Making an Impact from Home

By Nina Lo

Hear from Vice President of Student Engagement, Nina Lo, on how the Melbourne Microfinance Initiative (MMI) have adapted to COVID-19.

Student societies have had to combat the unprecedented shift to complete online interaction as part of the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, by improving their online presence and finding innovative ways to engage with their member base.

This is especially true for the Melbourne Microfinance Initiative (MMI), Australia’s first and largest student-run microfinance organisation. We are a student organisation centred around the mission of delivering positive tangible social impact, either directly through our Initiatives and Projects (where we provide pro-bono consulting services to not-for-profits (NFP) and microfinance institutions across the Asia Pacific that help to empower underserved communities) or indirectly through our external events. The switch to digitising our operational processes has involved an incredible amount of brainstorming, but so far, we have found ourselves successful in continuing to deliver value to our member base.

Our first online event was Careers in Social Impact (held annually), around a month ago. The event consisted of a diverse panel of individuals from a variety of different industries who have managed to pursue an impactful career. Astonishingly, we had a very similar turnout to previous years – with over a hundred students tuning in online and asking our panellists questions. More recently, we held Impact Investing 101, an interactive event focused on introducing the integration of venture capitalism and social impact and metrics used to evaluate impact embedded in a start-up business model. This event was similarly met with a high level of student engagement, which is an attribute to our incredible marketing and events team.

We seized the opportunity to revamp our online presence by making changes to our website and improving our social media engagement on platforms such as Instagram in order to enhance our accessibility and better connect with the student community.

In terms of our publications, we have continued to release our Impact Update editions – which are a series of articles released periodically, written by internal committee members that aim to explore, analyse and share diverse perspectives on topical issues surrounding social impact. For example, the latest edition (our sixth instalment of the Impact Update), includes:

· “What’s for Lunch? How our food choices actually impact the environment” – by Ben Griffiths (Vice President of Operations) and Kevin Nguyen (Events Director)

· “Investment in Mental Health: low risk, high reward” – by Connie Zhang (Project Leader)

· “An Introduction to Climate Justice” – by Connie Gamble (National Affairs Director)

We have also launched a new publication called the “Careers in Social Impact: Interview Series” which dives into the intersection between the desire to make a strong, profound social impact and working in a financially rewarding career. We have interviewed individuals from our various sponsor, partner and alumni networks who come from a diverse range of sectors; from consulting, to design to professional services. Some of our recent interviewees include Dr Esther Charlesworth, the founding Director of Architects Without Frontiers and Gordon Chan, the Senior New Business Advisor from World Vision.

Earlier this semester, we were also presented with the opportunity to run a cross-society case competition called the Innovation Sprint Case Competition (ISCC) with Enactus and the Computing & Information Systems Student Society (CISSA). The virtual competition required teams to pitch a social venture that integrated a form of technology into their business model and tackled waste reduction in a particular industry. The finalists had the opportunity to present their pitches online to a range of professionals from Microsoft, McKinsey & Co., and EY-Parthenon.

Next semester, we have plans to digitise our annual case competition – The Global Microfinance Case Competition (GMCC), which is undoubtedly our flagship event for the year. For students from both domestic and international universities, the GMCC provides an engaging platform that allows them to utilise their analytical and consulting skills, tasking them to develop innovative solutions to pressing issues faced by microfinance and NFP institutions across the world. The multidimensional nature of the competition forces participants to consider the real-world implications of their recommendations and resultant effects on the targeted communities. What sets the GMCC apart from other case competitions is that it is a live case based on one of our real clients. As a result, competitors are granted the opportunity to leave a lasting impact on organisations committed to social impact.

Although the scope of our work has been limited indefinitely to online forums, we remain committed to providing value for our member base and finding alternative ways to deliver a tangible impact.