MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

Catherine is from Toronto and holds a Master’s degree in Political Science from the University of Toronto as well as a post-graduate certificate in International Development and Project Management from Humber College. Catherine has spent the last year working with the Rural Education Institute of Mexico, a small non-profit that provides educational programs for children and youth living in rural Mexico. She has also spent time teaching English in Spain and has extensive experience working with children and youth. Microfinance has always been a great topic of interest for Catherine who focused her Master’s research on microfinance in Ghana. Catherine is extremely excited to be joining MEDA and for the opportunity to work with its partner MiCrédito in Nicaragua.

My MEDA Internship Reflection: "I learned so much"

I decided to apply for CIDA's internship program as I was looking to start a career in international development. The program seemed like a great opportunity to gain field experience and contacts which could help me launch my career. MEDA specifically appealed to me as I loved the organization's business approach which I believe is a very sustainable and practical approach to development. I also wanted to gain more experience in microfinance which was the area of focus for my internship with MEDA.

I had worked abroad prior to my internship with MEDA but this experience really offered me the opportunity to gain a ton of professional experience and skills. I learned so much from my fellow MEDA staff and partner organization staff in Nicaragua which really complemented my academic knowledge of development issues.

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Saying goodbye to a beautiful country and some amazing people

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As I enter my last week here in Nicaragua as a MEDA intern I thought I would use what is probably my last blog entry as an opportunity to reflect on my overall experience working with MEDA and its partner organization MiCrédito.My time in Nicaragua has been amazing! I have travelled across the country, visiting beautiful colonial cities like Granada and Leon, climbing volcanos on Ometepe Island, relaxing on the beautiful Caribbean beaches of Little Corn Island, and hiking the beautiful Somoto Canyon. Nicaragua is a beautiful country and I would definitely recommend a visit to anyone who hasn't yet made the trip.In terms of my internship experience, the thing I have enjoyed the most is being treated like a professional. Although MEDA and MiCrédito staff are always here for support I really appreciated the fact that I was given the opportunity to try things on my own and learn by doing.I feel like I have a lot to show for my time here in Nicaragua: I wrote two case studies, conducted gender training, completed over 50 interviews with clients and staff, developed mobile versions of MiCrédito's loan application forms, wrote a new branch proposal, and developed social impact indicators for the organization. I feel like I have accomplished a lot and that I was given the opportunity to do a lot of the work on my own. As a young professional seeking to pursue a career in development that was what I really wanted to get out of this internship - to gain as much practical experience and absorb as much information as possible. And of course to support MiCrédito as much as possible in serving its clients' needs.On a personal note I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to work with and get to know so many wonderful people here in Nicaragua, especially my coworkers here at MiCrédito. Its staff members have been so welcoming and I have learned so much from them about the Nicaraguan culture, microfinance, and their own lives. They are so knowledgeable and committed to MiCrédito's mission to increase access to financial services for micro and small entrepreneurs so often overlooked by the traditional banking system.I feel extremely lucky to have had this experience. Although I am excited to get back to Canada and see my friends and family I am sad to be leaving Nicaragua. However, I know that I will make it back some day and that when I do MiCrédito will be going strong.Muchas gracias a todos mis amigos y compañeros aquí en Nicaragua. MiCrédito y Nicaragua siempre van a tener un lugar muy especial en mi corazón y seguramente regresaré un día para visitarles otra vez en este país bellísimo de Nicaragua. ¡Un abrazo muy fuerte a todo el mundo!
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Christmastime in Nicaragua

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I have lived abroad twice before, but I have always returned to Canada for Christmas. This year, with my internship ending in February, it didn’t really make sense to make the trip home to Canada for the holidays so I decided to spend Christmas in Nicaragua. I was extremely lucky that my little brother William decided to come and visit me so that we could spend the holidays together. It has been amazing to have him here with me and to get to show him the country that has been my home for the last 5 months. He also brought presents with him from home which was another major benefit.

I was lucky enough to get to do some travelling over the holidays, spending Christmas in Corn Islands, the beautiful Caribbean islands off the coast of Nicaragua. These islands are full of beautiful white beaches and delicious seafood. I also got to return to the island of Ometepe to bike and climb a waterfall as well as relax on the beach and do some boogie boarding in San Juan del Sur.

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Surfing in San Juan del Sur, Volcano Boarding in Leon, and Opening a Clinic in Managua

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Things have really been picking up here at MiCrédito. Everyone here is hard at work on a number of new and exciting initiatives. Last week MiCrédito opened a health clinic at its Rubenia branch in Managua. The clinic, operated by partner organization AMOS Health and Hope, offers medical exams to clients which include screening for breast and cervical cancer for women and diabetes and prostate cancer for men. The cost of the exam is incorporated into MiCrédito loans, allowing clients to pay gradually for the services provided. So far the response from clients has been overwhelmingly positive! Clients are excited to have access to quality healthcare which is affordable and conveniently located right around the corner from their bank. I’m also getting ready to go out into the field to start interviewing clients for a case study I am currently working on for MEDA. I love chatting with clients and learning about their experiences. I am also looking forward to interviewing some loan officers and other MiCrédito staff members which will be a great chance to learn more about the inner workings of the organization. I’ve also had the opportunity to do a bunch of travelling over the last few weeks, crossing a lot of things off of my Nicaragua to-do list. I made it to Cerro Negro to go volcano boarding! Nicaragua is the only place in the world to experience this extreme sport which involves sledding down the side of a volcano on a bed of ash. It was an awesome experience and I came out of it with a very attractive ash beard.I also made it to the beautiful beach town of San Juan del Sur and tried surfing for the first time with my fellow MEDA intern Sarah French. I can see why so many people are addicted to the sport. Although I was only able to stand up and surf once (and very briefly), it was such a rush when I finally did catch a wave and ride it into shore. Both in the office and out, my time in Nicaragua so far has been extremely rewarding. The staff members at MiCrédito are such kind and hardworking people and I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to get to know them and the beautiful country which they call home!     

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Nicaragua’s Micro-Entrepreneurs Show Savvy Business Skills

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Last week MiCrédito received a visit from a group of representatives from MEDA including President Allan Sauder, Chief Engagement Officer Dave Warren and Senior Project Manager Nick Ramsing. I got the opportunity to spend the day with them visiting MiCrédito’s Granada branch and chatting with clients about their experiences with MiCrédito and the impact of MEDA’s TechnoLinks project.  Most of my work so far with MiCrédito has been concentrated in the office, so this was a great opportunity to get out into the field to chat with clients and learn about the impact of MiCrédito and MEDA projects. The main thing that struck me is how business-savvy our clients are. The clients that I spoke with were extremely adept at finding ways to provide a unique product or service to make their businesses more competitive. We spoke with one client who runs a pulperia (convenience store) just outside of Granada near the base of the Mombacho volcano. As there is no medical clinic near her community she had the idea to add a small pharmacy area to her store to provide basic medical supplies so that community members would not have to go all the way into Granada to purchase supplies. No other pulperias in the area are providing these types of products which really helped her differentiate her store and compete with other pulperias in the area. We visited another client named Don Carlos who runs a horse-drawn carriage business in Granada. The historic center in Granada is full of horse-drawn carriages catering to the large number of tourists who visit the city. Don Carlos wanted to do something different, so instead of catering to tourists he decided to provide carriages for special events. He proudly showed MEDA President Allan Sauder and me countless photos of beautiful carriages decorated for weddings, quinceañeras (the fifteenth birthday celebrations which are a huge deal in Nicaragua and other Latin American countries – like a sweet sixteen but bigger), and other special events. At the end of the visit Don Carlos gave us his business card – telling us to call him if we ever needed a carriage.      Another thing that impressed me is that all of the clients mentioned how much they appreciate how fast MiCrédito is at approving loans. MiCrédito can be so fast because they use mobile credit checks – a technology introduced as part of MEDA’s TechnoLinks project. Using mobile technology credit officers can check the credit ratings of clients in the field without having to return to the office. Most micro-finance banks in Nicaragua take 3-5 days to approve a loan; MiCrédito takes only 1-2 days. Don Carlos was approved for a loan within an hour, making it possible for him to buy a horse for his business which was only available that day. He bought the horse years ago and it is still serving him well today. This speed really sets MiCrédito apart from other MFIs in Nicaragua and enables the bank to better serve its clients. Overall I was extremely impressed by all of the clients we visited in Granada. It just confirmed for me the importance of the work that MiCrédito and MEDA are doing in Nicaragua. Many micro-entrepreneurs are extremely creative and know their markets very well but they need financial support to make their businesses work. 

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Chatting with Revolutionaries and Chilling on the Beach in León

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I’m nearing the end of my third week here in Nicaragua and I just keep falling more and more in love with this country and my job. The people are wonderful and the landscapes are breathtaking! I have been taking advantage of my weekends to travel as much as possible and learn as much as I can about Nicaragua. Last weekend I took a trip to visit my fellow MEDA intern Sarah French in León where she is currently also working on MEDA’s Techno-links project which seeks to increase access to markets and financial services in Nicaragua using technology. León is a beautiful city full of history and beautiful beaches! I learned a lot about Nicaragua’s past during a visit to the Revolutionary Museum where I received a tour from Comandante Hugo who himself fought to remove the Somoza family from power in Nicaragua. It was amazing to hear about the revolution from someone who was actually there and to even see pictures of Hugo as a young man participating in the conflict. And of course I had to spend an afternoon at the beach! I visited Playa las Peñitas, a beach located about 45 minutes outside of León, to watch the many surfers and eat some amazing seafood.   I am also trying to use more Nicaraguan slang as this is one of my favorite things to pick up while living in different Spanish-speaking countries. So far I’ve lived in Spain and Mexico and my Spanish changed completely living in each place. I lived in Mexico last year so I still use tons of Mexican slang which has earned me the nickname “La Mexicana” from a few of my new friends here in Nicaragua. By the end of my time here I hope to speak like a real Nica.   On the internship front, I am working on a number of really interesting projects here at MiCrédito including helping the organization start collecting more data regarding the social impact of its products and services. I am extremely happy to be a part of this project as I believe that MiCrédito is providing a lot of amazing services to its clients which really have a strong impact on their lives. MiCrédito recently introduced a loan product for university students to help them finance their education or start a related business; it is also the first microfinance institution in Nicaragua to provide savings accounts and debit cards to its clients through a partnership with BAC (Banco America Central). Collecting data is extremely important to make sure that products like these are having a positive impact on clients and I am looking forward to contributing to this project. I am also working on some gender-related programming, helping MiCrédito to continue the implementation of its Gender Policy to ensure that the needs of male and female clients and staff are being met. I am looking forward to helping out at the gender workshops which MiCrédito runs every few months and to help run some staff training sessions with one of MEDA’s Gender Specialists later in the year. This weekend I’m off to Estelí to get my first taste of northern Nicaragua and then it’s back to the office to continue my work with MEDA and MiCrédito!

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¡Bienvenidos a Nicaragua!

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I have arrived in Managua, Nicaragua and begun my 6-month internship with MEDA working with its partner organization MiCrédito as a Rural Microfinance intern. I am lucky enough to be overlapping with fellow MEDA intern Katherine who has been working in the MiCrédito office for the past 10 months. I’m very grateful to have someone to show me the ropes and introduce me to Nicaragua. I’ve been here for just over a week and have had a great experience so far. I have had the opportunity to meet most of MiCrédito’s lovely staff members and everyone has been extremely welcoming and helpful. Although things have been a little confusing having two MEDA interns with the same name working side by side. Often people have to differentiate between la nueva (the new) Catherine and la vieja (the old) Katherine. But at least there is only one name for everyone to remember.   I was also lucky enough to spend some time with the President of MiCrédito’s Board of Directors Fred Wall who was in Managua for the quarterly board meeting. Fred was kind enough to take Katherine and me out for dinner to share his experiences and spend some time getting to know me and catching up with Katherine. I am already hard at work and trying to absorb as much information as I can about MiCrédito and its work. Last week I wrote my first news article about MiCrédito’s search for a new branch location in Rivas which it plans to open in the next few months. I’m excited that I will be here for the opening and am looking forward to working with MiCrédito staff to help get this and other projects going.  I am also really looking forward to exploring Nicaragua! It is such a beautiful country with so much to see and I am hoping to fit in a lot of weekend trips to cities like Leon, Granada and San Juan del Sur. I am especially looking forward to getting to Ometepe – Lake Managua’s volcanic island.Over the weekend I took my first trip with fellow MEDA intern Sarah (who is based in Leon also working on MEDA’s Techno-Links project) to visit Granada. Granada is a beautiful colonial city about an hour south of Managua. We had a great time exploring the city and even took a boat tour of the more than 360 islands which sit in Lake Managua – my personal favourite was the monkey island where we got to visit Panchito the monkey and his family. On the way back to Managua we visited the Masaya Volcano. I am looking forward to exploring more of Nicaragua and working with MEDA and MiCrédito staff for the next six months here in Managua.    

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Recent Comments
Steve Sugrim
Awesome blog Catherine and I love the pictures of Panchito
Tuesday, 27 August 2013 15:41
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