Zahara Kassam - India
Zahara spent a year in rural India, pursuing projects in microfinance.
In December 2004, my post-graduation plans had pretty much been finalized – or so I thought. I had been recruited to join an investment bank in New York as a financial analyst. But pursuing a major in economics and development studies had ignited a strong desire in me to combine my interest in finance with my passion for international development. So in January I applied for the Fellowship in International Microfinance and Microenterprise (IMM) program and in July, I was on my way to India. Thus began what turned out to be the experience of a lifetime.
I was placed with an organization called Bharatia Agro-Industries Foundation (BAIF) Institute for Rural Development – Karnatak (BIRD-K), in Tiptur, Karnatalka. On a very broad level, BIRD-K is involved in developing and implementing rural development programmes in Karnataka. More specifically, however, the organization is deeply tied to Gandhi’s belief that the spirit and the soul of India rests in its village communities, which should strive to be entirely self-sufficient.
While I would like to say that my fellowship was a great professional experience, I can not deny that I learned much more on a personal level. When you do not speak the local language, when you suddenly shift from a comfortable urban lifestyle to a basic rural way of living, and when you are forced to fully immerse yourself in a new culture, you are bound to learn a lot about yourself. Every day, my confidence and patience were tested by new situations; my mind was opened to new perspectives; my values, lifestyle, and opinions were challenged by the people around me; my spirit was rejuvenated as I experienced new sights, sounds, and smells.
When I finished my assignment in India I went to work for the Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance in Geneva, Switzerland. Engaging in microfinance at the grassroots level as well as at headquarters for an international microfinance organization, I was able to form a comprehensive view of the many solutions and issues at hand, not just in India, but throughout the developing world.
Currently, I am a financial analyst at an investment bank in London. The maturity, confidence and communication skills I developed during my time in India have aided me tremendously. The most challenging part of my fellowship was learning how to work independently, a skill my current employer values greatly.