Saturday, April 08, 2006

Using Virtual Internships to Set up Rural Microfinance Institutions

Podcast.

This articles describes a way to use virtual internships to help set up microfinance organizations for rural communities that need the help. This could apply to hurrican-affected rural communities, developing nations or communities. The interns are graduate students who are in an MBA, economics, or interdisciplinary program. The beneficiaries are the communities. The project is guided by an expert mentor.

Colleges and universities are engaging in virtual projects with developing countries throughout the world. Such projects give faculty an opportunity to collaborate with their peers, to conduct research, and to strengthen their organizations. Students who enroll in virtual internships or who participate in the project are able to gain experience in employing "appropriate technology" e-solutions in places where information sharing, education, training, and community and health support are desperately needed. Funding for such projects may come from transnational organizations such as the United Nations, or various relief or developmental agencies. The following example could be used for a business or information management class which seeks to help rural microfinance institutions in hurricane-ravaged areas, areas that have experienced environmental or war damage, or lesser-developed nations or communities.

The Elements in a Virtual Business Class Internship / Collaboration Project to Use Web-Based Education in Rural Microfinance Institutions

Basically, the intern identifies the need of the community and assembles the component parts that will be used to operate the microfinance institution. The intern provides technical assistance and consulting, while simultaneously gaining experience as he/she works under the tutelage of a mentor.

Web-Based Resources Open to the Public
a Multi-use, multi-function web-logs for collaborations, information sharing, announcements, press releases, public relations
b Website portal pages and/or a site map that shows an inventory of resources, including links to directories, library resources, training materials, white papers, technical assistance. Some are sites that are linked would be password-protected. Others are available for sharing, particularly ones that contain "yellow pages" type directories and calendars of upcoming events.
c Portal for gateway to shared or collaborative information. This would include bulletin boards, announcements, threaded discussion boards, and public weblogs.

Web-Based Resources with Private Access Only
a Proprietary information and information resources
b Log-in and access to central server to the central information hub, which would include high-level applications (accessed remotely from personal computers and network hubs using thin-client software)
c Information management / project guidance through integrated customized "umbrella organization" portal
d Financial services provided via out-sources services -- payments, funds transfers, etc.
e Resource bartering provided via e-store, e-commerce solutions
f Open-source courseware for online training and education // distance collaborations

Web-Based Resources Open to Public in "Lite" Version, Restricted Access to "Full" Versions
a Virtual library of white papers
b Training materials: worksheets, procedure and policy guidelines, legal forms
c Educational materials: lessons, educational materials, workbooks
d Curriculum and online courses

Information and Resource Networking
Philosophy: The primary objective is to utilize a team effort in order to share resources, gain insight, enable programs to work effectively, and to train local and regional personnel. Sustainability is emphasized, as well as the development of productive linkages.

-Step 1- Directory of microfinance institutions
The directory provides online information for individual who often have difficulty locating information. It should be made available in English as well as the language of the country.

-a- Provide address, overview of services
-b- List key contacts
-c- List of loan products, services, support
-d- One-paragraph overview of the economy and communities served
-e- Overview of growth areas / challenges

-Step 2- Set Up Virtual Libraries
Virtual libraries allow the sharing of valuable information. Ideally, the interface for uploading will allow qualified individuals to classify the article and upload it onto the correct directory on the server.

-a- Develop a classification scheme, or numbering / filing protocols
-b- Organize existing white papers, technical manuals, documents, online journals, etc. within the classification scheme developed earlier
-c- Create a portal page with site map
-d- Develop protocols for meta-tags and links
-e- Determine which directories and files are to be password protected
-f- Develop "lite" versions of information to be made available for free
-g- Create forms and templates to be used in training and in the administration of loans. Examples include loan worksheets, loan flowcharts, secrets to successful lending and borrowing, borrower's handbook.

-Step 3- Weblogs
The weblogs are intended for the individuals at the individual microfinance institutions to stay in touch with each other, and to communicate with the virtual interns.

-a- Administrator selected for weblog
-b- Categories of topics selected
-c- Links to other blogs
-d- RSS feeds established
-e- Contributors selected to write weekly updates and provide information releases on new developments

-Step 4- Microfinance Institution Cooperation and Collaboration Task Force
By establishing a task force, concrete projects can be identified and implemented. Ideally, the participants will make a commitment that virtual internship lead to ongoing cooperation.

-a- Select participants from regional centers and mentoring university
-b- Define responsibilities and identify achievable goals
-c- Set deadlines
-d- Develop tactics, with an action plan and concrete steps - assign individuals to complete the tasks

-Step 5- Training and Education
The transfer of skills, knowledge, and philosophy is not possible without a robust training solution. It is not economical without utilizing online resources.

-a- Onsite training with access to distance expert who responds to specific issues, provides customized guidance
-b- Online / distance training
-c- Hybrid solution, with materials and curriculum downloaded from the internet with facilitators onsite
-d- Distance consultants provide feedback via chat and e-mail during the onsite part of the training.

First published in xplanazine.

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