by Meridith Levinson

Volunteer Opportunity for IT Professionals

Jun 20, 2008 3 mins

If you ever regretted not joining the Peace Corps, you may yet have your opportunity to lend your time and skills to a developing nation. FINCA International, a nonprofit that provides financial services to the world’s lowest income entrepreneurs in 21 countries across Africa, Latin America and Eurasia, is seeking volunteers with IT skills to help the organization expand its mission of fighting poverty. FINCA primarily offers microloans (small loans of a few hundred dollars) to individuals who wish to start a business, such as selling food or handicrafts.

Jiten Patel, CIO of FINCA International, says as each country transforms to being a regulated financial entity, the lender is replacing the home grown applications each country has used to manage its operations with off-the-shelf community banking software. The new software will allow FINCA to expand the financial services it provides to its customers—76 percent of whom are women. It is also intended to help the organization improve, automate and streamline its operational processes, and lower its operating costs so that it can offer lower interest rates to its customers.

FINCA is in the process of implementing iFlex for operations in Eurasia, Neptune for Africa and Cobis for Latin America. The organization needs project managers, business analysts, architects, software quality assurance experts, Oracle DBAs and Sybase DBAs to help with the implementations in each region. It also needs creative LAN and WAN experts who aren’t phased by spotty telecom connectivity.

If you want to stay closer to home, Patel says FINCA needs IT professionals with data warehouse design and implementation experience at its headquarters in Washington, D.C.

In exchange for their time and expertise, Patel says volunteers benefit from a range of experiences. They learn to come up with creative solutions to technical challenges, such as inconsistent electricity and connectivity, on a shoe-string budget. They get exposure to different cultures and ways of thinking, and they improve their soft skills. And even though the infrastructure where they’re working may be rudimentary, they still sometimes have the opportunity to work with new technology.

“Our technology needs are pretty basic, but we do some interesting stuff,” says Patel.

For example, FINCA’s African region will soon test new WAN optimization appliances from Juniper and River Bed that will improve the reliability of Internet-based applications in places where Internet connectivity is unreliable.

Most important, volunteers see first-hand the impact of the work they do, all while exercising familiar skills.

“It’s not like you’re now herding cattle and rearing sheep and doing stuff that’s totally alien to you,” says Patel. “You’re doing what you like.”

Patel, who travels to FINCA’s regional branches 10 months out of the year, describes the experience of working on location with the local entrepreneurs as humbling and heartwarming. He says in spite of the poverty in which they (most live on less than $1 a day), the locals are most generous.

“When you’re out there, you realize there is a larger world, and by being out there, seeing how these people live and what they have, it makes you appreciate what you have and it makes you want to do something [to help] more actively.”

FINCA can’t pay volunteers, but the organization can offer room and board. It can also pay for one round-trip airfare in coach class. Most volunteers are needed for more than three months, with the average need around six months. Interested parties can contact Patel at JPatel at village banking

dot org or Lisette Planken at lplanken at village banking dot org. Patel asks that you mention this article when if you contact him or Planken.