Monthly Archives: August 2013

So, what do I do every day?

I keep wanting to write about work, but I keep saying… I better wait until I have a better idea of what I’m doing here. Almost a month in and although I still feel like I’m swimming in a sea of unknowns, I think I can take a stab at describing my role and give you an idea of my work life.

Like most of you probably already know, I’m in Madagascar to work at la Première Agence de Microfinance (PAMF).  PAMF is about  10-15 minute walk from my house. The building has 3 floors. The bottom floor is a functioning branch of the MFI, so that’s where you’ll find the credit officers and clients coming into apply for loans etc. The top two floors are the Head Office of PAMF’s operations around the country. These two floors are where products are brainstormed, portfolios managed, risks assessed, and operations streamlined for PAMF’s 13 branches around Madagascar. My desk is on the second floor!

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PAMF from the outside

I usually stumble into work by 8:30. At about 9, the rest of the Product Research and Development Department usually rolls on in – in other words, my colleague Bertrand arrives. Bertrand is the Product Manager at PAMF and has been working here for a couple of years.

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The second floor of PAMF (that’s Bertrand). There are about 15 people who work on this floor, but I waited until everyone was on holiday to take my pictures!  

So far, Bertrand and I have been working on a handful of different projects. I would separate my work so far into three main buckets:

  • Pilot Reviews:
    There are three new products that PAMF has been piloting over the last 6 months. These products are now ready to be reviewed to assess how they compare to projections and whether they are ready to be rolled out across the country. I have been working on creating Research Frameworks for these three pilots. This means, deciding what type of data is important for PAMF to collect on these products (on the supply and demand side) and how to collect it.
  • Needs Assessment:
    Based on client feedback from a Customer Satisfaction Survey in 2012, PAMF has proposed a new product idea. In order to determine the specifications for the product, we need to collect more data from clients by doing a comprehensive needs assessment. I have been working with Bertrand on putting together a Research Framework that outlines what data we need and again, how to collect it.

  • Product Approval Request
    Again, based on client feedback from the Customer Satisfaction Survey, PAMF has proposed a new loan product. A Product Approval Request has to be submitted to the Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance (AKAM) in Geneva before it can be piloted. In order to do this, I have to do a bunch of research on this product. I need to figure out what other banks and MFIs in Mada are offering a similar product, what the country-wide statistics are for this type of client need, and what global best practices are for this loan type.

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My bible. Yes it’s in English! I will write another post about the language dynamics at work soon. 

Basically, it a lot of research (and research frameworks!) and data collection. This type of “product management” feels very different from the work I was doing at Kiva Zip, but I guess the principle is the same – how can we collect data that will lead to product creation that addresses user needs and has high user satisfaction – no matter if that product is a web page or a loan product or whether I have to work with engineers or credit officers.

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My desk. Note the moleskin from Akash (with process diagrams!!) , Tufts alumni pen and cup of tea to make me feel at home. 

Did you notice how I didn’t mention any of the specific products when I described my work above? That’s because sometimes I feel like I’m working for the microfinance version of Willy Wonka’s secret laboratory or something. When I leave work every day I have to lock all my product documents in a secret cupboard! Who knows if the Mr. Slugworth of Malagasy microfinance is reading my blog 😉

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“Ah-lee-za, pretend you are working” – my French colleague as he took these pictures

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My role requires a lot of back and forth with the AKAM RPD team in Geneva. They approve all research before its done and all products before they are piloted in an effort to standardize processes across all the PAMF/First Microfinance Banks around the world. I really like this aspect of my role, because it gives me an idea of how things are working in other AKAM countries and reminds me that there is a world beyond this island!

Even though RPD can sometimes be slow, everyone else seems to be extremely busy alllllll the time. Usually when I get there at 8:30, about the half of the office is already there… and when I leave by 5:30, I’m usually one of the first out. Sometimes I wonder if they even go home.

One of the reasons I took this fellowship was to get some experience “in the field,” but somehow sitting in an office in Tana is not so different from sitting in an office in SF (other than the dogs, unlimited snacks, and ping pong table of course). In the next few months, my goal is to actually make it out to the field to collect (or observe the collection of) data and meet some borrowers! Oh.. and obviously, figure out mobile banking in Madagascar 😉
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La ville au 12 collines

“Spectaculaire par son étendue au-delà des 12 collines sur lesquelles elle est construite, elle déborde de vie dans ses marchés colorés, ses édifices à colonnes, ses vérandas…”

The descriptions of Antananarivo I read online before I got here made me wonder what this city could actually be like. The crossroads of Asia and Africa? French legacy? 12 hills? Who knew all that would come together in a city with a unique beauty unlike any other place in the world.

It didn’t take me long to discover the beauty of Antananarivo. More content about life and work soon, I promise. For now, enjoy a little taste of some of the views from my new home.

I love all the coloured houses on the hills.

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Lac Anosy. Even though Mada is an island, its huge!! and Antananarivo is located right in the middle.. so this is the extent of my exposure to any body of water.

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“this is our Hollywood” my friend told me. So random! Apparently letters go missing every so often (they were missing an R for about a year after a cyclone and recently replaced it).

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Antananarivo – the city on 12 hills and therefore, so many places to get a view of the entire city.

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Not a bad place to watch the sun set 🙂

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Antananarrived!

I’m currently sitting in my new room in Madagascar writing this post. On one hand, I find it hard to believe that I’m actually in Madagascar, but on the other hand, it’s also hard to believe I haven’t even been here 24 hours yet.

Some highlights from my 31? (I lost count) hour journey:

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1. YVR -> YYZ

I was so happy that Savannah, my roommate from AKFC training, came to the airport to see me off.

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We tried to make faces like the animals in the movie… but we might need to practice over the next 8 months? Savannah is on her way to Kyrgyzstan – check out her blog! Savannah in Kyrgyzstan 

2. YYZ -> CDG

Free upgrade! More legroom than I have legs for!

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3. CDG -> TNR

Another free upgrade and a pain au chocolat. What more could a girl want?

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4. Arrival in Antananarivo!

I stepped off the plane and saw this (because Ivato airport is so small, there’s no tunnel)

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I know the picture is terrible, but its a pretty accurate representation of how my eyes were after all that traveling.

After the million and one nerves and butterflies that attacked me on the journey over, as soon as I stepped off the plane, I was hit by a feeling that I belonged here. It was the familiar feeling of African air and almost instantly, my nerves calmed and I felt at home.

My colleague Mirana picked me up from the airport and took me to my new “appart-hôtel”

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This will be my home for the next 8 months!

I spent my first day in Tana with Shayan (former AKFC fellow) and his wonderful family. He gave me a great tour of the city. Check out the incredible view!

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My day ended with a crêpe and a view Tana by night. Not a bad first day!

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So far, I have a pretty awesome impression of Tana. Every single person that I’ve met has been so kind and so welcoming. They haven’t made me feel out of place even with my bumbling French and awkward perma-smile.

I came into this experience with pretty high expectations. When I went to Kenya at the end of last year, I had such an amazing time that I named this new level of happiness, “Kenya happy.” I came to Madagascar looking for “Kenya happy,” and I have a feeling it won’t be long before I find it.

Please note: all credit (including but not limited to: groans, laughs, eyerolls) for the title of this post goes to Jonny Price

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