Episode 7: Alex Counts Talks About Empowering the Poor Through Financial Access and Women Empowerment


Global Partners for Development proudly presents: What do you understand? A deep dive into the many facets of philanthropy and development. Experts in their field will discuss an aspect of their work that they understand particularly well. Let’s talk about big bets, innovation, social enterprises, large scale humanitarian aid, and the fixation on ending things or solving humanity’s greatest problems and the issues that arise while tackling it all.

I am your host, Ria Pullin, and my co-host is the Executive Director of Global Partners for Development, Daniel Casanova.


Our guest today is Alex Counts. Alex is an author, an independent consultant to nonprofit organizations, and the founder of the Grameen Foundation. He has recently released a new edition of his book, Small Loans, Big Dreams.


Well, I mean, I think where I start is so many people know about Grameen Bank and Muhammad Yunus. And I, you know, I’d like to hear about you and like how, and I know that in the book you touch on this and stuff. There’s background there. But I’m just curious like, you know, start us out with how you got to Bangladesh because that’s like, you know, not a lot of people get to go there.


And like before you were 20 because I love the letter you wrote to him. You know, I want to, like, Like kind of on my end. I want to use my background to make sure the whole world knows about it. And you were 20.


When I wrote to him, I couldn’t legally buy and consume consumer beer. In Washington, D.C., where I happened to be at the time, it was, I mean, I was first of all, I was influenced. We’re all growing is we go through high school and there were some other students that cared about social issues like hunger, like making sure the Holocaust didn’t happen again.

And they didn’t–they just got me thinking. And I always say to people, if you’re an activist, you know, people may be thinking about what you’re telling them but they’re not doing anything yet, but but you’ve planted a seed. And so, some other students, through their activism, planted a seed for mine. I saw the movie Gandhi, and I was like, if that guy was still alive, I like, complete my studies and I just put myself in front of him and say, tell me what to do, sir.

But he was not alive. So, then I was like, Where’s the modern day Gandhi? And I start to think of Muhammad Yunus, and then a mentor, I’ve always sought out mentors in my life. I still am today. And I said, and my mentor said, well, you’re so fascinated with this guy, Alex. Why don’t you write him a letter and tell him that you want to be of service to him and taking his ideas global.

And I wrote a kind of a grandiose letter that I’m glad has been lost. I asked him, he files everything, but somehow that letter got lost, thank God. But as best I can recall, I said, Sir, you’ve come on this wonderful thing in Bangladesh, empowering the women of your country, a grassroots revolution in economics and social and part of your country.

And and I’m going to help you take it global, because I’m 19 years old and I know nothing, but I have a lot of enthusiasm. I mean, I should have wrote that. I just made myself seem like some a major ally of his. And and he, you know, he had the decency and the generosity to write me back, right.

An old-fashioned letter. And I was like and I, you know, and I was so like he wrote me. And by the way, now young people that write me letters and want help, I can’t say no because he said yes to me. And so, that letter came up and then I’m like, how am I going to actually do this?

And so, I had to teach myself Bengali the wrong kind of Bengali, Calcutta, Bengali. And that would work itself.


A lot of has and said is yes.


Exactly, and then I had to get financing for it. And my father, who was always a big backer of me, sent me a little money here and there to build up a fund, but ultimately, the Fulbright program, which I’m a huge supporter of, public diplomacy, citizen diplomacy. It’s how we’re going to get this world back to the shape that it should be in.

And I just went there for what it originally was, ten months, and it became six years. And actually, in a way, once I gained some real useful experience with microfinance and just as you started to mature, as a human being. I did actually become a strong ally of Muhammad Yunus taking his work global. It took me a lot longer to become useful than I thought, but this is the impatience of youth, and it all came from that.

But I just, I wanted to be I didn’t necessarily want to invent something to change the world. I wanted to find someone who had already invented something that was changing the world. And I wanted to be like their lieutenant, their foot soldier. And that’s why I got good at fundraising and good at building boards and all the little things that you need to take a great idea. And there’s so many out there, but have it have the impact it’s meant to have. Yeah.


That’s cool. Yeah. I mean, so diving deeper into things, I’d be curious like so in your book and also but more like maybe that’s not there, but in like your heart of hearts, of your past that you know, I’d be curious to hear about like what are those moving anecdotal stories, I’d say like as a fundraiser, right? Like I’m sure you have that, like, down in terms of those things when someone’s like, Oh, can you tell us about the people that, you know, this type of technology has helped?


Yeah, well, I mean, what the basis of the microfinance technology in the way Grameen and Yunus do it, because it’s there have been lots of variations in across the world, some really good, some not so good, kind of perverted. The idea of microfinance. And that became a later story. That’s what you become a victim of your own success in ways.

But the way that Muhammad Yunus did it in many people who followed his principles, you’re trying to build on the strength of people rather than address their weaknesses. And there’s a whole literature that I learned later about strength-based management of you’re good at three things, you’re lousy at five things. Let’s focus on those three.

Yeah. And forget about the other five. And that’s what microfinance is, is a poor woman, maybe even a destitute woman. She has all these lackings: education and self-confidence and whatever. But there are few things she’s good at. And one of them is surviving. One of them is eking out a living with very few resources. And then you say, well, let’s build on that strength, let’s give you some money.

And it turns out there actually some skills and confidence and drive that were kind of hidden and suppressed and alone and a vote of confidence that that loan represents, which is very important. So, one of the stories in the book, very dramatic of a family that had been ruined through lawsuits, frivolous lawsuits and just bad luck and natural disasters.

But they knew how to make Indian sweets, really, Bengali sweets and the building block of them, which is cottage cheese. Most Indian and Bengali sweets. And so, they, so they kind of lost this skill and they just become day laborers, which is a brutal type of way to earn a living in the rural areas. And they were often in money guns, if you’re familiar there.

And so, with those loans starting it at $75, they revived this business and this skill and it took years. There’s no very few quick fixes. And in trying to address of something as deep as, you know, poverty situation and over the course of a decade, they built up this thriving business that they probably had, as best I could tell them, 25 years earlier.

And just one little story. So, they had a contract with a sweet shop in Dhaka that they, and they would deliver like a basically a duffle bag full of cottage cheese, or two, or half or three whatever. They and every day they would deliver the cottage cheese and and then they would get the order for the next day, and they’d come back.

And so how do they do that? They, ten miles on a bike to the bus stop, 60-mile, 60 kilometer, I guess, bus ride. And then they deliver it and then they get back on the bus and come back and repeat it every day. It was a good source of income.


How long is that roundtrip?


It’s probably 4 hours.


Oh, wow. If things are going well.


And so and so here is a situation again, a skill that would lay dormant, a 75-hour loan, start to unlock it. And now they had all these cows. And because they could now that the price of milk didn’t impact them because they had their own. But anyway, there was a two-week general strike, a heart doll.

And so, busses weren’t running because of the hooligans that were in favor of whatever party called it would beat up the bus driver. So, they finally I get back to the village and I said, What happened? You did you lose the contract? Did or did they give you grace for not being to deliver the cottage cheese? I mean, like a big duffel bag full of cottage cheese.

Like it’s not like it weighs a lot. And they looked at me like, no, no, no. We just instead of instead of getting rid of our bikes at the bus stop, we would just bike on 60 kilometers to Dhaka to deliver that, and then we’d bike back. And so instead of taking the bus, we would do that like every day for two weeks.

This was like the father and this son of the, so like so like that level of entrepreneurship and dedication to a business once they had that, and it all got unlocked, a family that was just day laborers scraping by, next thing you know, a thriving business that again, there and there, you know, that they’re keeping a contract despite everything conspiring against them.

And these are stories. And also in the United States, where I followed microfinance, early efforts to get it going there, and that same drive and determination and latent skills being invested in. And then people you just wake up a couple of years and a person and a family don’t you don’t recognize them because they’re thriving where they used to be, barely surviving.


You said something that I actually wrote down and listen to again about how we grossly underestimate the capabilities of the poor, and I’ve seen that so much just in the work I’ve been doing the last year. It’s because I think I had my own preconceived notions of poverty and the poor before I moved over to the sector, just growing up quite privileged, you know.

And when you said that it just, and because of I’ve seen it also just traveling, what kind of awareness do we need to give to people? Because I think there is this misconception that they’re not as capable or as smart. And I think you have completely debunked that. And just how can we spread that kind of awareness?


I think if, first of all, we don’t have a lot of contact with people living in conditions of poverty if we’re not ourselves, some do, but most of us don’t. And so, we kind of we put on to them, like we think about, well, what if I had no education? And what if I didn’t have these advantages?

Like, I’d be in pretty bad shape. And that’s what must be. And the way Muhammad Yunus created Grameen Bank, he wasn’t trying to create a bank. He just went out when he was not teaching at Chittagong University into a nearby village and just had like, like a thousand of conversations with local people about their lives, not trying to lecture them about what they should be doing.

Just tell me about your life. What? How do you make ends meet? Tell me about your children. I mean, he would encyclopedic knowledge of all these families and the names of their children and grandchildren just through all these. So, he had that exposure and he got the reality check. And the truth is that if any of the three of us were to be plopped down into a, you know, without access to our credit cards and our connections and our whatever, and you would bring us down and then imagine the language issue.

As a barrier. And you say, okay, go survive. And and and you’d look around and you would you’d see people without with the same access to resources you had kind of making it work. And we would fail horribly.




And, and so that’s the reality is that people are highly skilled jugglers. They, you know, they have like three businesses, and they do one business for two weeks and they realize the market’s going bad on that. We’ll do this other one. And there’s a great video that I used to the person who taught my course at University of Maryland, and I wasn’t going to use it.

I watched. It was incredible. It’s called Living on $1. And three college students went to Guatemala and they and they basically mimicked what it would be like to live on $1 a day, which a lot of the world, a billion people do. And they said one of the things is they said living on $1 doesn’t mean you get a dollar a day.

It means you get $4 000 and it’s unpredictable. And they spent a whole summer doing that and they filmed it and, and they almost like they would think that they were Rex and they, and they, and they finally then got the hang of it by the end of the summer, and they planted some whatever and they realized that maximize their caloric intake, which was limited.

But you know, they should eat this type of food, but like they basically caught up with the poor people of Guatemala and how to actually live on $1. It’s an acquired skill. And it was interesting. They were kind of skeptical about microfinance. They said at the beginning, the documentary, and it turned out a program modeled on Grameen that was operating in the next village that where they settled in, run by at the national level.

A friend of mine, they realized how important that was and how the poor people, why some of them were kind of getting ahead. And it was a couple of years before they arrived. And it’s on Netflix. It’s really worth watching. And it’s just, it’s a great short of spending the hours like Mohammed units did talking to poor people and getting that reality check.

It’s like put it people like us, young people, smart people. But realizing that with surviving on $1 a day, it requires skills that we don’t have. We can develop, but they already have. And the question is, how do you invest in those skills? How do you value those skills? And that’s what Muhammad Yunus did.


Yeah, I see that just because I’m a mom, I have like a five and a nine-year-old. And when we were in East Africa, seeing the kids younger than mine taking care of the cattle next to the busy street, the helicopter parents of Sonoma and Marin County would be appalled. They’d be like, oh, no, you can’t go to cross the street! And so, I’m just looking at these kids.


Grow up fast.


They are more capable than a lot of like adults that I’ve seen here.


Very true.


I remember when I lived in, when I was living in Cox’s Bazar, there’d be this little chai shop we go to, and it was run by this like seven-year-old and six year old brother. They were like doing everything, but it’s just like, Yeah, that’s interesting.


Those are skills that they’ll learn that my kids will never learn because they’re not having to, you know. They don’t have that four-year bachelor’s degree. But the amount of skills that they have learned a six and seven year old running a chai shop. Yeah, those are skills you learn in business school later on.


But they’ll learn different skills and they’ll be able to abstract and conceptualize things and whatever. But the point is, we forget that this survival, the mere fact that people in poverty are still alive, should tell us that they’re highly skilled in ways that are different from the way we’re skilled. And so, let’s invest. Let’s not see them as charitable cases.

Oh, you need this. You need me to teach you that, you know, no. Mostly no. It’s about you know what? How can I help you unlock your and leverage your skills that actually I lack for your benefit and then you aggregate that across 80,000 villages in Bangladesh, and that ends up being a national success story. And poverty has come down rapidly in Bangladesh.

And it’s not because the government’s done a good job, because mostly they haven’t. The business community has done a great job of huge success stories. But it’s because this grassroots revolution that Grameen and BRAC and other great organizations, that kind of adopted Grameen and adapted what they were doing, and it’s one of the great kind of grassroots economic and social success stories of our time.


I mean, so I want, you’ve touched on it a little bit as you were. These are like the hard questions not these are not gotcha questions in any way in this way. But I feel like there’s two things that I oh, you’re like there will no more no, because you mentioned it, which is like, you know, there are people that have taken the model and perverted it or this it just looks different and right.

And it’s like, there’s a lot of ways to talk about microfinance. There aren’t all the same, every country isn’t the same. Right. Like what? What how you apply it. So there’s you know, my my question is more like, can you speak more to that? What do you know? What do you think is in my mind, the the simple criticism would be like, you know, not everybody’s, not every poor person, an entrepreneur.

Right. But I’m sure you’ve heard this is just like they’re these bites you hear about microfinance and there’s things there. There were some, you know, negative studies on it. And you see it and you’re like, okay, but I’m curious what you’d say to that. 


Well, you know, I do try to address some of these critiques in the third edition of my book, Small Loans, Big Dreams, because they didn’t really exist in 2008 when the second edition came out. And I try to do in a balanced way and not because some of the critiques have some elements of truth in them like the one about not everyone is an entrepreneur.

That’s a big critique because Muhammad Yunus, he talks in broad strokes. Like a lot of great people, he doesn’t bring a lot of nuance. So, he says everyone has the potential to be an entrepreneur. We just need to invest in them. The truth is, of Grameen borrowers, probably 20% of them like Ngoni Bala, who I was just talking about like is like it has that entrepreneurial gene.

Like if she had, she could have been Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos if she had all the advantages. And 80% of them are what I call, you know, kind of entrepreneurs by necessity. And they’re not, they don’t have the skill that Enola has. But it doesn’t mean that lacking other alternatives, having them go into running a business, maybe not terribly well, but well enough to keep them alive and then giving them that $75 to do that a little bit with a little more capital, it may not be their best calling, but it is the only option.

And so and so to say, well, they would prefer employment. Well great that give them a job. But if you’re not going to give them a job, let them do something and let the other thing is have people take in Muhammad Yunus his idea and not applied it faithfully. First of all, some have done it beautifully. Some have innovated on top of it and are doing it even better than he did in some ways.

But I think there are three cases, and I think it’s important to realize and by the way, this is a victim of our success. If you get the Nobel Peace Prize, you get the media attention and people are going to take your idea and do wonderful things with it. And because you’re now in the spotlight and people are going to do some not so wonderful things with it, and then you just have to manage that as best you can.

So one is that people, like, apply his model, but they take some shortcuts that make it easier. Like, for example, one of the things he did as a matter of principle, he said, when I start this organization, I want to have the borrowers of this organization own a majority of the shares in it now. Now Kard in the Philippines and a few in India did that.

But like so, lots of shortcuts. It kind of makes it easier, but it also undercuts some key elements of what he built that was just so special. Then there are other people that I think got a little greedy and they just saw it more as a way to, because they realized, I mean, he shed the light on this fact that the hardworking poor women of the world represent an engine in economic growth who can actually not only take your loan and repay it, but repay with interest.

And you can in some markets, you can actually make money off of it. And so, people focused on the making money part and then they would say, oh, and we’re doing so much good. But they really prioritize the making money for their organization, for themselves. So, the values got no listen, if you’re doing it ethically, if you’re because you know, I’m not against banking, they were just doing banking and profit maximization standpoint and trying to serve poor women and probably a lot of them benefited.

But then you’re losing the real heart and soul of it. It’s not a shortcut. It’s just it’s a different coming from a different values place. And then there were some people who were just trying to actually exploit people and were like and would come up with all means to make it sound like they were charging a low interest rate and they were charging a totally unreasonable interest rate and taking advantage of people.

And it was just it was evil. So, you have people who are just taking a little shortcut. You have people who are kind of had mixed values, different values, but still try creating some good. And then there were the crooks and then we as an industry, we tried to, you know, kind of how do you police that?

How do you protect the brand? And it’s not easy. But we came up with some things we thought, you know, did a reasonably good job at that, but it was a victim of his success. Our success in scaling this idea is people with all sorts of motivations and priorities. It was on their radar and a lot of them tried to do something with it. Some did wonderful things, some not so wonderful things.


But still, I mean, I guess at the core of it’s like people need banking, and like it’s as simple of an idea as being like, oh, you can poor people can bank.


Well, you know, if you just break it down and, you know, you don’t say, well, minimum loan is $50,000, then you know, then you by the rules, you’re excluding it or you need to have collateral or you need to be literate. But but, Professor said those rules are not actually needed. They’re convenient, they’re traditional, but they’re not, they’re not actually relevant if you just create other ways to let people participate. 

So, he re-engineered banking to be relevant to the poor women of his country and it didn’t. It took a lot, but it wasn’t that complex. And then he just stayed committed when he realized he could charge them more interest or he could serve non-poor people.

And he said, I don’t want to do that. I could do that, but I don’t want to do that. I want to stick to getting every last 8 million women of Grameen out of poverty. And then once I do that, then I’ll think about applying this in different ways. Until then, I got my job cut out for him.


So where do you think they are? And on that path then?


Well, he created, you know, Grameen. One of the things is a social entrepreneur you need to do is and this is where I think the nonprofit sector kind of falls behind the business sector is we we get on to something we’re comfortable with. It works pretty well, and we stop innovating. And because, you know, maybe my job will go away.

Maybe this the pressure of the market to continue to innovate doesn’t exist in the same way. And Grameen is kind of a hybrid nonprofit for profit. And, and so at a certain point, the original Grameen model stopped kind of working that well. And, and there was criticism there was a front page article in criticizing the one on the Wall Street Journal and which was wrong in a lot of ways, but right in some ways, too.

And so, Professor Yunus, by that point, he was reinventing the Grameen methodology. And so he and what we can’t we end up calling Grameen 2, you know, and an emphasis it de-emphasized peer pressure on people which can in some cases become a negative force in a village. It prioritized savings. And one of the things he did is he came up with a kind of a five-star rating system for branches.

And three of the things were around how their financial performance is a branch and two of them were around, is every child of every growing borrower in school 100%. That’s how you get your fourth star. And fifth star is every borrower in that, served by that branch might be three or 4000 is out of poverty.

And they created a simple checklist about whether they were out of poverty. And every year they would do an audit and they would say, we’re getting closer. We have a few poverty free groups of five women and then a few villages, but not everyone. And so, it became an accountability mechanism. And the last I heard, you know, maybe, you know, 60% of the borrowers were out of poverty using their kind of checklist, as most of some of the rest were just new borrowers.

They hadn’t had the chance yet. And so, they were they were making the percentage was going up every year. But the main thing is they measure it because would you know and that’s where some microfinance groups that didn’t quite follow took the shortcuts. They just said, well, if the people are repaying their loan, they must be doing well.

Maybe yes, maybe no. But Muhammad Yunus didn’t want to take that for granted. He went to say no, let’s you know, do they have a do they have a tin roof, a roof that keeps them dry in the monsoon? Are all the kids in school? Do they have, you know, three nutritious meals a day? And then he would literally ask every borrower that every year, 8 million women, he would ask this question because, you know, you measure what you value and you value what you measure.

And so that’s where he didn’t want to take it for granted that a client who was what was fulfilling the responsibilities of the bank, where they also fulfilling their responsibilities to their family to get out of poverty. Maybe. Yes, maybe. Now let’s check it out.


That’s cool.


I like the focus on women. I always say, you know, since I took a break from using my MBA because I became a mother. And what you were saying that women will do what they need to survive and to take care of their children. And so, I, I see that. And I and, I heard that that the focus on women will actually more benefit the family unit as opposed to the man taking control of the finances.

How much have you seen in that of like the percentage of the borrowers? Is it mostly women? Do you mostly focus on women? And what is the percentage of women to men?


So Grameen, I mean, first of all, women have, I just think on average they’re exceptions women. I mean, look at look at the look at the, what men and women in the Trump administration and who is coming forward to actually say what needs to be said. It’s the women who are there. They have more of a conscience. I mean, do men abandon their children when the going gets rough?

Sometimes they do. Does a woman abandon her children when going gets rough? Almost never across all the cultures I’m familiar with. So, Muhammad Yunus had three critiques of the banking system, many others, but three core. It was anti-poor, anti-illiterate and anti-women. And so, he said, I’m going to make it so if you’re poor, we prioritize you. If you’re illiterate, we’ll figure out how to make that work.

And 50% of the borrowers should be women. Half and half seem like they’re that was the V one of Grameen. That was where it started. And then he realized that when a man makes a profit in the business, the profit goes somewhere to the family, some of it back in the business, some of it to kind of conspicuous consumption.

So, he can go in front of his male friends and seem like he’s doing well and have a nice watch and all this and maybe alcohol and maybe whatever. And with the women on average, when she earned a profit, almost all of it went into either growing the business or into the health and education and nutrition of the children.

She had a strategy for how does poverty stop with this generation? And it may not, she might not be articulated in a very sophisticated way, but like that was like her number one priority. And so, I would go around the villages and I would in the afternoon, and I would see like a college student sitting under a tree with four or five students.

And it’s because the Grameen borrowers hired private tutors, college students, and paid them like $7 a month or something to tutor their kids. So, they have a chance of passing the exams that in the in the British Indian, Bangladeshi system, if you don’t pass a certain exam, like it’s like SAT here, but like if you don’t get enough of a grade, you don’t go on to the next level.

It’s not like you go to a bad college. You just don’t go to college. So, they’re like, you know, the school is alone, isn’t going to do it. So, they’re hiring private tutors, you know, people whose poverty status even then was still significant. But I mean, how many people and middle class people around the world said private tutor, let them just do the best they can.

I can afford that. So, that so that that that that conscience of the woman that and that strategy to get the children out of poverty. I don’t want them to experience what I experience when they’re adults. Always like it just a strong drive. So, Muhammad Yunus said, forget it. From here on out, all the new borrowers pretty much will be women.

And so now Grameen Bank, I think if 95% of the borrowers are women. He didn’t he didn’t kick out the men who joined in the first five or eight years. And when they left, they could be replaced by another man. But no, other than that, other than the natural placement, all new borrowers since really about 1980, you know, probably about 1983 have been women.

And then when he says take, take this model and bring it to India or Pakistan or Uganda, start with 100% women from day one. I just I had to learn. But you don’t you don’t have to go through that. And, of course, what you’re doing is you’re you’re lending to the family, like in in these rural or urban slums.

I mean, the business it’s all there. Every, the whole family is involved in it. Just like your tea stall that you were talking about, where the, you know, seven or eight year old are doing that, you know, at some points. But make the representative of the family to the bank be the mother. Right. And now some of that money will go to the husband because he may have a business and some may go, but put her in control.

Foreground her background the rest it works better so, he would and lots of programs I see the majority of programs that are modeled on Grameen based on his advice they only lend to women from day one and they continue doing that to this day.


Well, I think at its core, you know, we get overwhelmed with the problems facing society and then we kind of get into into a sense of whether it’s the political crisis in the US, whether it’s bullying, whether it’s kids in foster care and being taken care of. These are things like climate change, poverty. And we get we get overwhelmed, and we just say there’s nothing that can be done, and we get kind of hopeless and deep, deep mobilized.

And the other side of that, that I talk to people about in the context of microfinance, nonprofit management is there are a ton of solutions out there to all these problems and more coming up every day. Yeah. And people that come up with them, some of them it’s with a profit motive and that’s okay. That’s okay.

That’s it’s a powerful force. But, you know, I’m trying to sell these books. I’m not giving them away, that I’ve written and all. But some of them, are just trying to invent these things, whether are clean water or whatever. They’re trying to win because they want humanity to do better, like they’re okay if they’ve got some economic base, but they see pain around them, the pain of the planet, the pain of the world’s women, the pain of people who have disabilities.

And they just like, let’s solve that, let’s invent something. And what’s lacking is people is that making those solutions visible, and making it easy for people to join in, taking those solutions to their natural expansion and impact. And that’s again, that’s what I just I got into microfinance. It’s not the only solution out there might not even be the best, but it’s one that I said, I’m going to make it my life’s work to scale this.

And there are solutions to climate change, there are solutions to bullying, there are solutions to the terrible state of education in this country for all but the best schools. And then let’s create a way that because of also the risk of the nonprofit sector, is that we professionalized nonprofits so much that we kind of exclude everyone who doesn’t work for a nonprofit.

Just give us money and just stay out of the way. No, the beauty of the microfinance movement. And somewhere a guy by the name of Sam Daley Harris, another mentor of mine and who starts on called results which is where Ana and I met he intuitively got that the magic of creating social change is around making everyone feel like they’re a change maker.

They’re not just a check writer and then just, you know, sit in the stands and watch that. Watch it. And so, you know, so when he when he launched the microcredit summit campaign, he said there’s a role for the people who practice microfinance who are doing this work. But let’s create a council of education institutions and people in education, how they can contribute, and religious organizations and political leaders and civic organizations like Rotary.

And let’s figure out how each of them can do their best to bring the solution. And so, like you had to have been part of at least one organization that was that was kind of mapped out as part of the solution here, like no one was off the hook and.


It’s that cross-sector partnership.


And so early and they would say to people around the world, I was just reading the biography of a great microfinance leader from Nigeria, and he create these kind of also information like which African countries are doing the best. And because we want to get, you know, half of all poor families get microfinance. And so don’t worry about your country or the world, just the village you’re in, get that half of them.

And like I can manage that. And so, breaking down problems and people feel like I can do that. And that was his brilliance. So, he so he said there was a time where like Nigeria is falling behind. You know, Sam was putting out these reports and it was a terribly underfunded campaign, less than $1,000,000 a year. But it just created a global movement for this solution.

So, Nigeria is like we’re falling behind other African countries. How are we going to catch up? What do we learn from them? And so, it made everyone was kind of in the driver’s seat of trying to scale this. And I just one of the things I’m trying to do in my writings and teachings and consulting is to try to, when you have a solution, make it possible for almost everyone.

If they have some access time and talent and money. But money is just to start to feel like they’re not in the stands, they’re not watching on TV, put them on a playing field. Yeah. That’s how we’re going to that’s how we’re going to solve these problems. And yes, we need new solutions, but there’s so many out there, and we just need to give people a sense of agency and network them with each other and what are the best practices in doing it. And it’s and just magic happens.


That’s amazing. So, I usually end with what is something you’re working on right now? I know you’re going around talking about your book is What’s something you’re working on right now at a project you’re looking forward to that you’re really excited about?


Well, I’m you know, I think one of the things you need to do in nonprofits and in the commercial sphere, it has its own equivalent of sales is you need to raise money. And one of the things that I learned early in my career, I was the reluctant fundraiser, the delegating fundraiser. I want to spend the money. I don’t want to raise the money.


We have lots of thoughts on that.


I wouldn’t risk fundraising on my worst enemies.


Yeah, well, we’re we need to talk. I going to talk about, but the reality is fundraising. I used to I used to kind of want to avoid fundraising at all costs. I came to love fundraising so much that I neglected other parts of my job because I just couldn’t bring myself away from fundraising. And so, most of it, we’ve created this debilitating idea around what fundraising is.

And the most common thing I would hear from committed volunteers would be over the course of my career was, I’ll do anything to help your organization because I love your mission except fundraising because I’m not good at it and I don’t like to do it. And so, it’s amazing. So much money gets raised in this country given how many people have a really disempowering idea around it.

And so, I learned that fundraising was about at its core, and I wrote a different book called Changing the World Without Losing Your Mind about how you can, you can adopt a disempowering view if you want to, but you can think of fundraising is developing Win-Win partnerships. The donor wins, the fundraiser wins, the organization wins, and the cause wins if the organization can execute.

And it’s like being a matchmaker and like and like a quarter of the matches you make people go off and get married and have happy lives that they wouldn’t have had without you. Like that’s what fundraising is to me and the rest of them. They have a few dates and it’s cool and or they just say, sorry, no one’s mad at you for it.

If you come with that spirit of I just want to partner you with an organization or a cause that you weren’t aware of that will serve your deepest values and give something you have in excess money if you do. And a lot of people do too. And if you don’t have access money to commit your time and then and so I’m really excited about is transforming people’s relationship with fundraising and making it something that they do joyfully and that they and that they just can’t pull themselves away as opposed to trying to avoid.

And I’ve launched something I’ve long connections with, not only Bangladesh but India. And in the in the next March, we’re going to create the first of its kind, an India giving day, a day to celebrate giving from the US, mostly people of Indian heritage to India. And rather than doing it reluctantly or out of a place of guilt or in a very transactional way, to do it from a place of joy and contribution and partnership and so I’m very excited about that.

But it’s part of a larger agenda is let’s make let’s make fundraising what it really can be, which is about partnering people because, you know, listen, if I have millions of dollars and I care about climate change. What can I do on my own? I only have 24 hours in a day and I’m not a scientist. But if I could find an organization that has those capabilities to do the things I can’t do or can’t do enough, like that serves me like it’s so much more efficient to try to solve it in partnership with organizations that have built up solutions and capabilities that I can’t, you know, to develop them myself or to build them would just be very inefficient. 

And, and so I’m trying to create some new ideas around fundraising and the people that take this idea on some of them like this, they come back to me six, 12 months later, like, I’m raising a lot more money, I’m having a lot more fun doing it like it works. And I’ve come up with some ideas are even better than yours. Go! Tell me what they are


We’ll get back to you in a year. And I really hope to have the same story.


I know you will.


Thank you so much for joining us. This was such an enlightening conversation. Thank you so much. 


It was a pleasure. Thank you.


Yeah, I appreciate it. Thanks a lot, man.


At Global Partners for Development, our mission is to advance community led initiatives that improve education and public health in East Africa. We envision a world in which every East African community has the capacity to implement dynamic, sustainable solutions to the challenges they face. To learn more, visit gpfd.org. 


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