Ayesha Harris, Microfinance Intern, Opportunity International, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa

European Politics, Society and Economics BSc

During the internship Ayesha’s role was to create factsheets that would enable head office and the branch managers to better understand the characteristics of the small businesses that they lend to. She analysed data from the client applications as well as their stock information and loan data. Through this analysis Ayesha was able to create company factsheets that outlined who the businesses were, how they managed their stock and what level of loan would be suitable for a business of that size.

After being given an outline of the requirements of the analysis Ayesha was free to work to her own initiative – however all the staff in head office were ready and willing to help whenever she needed it. A lot of her work was office based however she was also able to visit some of the businesses and carry out stock checks with the Area Manager so this new information could add to the factsheets and give them extra, up to date, stock turnover data.

After three weeks Ayesha had finished creating the factsheets as well as putting together some extra data that explained some anomalous results as well as highlighting other factors that could affect the size loan that some businesses should be granted. Although feeling a little nervous, she showed the CEO the results of all her work.

I was nervous about it as I find that I am shy about work that I do but I needn’t have been. He though the factsheets were brilliant, and when he asked me questions about the work I could answer him with extra facts and explanations as I knew all the ins and outs of the data so well by this point."

In addition to this the extra data she had put together was well received as it explained some inconsistencies which may not have been picked up otherwise.

"Unfortunately for my nerves the CEO said I was to present my findings to all of the head office staff and the branch and area managers the next day! Of course I shouldn’t have been nervous as I had already had very positive feedback from the CEO but a boardroom full of people listening to me would be a completely new experience. However once it started I lost my nerves and happily explained to the room what I had found out. I felt very proud as I could see in some areas I had brought a completely new perspective on some issues which will help them in the future.”

Most enjoyable part of the internship

Although the work was always very interesting and she kept finding new twists to the analysis that kept her captivated Ayesha says the best part of the internship was visiting the clients. Together with the Area Manager she visited 5 of the SME clients whose data she was analysing.

We went to visit them to do stock checks so that I could get a better idea of stock levels these businesses carry as well as information like their stock turnover. Of course stock counts aren’t the most thrilling of activities but visiting the clients meant experiencing a completely different culture, and armed with the Area Manager as a Zulu translator I could find out more about their lives which are so different from not just ours back in the UK but to those who live in the cities in South Africa."

Ayesha visited clients in the townships and homelands (more rural areas with a low level of development).

Being able to meet these people and finding out more about their way of life was fascinating, I got to find out more about how life works in these areas as well as the changing social situation in South Africa. It was an experience I would have never had without this internship and it is definitely what I will tell people first when they ask about South Africa."

Most challenging part of the internship

Ayesha found it challenging working independently on the factsheets at first. Although she had help from colleagues she initially found her confidence lacking. Being left to create the factsheets with my own initiative was hard for me.

This internship really pushed me to have confidence and conviction. Being a little unsure caused me to do more work than was actually necessary for the factsheets but the extra work actually helped me to gain confidence in time for the presentation of my findings."

As Ayesha had done the extra work it really gave her increased confidence in her own abilities and she has learned to doubt herself less in the future.

Skills Developed

This Internship really helped Ayesha improve on many of my skills.

One of the main skills I think I improved a lot was communication. During the internship I had to turn raw data into factsheets that were easy to understand and informative. Doing this improved my communication skills as I was constantly thinking about how to present the data so that it would be easiest to understand."

Ayesha also learned to communicate well through other means when there was no translator and found it much simpler than she had previously thought. She now feels much more confident about simple communication without language.

Working in the Townships and Homelands with the people of Zulu heritage really boosted my cultural awareness skills. Although I had worked with people from different cultures before this was a completely new experience as many of the customs were very different from ours"

How this will benefit me in the future

This experience will benefit me greatly when I am choosing work experience or graduate positions. Firstly through doing the internship and talking to the people in the company I now realise that there are a large range of jobs available in the development economics sector. Because of this I feel that I will not fall into the trap of applying for any graduate position for reasons such as salary or availability, and I will be able to apply for positions in this large and diverse sector where there are many different and exciting opportunities."

This experience has taught me that it is a real possibility to work abroad when I graduate. I have always considered working outside the UK as an option however I thought of it as something that would be available to me later in life. This internship has showed me that there are many positions available for graduates in different countries and that employers are happy to consider hiring someone from abroad because of the fresh new perspective that they could bring as well as different skills too."