Inside the Melbourne Microfinance Initiative

By Seth Robinson

The University of Melbourne’s student clubs are one of the community’s most fundamental building blocks. They offer students a breadth of opportunities to add to their university experience, to make friends, develop skills, and begin building a professional network that will stay with them into their careers. The Melbourne Microfinance Initiative (MMI) offers its members a unique experience: the chance to have a real-world, social impact, both locally and internationally. We spoke with MMI President Jeanette Chan and GMCC Director Nina Lo to find out more.

The Melbourne Microfinance Initiative (MMI) was the first of its kind in Australia. Today, it remains the largest student-led microfinance initiative in the country. As a social-impact club, its members offer two key services: pro-bono consulting services to international clients, microfinance institutions and not-for-profits, and a calendar of events for students on campus. At the end of this year, MMI will be celebrating their ninth year in action, along with the completion of 30 projects, in 12 different countries.

“We’ve been looking a lot at how we measure our impact this year, which is something that’s really important to us, so having those stats and being able to chart those successes is awesome,” says Jeanette. “This year, for example, we’ve been working on a project with our founder, Fernando Tamayo in Peru, as well as projects in the Philippines, Indonesia, and here in Australia. Now that we’ve built up the MMI brand, we have potential clients reaching out to us with projects for the upcoming years.”

These projects offer students the opportunity to not only have this far reaching social-impact, but to build up their CVs, gain experience working overseas, and develop essential soft skills for when they enter the workforce.

Jeanette and Nina
(L-R) MMI members, Angus, Nina, and Jeanette at the GMCC.

“Last year, I worked on a social impact analysis project in Manila. Over the course of the week the six of us on the team conducted 80 semi-structured interviews with our client’s borrowers. We did this with the support of local loan officers, who served as translators. It meant building rapport with people from a different culture, who were speaking another language. We had to learn fast and develop a solid contextual understanding.”

MMI has just finished hosting the Global Microfinance Case Competition (GMCC) for 2019, a competition that saw the campus finalists from eight universities fly to Melbourne to compete at the International Finals, an event that was coordinated by Nina. With over 600 individual registrations across Australia and New Zealand, the GMCC was the largest student-run case competition in Australia.

“Our client for the GMCC was Good Shepherd Microfinance (GSM), they’re an institution that works with low-income Australians. We wrote the case in partnership with GSM, and consulted with Murrup Barak here at the University of Melbourne about navigating the cultural sensitives of an extended case with a First Nations focus. The case itself focused on GSM’s microenterprise program, LaunchMe.”

Now, MMI is beginning the planning process for the next year, with an upcoming AGM that will determine the leadership and strategic direction for the next 12 months. While Nina will stay on into the next year, Jeanette’s term as President is ending. Both agree that their experience with MMI has given them invaluable experience and piqued their interest in social-impact careers.