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…and how did i get here?

07 Mar

(follow up to: so what am i really doing here?)

Technically, I’m a Frontier Market Scout. (teehee, I’m a scout!)

For people who have tried to navigate this program and understand the details from the limited info on the website, as I once did, allow me to elucidate:

First, my approach & motivations – I came across FMS as I was transitioning out of school and back into the real world (again). This was a time in my life that I was applying to just about everything (jobs, more schools, fellowships, etc.), but I was very keen on the idea of fieldwork. As an anthropology major, and international development master (thats right, I’m a master), I’ve been very drawn to the idea of longer-term fieldwork (longer than 10 or so weeks), so I was seeking out these sorts of opportunities.

The Frontier Market Scouts is a collaborative program, designed by Ross Baird at VilCap & Dr. Shi, Dean of the Graduate School of International Policy & Management (a program in the Monterey Institute of International Studies – or MIIS – a Graduate School of Middlebury College). FMS was originially intended to offer fieldwork opportunities to MIIS MBA students, and provide VilCap with reliable field scouts. Recently, they decided to open it up to non-MIIS peoples, of which I am one.

The VilCap programs around the globe are in various stages of development. Your ‘job description’ as a FMS will be very dependent on your location. Some examples: In Sao Paulo (partner: Artemisia), the VilCap program is complete, so the current scouts are placed with the 2 companies that won the $50,000 investment. In Mumbai (partner: Unlimited India), the program is poised to run, so the next scout there will likely be a Program Manager, and oversee the educational program. Here, in Nicaragua, I am a Program Developer, meaning I am the first VilCap representative on the ground here, and will work to develop the partnership with Agora and integrate a VilCap program into their entrepreneurial resources.

Ultimately, I learned lots more about FMS after I was accepted. For example, I called and negotiated my placement based on my priorities and VilCap’s strategic needs. I was also informed that, unlike MIIS MBA students, I did not have to pay for the 3-week training in January (nor do I pay for the field program, which some students do. I am, in fact, getting a modest stipend from VilCap, which is almost enough to live on in Nicaragua. But since I stopped paying rent in NYC, I feel like I’m coming out ahead regardless. I find that fieldwork often requires all sorts of justifications of this nature. So loosen up.). I’m not sure if this is because I was in the first class of non-MIIS students, or if this will remain the case. Dean Shi can answer this question. Email me if you want his contact info.

This is getting long. I’ll skip ahead.

All in all, I was delightfully surprised by the 3-week training in January. The cohort of Spring scouts was present for all 3 weeks, and some MBA students were scattered through some of them too. As an impact investing nerd, I was excited to learn from all of the organizations I had read about in the past year, including the likes of Sara Olsen of SVT Group; and Taryn Goodman, the Director of Impact Investment at RSF Social Finance. Ross Baird, the ED of Village Capital walked us through a mock-VilCap-program in 3 days where we were the entrepreneurs giving pitches; Jason Fairbourne of Fairbourne Consulting shared his BoP market research strategies (with a focus on microfranchising); and Dean Shi kicked us off with an Intro to Business Modeling, which was really about the flexibility of the business model. Also, this is when the Human Insight diagnosis (mentioned all the way back in my first post ever!) occurred.

So, any more questions? Shoot me an email, as I can probably put you in touch with people who can answer. This summer FMS is launching a shorter, summer-length field option. Also, more info here.

For a while now I’ve been open to a fieldwork opportunity that was something I felt good about moving somewhere in the world to support, and I found this with VilCap. I think they are providing an innovative solution to an economic inefficiency and I want to support the strategy of utilizing partnerships and existing knowledge to experiment with this potential part-solution.

[lengthy side note: My close-second choice for fieldwork was a Fellowship with Vittana, a Seattle-based organization that supports access to education by working with partner MFIs in developing countries to launch student loan products in areas where student loans are not typically offered. The banks won’t create these loan products because they have no data to support repayment. Vittana is hoping to catalyze this process by providing this data, thus having a massively scalable impact. The Fellows are the ‘eyes and ears’ on the ground, working with the partner MFIs. Through my interview and decision process I spent hours on the phone with different people at Vittana and have lots of respect for their mission, their strategy and their ambition, and I do believe that education, in many ways, is at the heart of creating opportunity (my overall goal) – however, Village Capital was the right choice for me at the time. But please, check ’em out. www.vittana.org]
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