so many amazing stories to share, and I know she will have so many more because it's clear to me that her passion dictates she continue to be out there in the field, rollin' up her sleeves, and helping to better the lives of women in developing countries around the world.